My dog is, um, unique. She’s a delicate flower, shall we say. She has a lot of fears and phobias: new people, new places, flies, garbage trucks, bicycles, my hiccups (just mine), my wife’s cough (just hers), and (developed just recently) June bugs.
So when we moved to our new neighborhood Tuxedo had a rough time, especially when I would try to take her for a walk. It was a mess. New noises and new smells were just too much. We would venture out, and inevitably she would put on her brakes and refuse to move. She became seventy pounds of “Nope!” and I couldn’t argue (and I certainly couldn’t carry her).
Try as I might to command her to keep moving, she wasn’t having it. Pulling and cajoling, I tried to keep her walking. Every time we would have to turn around and go home, her tail between her legs and me super frustrated.
My dog needed exercise, and I was at my wit’s end. I turned to an online group of owners of shy and scared dogs. It is a group of lovely, helpful, good-hearted people who own and/or train dogs that have difficulty navigating the world due to their fear of various things.
I explained that my dog was too scared to go for a walk, and I was powerless to keep her moving. The more I tried to override her fear, the worse it got. However, I was afraid that if I gave in and let her come home I would be letting the dog win.
Several people responded, but one answer in particular changed my entire view, not only of our present circumstances, but of my entire relationship with Tux.
Regarding the fear of letting Tux “win” she wrote, “You and your dog are on the same team.”
I think I actually burst into tears when I read it.
It wasn’t supposed to be a contest or power struggle. My dog, who was doing the best she could, was trying to tell me something. And I wasn’t listening because I was busy trying to be in charge. We were supposed to be working together to get her needs met.
What does this have to do with your body and health?
What I was doing to Tuxedo—with the best of intentions—is very similar to what I see a lot of people do to their bodies, especially when it comes to exercise and eating. Maybe you are doing it too.
You have to force your body to look a certain way, weigh a certain amount, or be a certain shape. You can’t possibly let your body “win” by just being what it is. You have to conquer and control it.
And it is absolutely understandable why this is common. We are constantly exposed to messages that explain this is what we have to do to be healthy, fit and responsible. Work harder! Exercise more! Eat less! Eat better! Count your calories! Lose weight!
But you and your body are on the same team.
And like my delicate dog needed me to understand something, maybe your body is trying to tell you something. Are you listening or are you trying to be in charge?
There are realities that no amount of diet or exercise or meditation or botox or supplements or even acupuncture can change. Bodies get old. Bodies sometimes get sick. Bodies are different shapes and sizes. Bodies need to eat. Bodies eventually die. You can’t change any of this. You can’t vanquish your body to make it something it isn’t. It’s a body.
If this struggle strikes a chord with you, maybe take some time to actually listen to what your body is communicating. It doesn’t mean you give up taking care of yourself. Quite the opposite, actually. You can care for yourself in a way that accepts your body for what it is and where it is. And you can also allow room for your body to be different from someone else’s body.
How do you be a good teammate?
You can start by asking yourself these questions (and being honest with the answers):
- Do you exercise in a way that brings you joy and makes you feel good or are you trying to burn calories to look a certain way?
- When you choose what to eat are you motivated by an easy sense of enjoyment and appetite or by a need to control your body’s size and shape?
- Are you able to enjoy your meal or are you busy doing caloric math in your head because you are afraid of gaining weight?
- Are you mad at your body for refusing to be a certain size or shape? Are you frustrated with your body for not “cooperating” in some way?
Then ask yourself, what would you change if you listened to your body’s feedback as valuable information rather than an inconvenient attempt to thwart your will? What support is your body asking for?
What would change in your routine if you considered your body as a teammate rather than something that you had to keep from “winning?” (And maybe ponder how weird is it that you would want your own body to “lose?”)
What is winning anyway?
I changed strategies with Tux entirely. The walks were out. Instead, we played agility games in the back yard and practiced obedience and new tricks. We enjoyed a good game of hide and seek. When she was scared she was allowed to go in the house. No more powering through despite her fear. She got some exercise and stimulation, and we didn’t have to battle each other anymore.
I couldn’t force Tuxedo to be something she wasn’t. She is a shy dog, and we just have to work with that. We can just enjoy spending time with each other, and I let her be who she is.
Winning starts with treating your body as though you were responsible for helping it, not beating it into submission.
Tuxedo is actually pretty amazing, even with all her foibles. While she’s not ever going to be the dog we take with us when we hang on the patio of the local coffee shop, she’s still awesome. She’s smart, learns quickly, has a sense of humor, loves a good belly rub, adores romping in the snow and is great and loyal company when either of us aren’t feeling well.
There is so much more ease and appreciation with the relationship since I quit trying to override her personality to get to where I thought we should go. When we hang out, it’s fun, we enjoy each other, and it totally feels like winning.
I wish you the same in your relationship with your body.