Your Body is Smarter Than You
To put it into better context: your body cohesively runs a lot of complex programs with or without input from your conscious mind.
Your body maintains optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients on the cellular level, constantly regenerates DNA proteins, and works with electrical impulses to keep dozens of processes up to par. Meanwhile your conscious mind is like: "You know what sounds good? Pizza," as you search for the perfect pizza meme to send to your crush.
For most of us, having a body is like driving a car and knowing zip about what's under the hood. We could take care of the exterior, vacuum the seats, point at the engine, fill the washer fluid, check the oil, even change a tire. But the physics and bio chemistry of the whole operation is still not fully understood, by you or the specialists you pay to help you.
I think, when it comes to bodily health, we're often taught to value the conscious brain over the body more than is necessary. While your conscious brain deals with nostalgia-based cravings, forced dehydration (ugh, water is so annoying and bland), mental stress, and the litany of fad diets/instagram claims, your body carefully redistributes resources and quietly lobbies on the steps of your internal City Hall... "um, we need more water or an involuntary nap is imminent..."
"I know you have a hang-up about vegetables, but we're pushing for cucumbers and kale down here when you're ready to try!"
"Also we noticed you got a juicy hit of dopamine when you polished off that large bag of M&M's, but, sugar and dairy aside, all these chemical dyes aren't exactly digestible. If you're wondering why your allergies are acting up later... you'll know why."
The good news is, we can listen to and trust our bodies, and reap the benefits starting now. It's time to give new meaning to your 'gut instinct'.
There are so many factors at play in your routine of eating, working, resting, and exercising. Although doctors, researchers, trainers, and nutritionists can often pinpoint issues or offer tips, they're only really working with a bird's eye view. Luckily you have the power to tune in to what your body's going through. 'Tuning in' requires a bit of practice, letting go of the judgment and preconceived notions in your conscious brain and relaxing into physical listening, and openness.
Your brain (not body) makes excuses
If, when you think of jogging/cutting soda/stretching/buying spinach, your brain immediately shuts down the idea with excuses, you're letting your (significantly not as intelligent) conscious mind do the talking. If you've ever truly craved a giant glass of water, or noticed the after-effects of a good yoga/fitness class, or felt truly awful after a late night binge, then you've definitely dabbled in listening to your body.
Other examples of listening to your body:
-Trying some stretches or getting a massage when your muscles are feeling tight.
-Taking 20 minutes to relax/meditate/nap in the middle of the afternoon instead of just pushing through the workday when you feel the need for a siesta.
-detoxing with a sweaty class/sauna trip and doubling your water intake after a debilitating hangover or holiday eating fest
-taking a meandering walk/run in the sun to break up your screen-filled day and de-stress (Julia Cameron champions the once-weekly walk as a time when your mind can wander and ideas can flow)
-loading up on anti-inflammatory foods (lemons, turmeric, greens) and natural immune boosters (ginger, oregano oil, elderberry) at the first sign of a sore throat.
-eating a giant, healthy meal and hydrating before a sports event to lower your chances of consuming too much junk food/beer at the game (takes a heroic amount of discipline because nowhere is peer pressure worse than live sporting events)
-going to bed, even though it's earlier than usual, because your body just feels ready.
I could go all day listing these little ways our bodies 'talk to us'.
Yes, I have an advantage as someone who grew up with health-conscious parents, and someone who learned 'body awareness' through dance from an early age, but if those facts are stopping you from eating a salad because 'you just don't eat salad. Never have and never will', that's because you're listening to your conscious brain and not your body. Your body which maintains stasis long after you've drunk yourself to sleep. Your body that knows what's happening and how to fix it long before you even notice something's wrong.
There's no cure-all solution to feeling good. It's all incremental trial and error. That's why allergy/nutrition specialists start people on a minimal diet and slowly introduce different foods back in, one at a time--it's often the only way to find migraine triggers, food intolerances, and the diet that personally works best for you, your lifestyle, and your goals.
Same goes with exercise: no one can go from zero activity to a hardcore gym rat/yogi/long distance runner overnight. Everyone has to start slow, even if they used to train hard and fell off the wagon not too long ago. Listen to your body, and do what you can handle, pushing a little more, consistently, every day/couple of days.
Don't skip this last thing
Last thing: your negative thoughts like 'can't' and 'won't' and 'never could' and 'I want to, but' are never helping you get better. At worst, they are messing with your body's natural ability to endlessly heal and improve. A physical therapist I toured with once did a presentation for my cast explaining a concept she learned at PT school: every cell in your body processes your mind's thoughts. Which means when you see that perfect ass on IG and decide you're not beautiful, your cells are listening. When you cheat on a diet that was going well and completely give up on the cause because the whole thing is hopeless, your cells are like: "Uh, that sounds ridiculously final but, hey, you're the boss. Self sabotage it is!"
Relax. Forgive yourself for 'cheating', always. From here on out. Focus on what you LOVED about the treat-food or the lazy day. Then try again tomorrow. It does your body no good to dwell on 'mistakes'. You only get better by slowly making better choices, not berating the less good choices at every turn.
Besides body-awareness, I've learned through the years of (highly imperfect, but fairly consistent) healthy eating/exercise devotion, to forgive myself, to celebrate the wins, and to not judge anyone else for any phase of their health journey. Only you can figure out how to gently assist your body's ideal state, and the people who judge you for diet cheats and procrastination are really just insecure and impatient with themselves.
That being said, it is really helpful to ask for help from a nonjudgmental friend, to buddy-up when trying to make a lifestyle change, and to surround yourself with people who care about their health as much as possible. Give health-conscious culture a chance once in a while and venture to that 'hippie'ish diner or that yoga studio, even if you eat Doritos and chill the rest of the week.
I didn't get to a healthier lifestyle by any strict diet or exercise regimen. I just continually moved towards better choices by listening and being open to trying/cutting back on things through the years. I didn't like salad (or yoga, tbh) until my body started to crave it.
You too, can skip the usual mind foolery and give your body a chance to communicate with you. Let it be a patient, slow process...celebrate every green juice and sweaty jog step. Work at letting go of some of the comparison and judgment--the world has plenty without yours, and it will only lead to excuses and stunt your personal progress anyway.
If you ever wanna talk about health/lifestyle stuff, swap recipes, recommend classes/teachers, or you just want someone to celebrate some small win with you (3 slices of pizza instead of 4!), I AM HERE FOR YOU. I love that stuff.