Although we ought to express gratitude all year round, this is the season we put special focus on giving thanks. But in addition to the usual list — families, friends and achievements — what else might we focus on? • I'd suggest giving thanks for your body. Not what it looks like, but all the fantastic things that your body does for you each and every day that you may not even consider until something goes wrong:
• Your digestive system breaks down all the food you put in it. It functions best when you put nutritious food into it, but it tries hard even with the junk you shovel in.
• Your respiratory and circulatory systems enable your body to send oxygen to all the cells in the body so they can do their jobs. Think about how wonderful it feels to take a long, deep, relaxing breath. But most of the time we don't give a second thought to the breath unless something goes wrong, like a severe cold or lung disease.
• Your muscle and skeletal system provides support for your body and allows you to move in an amazing number of ways. When you injure a muscle or a bone, this system has incredible healing powers, and can tolerate an incredible amount of stress and abuse. But it really shines when we take care of our bodies, even permitting incredible feats such as running a marathon every day for 365 days as Annette Fredskov Jensen from Denmark, is attempting (she has run over 100 marathons already).
• And let's not forget your nervous system. The brain is at the center of this system and it sends electrical impulses to every part of the body. Every sensation, movement and thought is controlled by the nervous system. While you're concerned with what may seem an unending list of priorities, your nervous system is multitasking a million times more. How cool is that?
My profession brings me into contact with many people who have abused or neglected their bodies for a long time. I've worked with anorexic patients who starve themselves nearly to death — some weighing as little as 70 pounds. Some of these patients further stress their bodies with exercising up to five hours per day, repeated vomiting, laxative abuse and more.
At the other end of the weight spectrum, I have treated morbidly obese patients weighing more than 400 pounds. Their intake also is atrocious — both with respect to quantity and quality. Their bodies may be huge but, like the anorexic patients, they are starving for nutrition.
Between the extremes are scores of seemingly normal folks who abuse and neglect their body's needs continually through poor nutrition, sedentary behavior, little sleep and too much stress. It's a wonder their bodies keep going.
Eventually, of course, bodies that are abused show the strain. Type 2 diabetes, joint problems, breathing difficulties, clogged arteries, fatigue, enlarged livers are only a few of warning signs. Rather than blocking these signals, let's give thanks to our amazing machines and give them the appreciation they deserve — in this season of thanks and all year long.
Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send your questions to her at [email protected]