Appreciating My Body and All That it Does for Me, Every Day
A month or so ago, I found myself lying on cold, hard airport tile in Madrid, Spain.
With my carry-on standing in for a pillow and a Delta flight blanket serving as a weak protector of the frigid air conditioning, I was grumpy, exhausted, and resenting my stupid flight choices.
"Why would I choose a 6-hour layover from 5-11 am in a freezing airport?"
"Why didn't I pack bigger jackets?"
"Why can't I just be 20 again and have all the energy in the world?"
Around 7 am or so, I shuffled my body out from under the row of seats I'd been lying under and, disheveled, with my hair matted to the left side of my face where I'd been laying, I proceeded to walk around the airport in search of coffee and sustenance for my fatigued body. I knew I'd have a long day ahead of me once I arrived in France from this layover, and I needed energy.
As I ordered a cafe con leche, I noticed my favorite Spanish sandwich behind the restaurant glass and grabbed one to go, scarfing it down in a few bites on a bench nearby the gate. Savoring the jamon and queso, with the baguette crumbs strewn about my lap, I patted my stomach after the last bite "give me some energy, come on," I mumbled and tossed the wrapper in a trash can.
Later, once I'd gotten to France and was catching my glimpses of the French countryside, my eyes wide open and taking it all in, I had another thought "thanks, body, somehow you bounced back this morning, and I don't know how you did it, but it's clutch."
Now, hey, I get it. Before your eyes glaze over from this RIVETING tale of airport travel, there's a reason I'm touching on these two unremarkable moments. A reason I remember it right now, writing this down.
Eight years ago, I was on a similar flight to this one. I was headed to England to visit my now ex; I was deep into the eating disorder cycle and - putting it mildly - uncomfortable with the thought that I wouldn't be able to work out for a couple of weeks.
In reality, I couldn't stand sitting still that long, and the thought plagued me the entire flight to the UK. Eating disorders are so funky in the way they completely change your reality. I didn't appreciate a thing about my body and was angry at it, convinced that it would look completely different if I didn't work out for a week. And all 'the work' I put into it would come undone.
What unfolded from that feeling and belief was me drinking too many glasses of wine on the flight, getting a migraine, and avoiding food. By the time I saw my ex standing there in the airport (after four months of not seeing one another), I was sick and fatigued. I felt terrible after not eating and had a foggy hungover from the wine and ended up passed out in their bed for 6 hours upon getting to their apartment, completely ruining the romantic dinner plans we'd booked.
It was not a fire move, and eating disorders often become the reason for many questionable (and selfish) decision making.
When you're in it, the whole cycle, it's impossible to appreciate what your body does for you because you're too busy trying to control what you think it's *not* doing for you right then. I wanted to "look good" for my ex, but the irony is that I just looked like a hot mess (indicative of my life back then).
Not once in my eight years of an eating disorder did I think about the actual process my body goes through every single day to survive. That it could withstand long plane rides and lack of sleep, that all the years I didn't give it enough sustenance or patience or love, it was still sitting there churning away on what it could snair from me.
Later, after I ate that sandwich in the Spanish airport and in Paris celebrating a childhood friend's wedding, I'd have another moment.
There I was, with two friends I've loved for 25+ years, and we're walking around the city all day, bopping in and out of cafes and shops, snacking on eclairs and little chocolates, laughing over school memories, when I think at some point "oye, my calves are hurting," as I rub them in between stops.
Another unmemorable moment to so many, but my next thought wasn't to be mad at my calf or angry that my legs couldn't hack the half marathon of walking.
It was so simple, so… normal. "Tomorrow, I'll go easy and take the metro more."
Such a mundane moment to capture, isn't it? But those who have had eating disorders know what I'm talking about. Sometimes just experiencing the 'normal' is sublime.
So, how can we all actively work on appreciation for what our bodies do for us?
It's never that simple, and my mood, of course, affects how I'm able to appreciate it. But, I often think about how incredible it is to see places and do things with just this vessel I live in. That my body cooperates (mostly) with anywhere I want to go.
It takes practice - gratitude of the body. It demands intention. You can't really halfway remember to give gratitude to your body, or it'll feel like some silly self-help exercise, but to actually take time to give gratitude to it—every day. And if you can't do that, write down what the function is of your body parts objectively. Remind yourself just what it is they do every single day for you.
One unique way I do this is by writing down times in my life where I'm thankful my body was the vessel it is - whether it's hiking X mountain or fighting hard to feel better when I'm sick. Write these experiences down for the hard days.
Say mantras. And really make them your own. Some of my include:
- My body fights off sickness, like when I was in X and felt like X.
- My body is always changing, which is great because I am always changing.
- My body Is adaptive and can survive so many different situations and hurtful things.
- My body is unique, and there will never be another person who will live in it.
- My body allows me to enjoy the pleasures of food and the tastes of dessert.
- My body allows me to see anything I want to see in this world and to go wherever I want or need to go.
I read somewhere, "whenever you feel sad, remember there are billions of cells in your body, and all they care about is you." What an intricate way to look at a body when we spend so much of our time only focusing on physical blemishes.
I've spent years now trying to unlearn the body image ideas so deeply ingrained in my consciousness. Years of "only wear black so you look thinner" or "you can't wear a bikini unless you have killer abs," and the only way I've actively been able to fight against it is by consciously acknowledging how deeply those beliefs took me out of my life.
I often recount the ways those beliefs caused me to miss so many moments of my one life.
So on I try - to be grateful for the terrible layovers that keep my body running on fumes, without sleep, for over 24 hours. For the way it can perk up, even when tired, if I just feed it. For the way it gets me from museum to cafe, to enjoy the taste of coffee and see the beauty of art.
On I try - to be grateful to exist within a body.