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Battling with Your Body: 4 Simple Tips for Overall Well-Being

“Your body is precious. It is our vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.” ~Buddha

I believe there are four key aspects to our existence:  mental, physical, spiritual and emotional.  The mind is a fairly straightforward concept, and many people can identify with a spiritual component of life.

Yet there is one other aspect of life that I believe is essential to a full and healthy journey on this planet—the emotional element of living. And that emotional state seems to be inextricably tied to the physical.

I have always struggled with the physical. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my body since I was cognizant of my existence. As a chubby kid, I felt different and defective. I sought relief in my grandmother’s frozen cool whip in the extra freezer located in our garage.

I gulped down chalky pink Pepto-Bismol when I wasn’t even sick. Why? Because it was sweet.

I couldn’t handle the monkey bars. The ball always hit me in the face. I was always last to finish running around the field at recess.  As I matured, I grew out of the chubbiness but I was never satisfied with my body.

I spent the summer of my 11th year frantically emulating a 1984-era Richard Simmons in his 7-Minute Abs video and simultaneously saving enough money to buy a McChicken sandwich, fries, and a hot fudge sundae at McDonalds.

Disconnected from my body, I grew into a young woman and ignored my physical existence as best I could; becoming what author Geneen Roth calls a “walking head” with that insufferable body attached. 

I alternated between trying to eat “right,” permitting myself to eat “bad,” and feeling bad about eating bad.  If I ate a salad for lunch, I might have a half-gallon of ice cream for dinner. Alcohol eventually contributed to my lack of self-care, adding extra calories and acting as yet another way to escape my body.

Fast forward through my twenties: After several attempts at Weight Watchers, a failed relationship, a bout with antidepressants, and a nervous breakdown, I managed to lose over 40 pounds with Weight Watchers. Down to the size I wore when I graduated from high school, I was sure my life would get better.

It didn’t. It got worse. So I dyed my hair blond. I drank more wine.

Then I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking cigarettes. I fully embraced sobriety, found a higher power, and earned two master’s degrees. I lost even more weight. Now my life should be perfect, right? 

Wrong. I still can’t live comfortably in my body. And I’m soothing my discontented soul and body with food. Now it’s ice cream (or more specifically, Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked Frozen Yogurt, which has only 3 grams of fat per serving, compared to Peanut Butter Cup ice cream which has 25 grams of fat, so it isn’t that bad). 

Just writing about it makes me want to get up, go to the store, buy it, and eat the whole entire pint. Yet I’ve just prepared the vegetables that will make up my morning “green juice” in an effort to get in all the green veggie goodness possible. I am so all or nothing, black or white, yen or yang.  Ice cream or veggies.

In the past few years, I’ve had many of the moments of serenity, peace, and self-acceptance that we all seek, but they elude me now. I sense that my struggles with my body are standing in the way of mental and spiritual growth.

Buddha said that “to keep a body in good health is a duty, for otherwise the mind will not stay strong and clear.”

But I feel paralyzed. Every morning I say “I won’t eat that again.” I vow to cook a nutritious meal instead of eating chips and salsa for dinner. I plan to do yoga tomorrow. I bought a bike 6 months ago and have ridden it exactly once.

Running a 5K has been on my to-do list for 4 years. As I watched my best friend run her first marathon at age 33, taking care of my body has failed to be a priority in my life with any semblance of consistency. My actions do not correspond with my intentions.

Yet I have the knowledge and tools to move through this static phase and overcome the physical barrier that is keeping me from living my most authentic life.  Or rather overcoming the emotional barrier that is keeping me from fulfilling my obligations to this body I’ve been charged with maintaining while on this earth.

The physical and emotional—intertwined complex pieces of me that refuse to divulge their secrets separately. How to untwine those ropes of experiences and perceptions that were woven so many moons ago?

I don’t know but I will keep searching. I’ve come too far to give up now. I’ve maintained my weight loss and sobriety, learned how to nourish and nurture my body, came to understand that it’s okay to have feelings, and found a yoga practice I could be in love with for the rest of my life.

I will not abandon myself in never-ending pints of ice cream. These are some of the specific actions that lend to my physical and emotional well-being:

1. Planning in advance.

I shop for major groceries once a week. When I plan in advance, I find that I make better decisions because I’m not constantly stopping at the grocery store. Multitasking is also essential. For example, I make my salads for lunch while preparing my veggies for juicing. Or I’ll cook brown rice and black beans as a base for lunches and also use them for a healthy Mexican dinner.

2. Eating with others.

I find that my most destructive eating habits tend to happen in isolation. I won’t eat an entire pint of ice cream or a bag of tortilla chips on front of another person. When I eat in communion with others I make better choices and fill my space with the genuine pleasure of another person’s company, not with the empty thrill of food.

3. Finding enjoyable physical activities.

I hate running. I don’t understand why anyone would want to put their body through a 26-mile run. But to each his own. That’s the point—we don’t all have to be marathon runners. I find fitness in yoga, kayaking, going for long walks in the city. I’m still trying to figure out how to do cardio without doing cardio.

 4. Prayer and meditation.

These spiritual practices are key to my physical health because I feel more centered and accepting of myself when I practice prayer and meditation. When I feel calm and happy, I’m much more likely to take care of my body and stay present in the moment.

Although I may falter in these actions and may struggle with being consistent in making healthy choices, I have hope that I am moving forward with knowledge and self-love.

I now realize that I must love and care for my physical body as more than an uninvited appendage but as the very foundation of what and who I am—and as my vehicle for emotional awakening.

Photo by lululemon athletica

Avatar of Jennifer Marsh

About Jennifer Marsh

Jennifer Marsh is a global health and development professional specializing in program research, monitoring and evaluation. She previously worked with the World Health Organization, CARE USA and the United States Institute of Peace. She is currently working on revitalizing her blog Mental Health Mania.

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  • Angie

    beautiful. Thank you for your honesty, in struggling with what so many of us do.

  • Ellen

    What a terrific essay, and so beautifully written.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1496658731 Jutta Inauen

    Thank you for describing myself. :-) And if you ever find out how to do cardio without doing cardio, don’t hesitate to publish…
    No, seriously, I really enjoyed reading your article. There’s so much so familiar… THANK YOU!

  • Emerjensea

    so true! i have found a program called eating disorders anonymous (eatingdisordersanonymous.org) that has helped me relinquish my feeling of helplessness, disgust, & need to control my body. sometimes, sobriety from chemical substances isnt enough, especially when the obsession becomes, or returns to, food &/or body image. it has saved my life, but one need not be at death’s door to be a member. just a desire to be free from fear and obsession

  • http://twitter.com/sugarslimmm shea davidson

    This is beautiful, sister!  It is difficult enough to speak of your struggles from a place of recovery, but to be open and honest in the midst is truly remarkable. Saying, “this is what I struggle with,” can honestly be some of the most difficult words to say. I really just want to commend you for that, and let you know [as I'm sure you do] that you aren’t alone. I have gone through such similar seasons in my life. I think one of the hardest lessons for me to learn [and I'm definitely still learning it] was overcoming that duplicity mindset–that my body and my soul are not two separate entities. I am one person, one human, one spirit–all-encompassing. I cannot starve one and feed the other. It is so important to truly love and nourish both, because they are one and they are both Divine.
    Thank you for your words and your courage.

  • Linnaeab

    Thank you for your honesty. I have no answers for happiness or contentment with life. Yet, I have observed that when my body and mind are both exhilarated, I feel good. That doesn’t happen every moment, thank god, because I would probably be exhausted. It has come with belly dancing (in my 50’s), walking my 5 dogs near a lake (in my 60’s), walking in the neighbor hood finding my breath taken away by autumn beauty (no matter what age), and the simplicity of listening to the crunchiness of leaves while raking (as a child and now as an elder). It comes while stretching tall to reach upper branches of bushes that need trimming, or taking off a patio roof that was improperly installed, and replacing it panel by panel so it won’t leak.Every day some activity makes my body move while my mind is enjoying some aspect of life.There need not be a routine, nor a schedule. Gyms are smelly, filled with mind-dulling loud TVs, and some predatory guys. Outdoors is always open … open in terms of space and freshness, and being available at every moment.Freedom, freshness, love …. Doing what makes me feel at ease .. not what the fitness or nutritional guru of the month says is necessary. (They need to earn their livelihood, too!)As part of my first medical exam in 35 years, my health insurance (I haven’t had any in 35 years) offered preventive services: mammogram (negative), bone density (like that of a young teen), colon testing (healthy as a young woman) and hearing (better than a 3 year old). I think the “preventative” actions were actually just living without trying to prevent anything!May you find whatever makes you feel good … and do it or be it when it does make you feel good… just enough.

  • Guest

    Well written and thanks for the tips. I’ll keep those in mind. :)

  • http://twitter.com/AbsurdGrace Sophia Grace

    I’m pretty sure I wrote this post in my sleep, under a different name!!

    I don’t feel as alone.  Thanks for this.

  • Layla

    When you say ice cream you really mean cookies?  And when you say “I” you really mean “Layla”?

  • Layla

    Take a zumba class.

  • Kathleen

    If you want to do cardio without doing cardio you should take some dance classes, or just get a Zumba DVD and do it in your own living room.  I dont mind the cardio, its the sweating that I hate, so I swim.

  • Jennifer

    I really enjoyed your article. I could really “feel” the pain of the disorder. The disorder that I am really beginning to see that I share. Good luck to you on your journey. I am also trying to struggle to get back on that path of loving myself more so that I will take of myself and feed myself properly. Not just trying to anesthetize the pain inside me. Many blessings.

  • Jen_marsh77

    Thank you for your comment…it made me smile. It’s good to know I’m not alone. :)

  • Jen_marsh77

    Thank you for your words of wisdom!

  • Sunny Jones

    Try dragon boating if there is a team in your area!

  • Buddha56

    Thank you so much for this. As I spent most of the day crying and feeling such sadness at my battle with myself, it meant a lot to hear that I am not struggling alone. I really relate to and love the attributed quote about feeling like a walking head with the insufferable body attached. I also don’t like to sweat so cardio is a chore for me also. Good luck on your journey, I’ll be rooting for you.

  • Lindyray

    Try just saying “I WANT TO…. love and take care of my physical body…. ” instead of “I must…… ”

  • Heather R

    What an excellent article!  I have been recovering from a brain injury…and right before that, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder.  Learning to live inside of my body has been difficult for my entire life – and through recovering from a TBI, I have been forced to learn to live in the body that I was given the day I was born.  I must say, I am finally starting to get it!  Your article gave me some important thoughts that I didn’t have before…Thank you…and because I am painting right now to help me in my recovery, I have attached a link to the painting that I completed while contemplating your post. Thank you…   http://graspingatfog.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/vertical-integration/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500516859 Jennifer Marsh

    Thanks Heather! And I love your paintings. Keep up the beautiful work and much love and light to you on your journey!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500516859 Jennifer Marsh

    Thanks for the ideas Kathleen. I love dancing but I guess I feel a bit silly and self conscious. I will make an extra special effort to try Zumba. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500516859 Jennifer Marsh

    What is dragon boating?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500516859 Jennifer Marsh

    Very happy to hear that it helped you. This is my first blog posting and it is scary to reveal your inner demons but it is o worth it if it helps someone else who is struggling.

    I also love (and hate) the idea of being a walking head with the insufferable body attached.  It so explains how dosconnected I’ve felt from my body for years and years. Have you read “Women, Food, and God” by Geneen Roth? I definitely recommend it.  Good luck to you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500516859 Jennifer Marsh

    I’m glad you could relate. It’s awesome to know that there are others trudging this road.  The more we share and help each other, the better chance we have at healing. Much love to you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500516859 Jennifer Marsh

    I really relate to “sometimes sobriety from chemical substances isn’t enough.” Although sober, I often question my “emotional sobriety.” I’m definitely a work in progress. :)

    Thanks for sharing about eating disorders anonymous. Unfortunately we don’t currently have a meeting in my area. Maybe I should start one?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500516859 Jennifer Marsh

    Thanks Ellen!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500516859 Jennifer Marsh

    Thank you Angie. It means a lot to me that people related to my post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/davidbridle David Bridle

    Thank you for this post.  Two years ago I was 18 stone (252 pounds), I am now 12 stone (152 pounds).  It took several things to kick me in sorting out my weight and unhappiness.  Thankfully I found Yoga, Meditation and Running.  Meditation helped me with getting rid of my prescription drugs I was taking for my colitis, like steroids, anti-inflammatories and immuno-surpressants.  It took a whole mind shift and then a subsequent lifestyle shift to change my physical self and most importantly my mental self.

    It can be done, and for me it was seeing myself in the mirror and remembering I am a BSc (hons) Sports Science graduate.

    Thank you again.

    - David

  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose Alannah Rose

    Food is so tied into emotion for so many people that it’s hard to desire to lose weight and/or take better care of ourselves and also effectively heal all the parts that need to be healthy in order for the habits to stick.  I gained a bit of weight over my twenties/thirties and really *wanted* to go back to my healthy ways, but there was some block that kept me from being able to do it.  I had to come to terms with some personal issues before I was able to find the ability to make the changes needed to lose weight.  It’s strange how most of us don’t see the mind/body connection… they don’t work independently but we always seem to treat them like they do.

    Thanks for such an honest piece!  Good for you for finding a balance and being able to live in a more self-nurturing way.  Best wishes!

  • http://jameswvinner.com/ Reginald Daugherty

    I stumbled upon you website and found out enlightenment! These tips have easily become my mantra. Consider me now as your avid reader!

  • Anonymous

    This article really spoke to me. Thank you for your honest words. It’s so helpful to know that the cycle you describe is not unique to me, that many people share similar struggles. And we’re all beautiful!

  • http://damianacorca.com/blog/ Damiana Corca

    I love the sincerity in this post. So many can relate to this. Thank you. 

  • http://www.absoluteplacementtoday.com Samar Wilson

    @Jennifer, I suffer from the same problem. I don’t have the will power to stop myself from helping myself with the second helping. This is because my entire family loves to eat. We celebrate everything with a hefty meal but I am the only one who fails to burn it.

  • Rebekah

    Thank you for your honest words Jennifer – I can very much relate to your journey! This past year has been hugely transformational for me as I have let go of much of the self-loathing that has kept my life ‘on hold’ for so long. I recognise that it is an ongoing journey though and that I must always be mindful. A big part of my healing journey has been a beautiful body-mind-spirit-emotions practice called Nia (nianow.com). It is a dance-like practice that is not as high impact on the body as Zumba. Plus it embraces the philosophy of “your bodys way”. Nia has given me a much greater sense of ease in my body and I now feel so much more loving and grateful towards my body. It fills me with joy and I now do 3-4 classes each week. Maybe you also might find it helpful…
    I wish you blessings of love and light in your journey.

  • Heather H

    ZUMBA can say it enough.  Hate running, hate exercising, hate drinking gallons of water but… love music… love dancing… love laughing with friends… love Zumba where I get all three!  Find a class with women like you.  One woman in my class is 79 and she dances along side – such an inspiration.  I don’t even crave junk food anymore… I drink lots of water..  I don’t care if I look silly… I love my coin skirt and the sound it makes when I giggle…  Find what you love…

  • terrilynn

    I have to take the fact that I stumbled across this post today as some sort of sign, because earlier this morning, I was contemplating something you articulate so well:  why can’t I get my actions to match my intentions?  Indeed, how do I stop being a walking head with an insufferable body?  The knowledge is there, the intent is there, but the execution is not, at least not in anything more sustainable than short burst.  And I don’t know why, as much as I have contemplated it and reflected upon it and have tried to understand myself.  I truly don’t know why.  I am frustrated, but I am not without hope. 

  • http://twitter.com/ZenfulTyler Tyler Allan

    This really hits home with me. Great article. :) 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christy-Chomer-Karnatz/611216017 Christy Chomer Karnatz

    What a lovely and honest post!   I can deeply identify with having a hard time getting past those emotions.  You might enjoy this recent TED talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0&feature=share.  It focuses on guilt and shame.  A couple of things that might help you on your way. 

    First, you don’t have to do endless cardio monotony to lose and maintain weight.  Check out sites such as bodyrock.tv and http://www.youtube.com/user/insanehomefatloss for intense, short HIIT workouts.  Here is a good explanation of the afterburn effect that HIIT is intended to produce. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nc7aymFps_o
     
    Second, I’m trying something new that you might be interested in.  Tapping.  Here is a video.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6i33V2EcVlY

  • Rawan

    I have had a problem with eating for a few years now, recently it became minimal. Try mindful eating, observe yourself while having the meal.. just like meditation, also try to see what pattern of happenings or thoughts lead you to uncontrollable hunger.. after a few meals and sometime you will understand why you eat a lot. With me I found out that when I repress my behavior or judge myself I want to eat uncontrollably.. good luck :)