The Body Scan

The Body Scan is a technique that I use to help compulsive overeaters learn to sense their bodies from the inside. Our society trains us to think about how our body looks on the outside, how others see us. This disconnects us from our internal cues that tell us what we want to eat, when we are hungry, and when we are full.

The journey back to focusing less on how we appear to others and more on how we feel within ourselves can take quite a while for many compulsive overeaters. So, I like to start with simple exercises that you can practice and turn into habits.

One of the first techniques I teach many of my clients is The Body Scan.

My training in psychotherapy is from a body-centered approach. Body-centered psychotherapists believe that the mind and body exist together, as a part of one whole. Whatever happens to us on a mind level coexists at a body level. Whatever happens at a body level coexists on the mind level as well.

Mind and body are one.

So, I may have a pain in my stomach, but at the same time I have thoughts and feelings about that pain. And I may have a thought about my mother, but that thought resonates somewhere in my body.

The good news about body-centered psychotherapy is that you can come from either direction to make a change. I can start with thoughts and words to help someone consider things in a new way. Or I can start with body sensations or movements to help someone overcome their current problems. I start from whichever direction clients find  most useful for them at the moment.

I have seen techniques called body scans in many different body-centered trainings with a variety of purposes. I developed and named my technique when I was first starting as a body psychotherapist.

Body psychotherapists frequently ask the question, “What is happening in your body, right now?” I found that clients were often stumped by this inquiry. “Nothing is happening in my body,” they’d say. “At least, nothing out of the ordinary.”

Which shows their first misconception about The Body Scan, that I’m looking for something unusual, out of the ordinary, or different for clients to notice.

In fact, I am looking for just the opposite. I am trying to help clients notice those ordinary, everyday sensations in their body that many of us habitually ignore.

Saying “Nothing is happening in my body right now,” just isn’t true. If you are alive, you are breathing (or maybe holding your breath, which requires tension in certain muscles), your heart is pumping and you are holding yourself in a particular position.

What I find is if, rather than just asking the question, I set up this exploration as an exercise, most clients are better able to grasp the concept.

So now, I ask clients for their permission to let me teach them The Body Scan. If they agree, I ask them to notice the sensations in their body right now. I offer them examples of sensations in my own body, including feelings of tension, relaxation, warmth or coldness, tingling or itching, pleasure or pain, or a particular position of a limb.

I suggest a relaxed but upright posture, usually sitting on a chair with both feet on the floor. It helps some people to close their eyes while they do this. If doing so makes them uncomfortable, they can gaze downward so as not to be distracted by their visual environment.

When they start naming sensations in their body, I ask them questions to increase their awareness by making it more specific. For example, if they notice a tightness in their shoulder, I wonder where in their shoulder it is or may ask them to point to it. If they feel a warmth in their chest, I’ll inquire how far across and up and down it spreads. If they feel pain, I ask them how much it hurts on a scale from one to ten.

Sometimes clients can answer these questions. Sometimes they can’t. But as they sit with their sensations over time, clients gradually become better at it.

As clients practice The Body Scan, they become more in tune with what their body is telling them. For example, they may begin to notice discomfort when they overeat and naturally stop eating sooner. Over time, this awareness builds and helps them regulate their eating habits.

I wish this for you on your journey to becoming a healthy eater!