Self-love isn’t a given, it’s a practice. A set of behaviors that add up over time. Self-consent is one of these self-love practices, and when we start implementing it, we can start creating powerful change.
In general, consent is the idea that we should be able to say yes or no to the things that are happening to our bodies. We usually talk about consent in the context of another: asking for a hug, for example, or filling out an informed consent form at a doctor’s office. Consent practices allow us to feel safe and respected, cultivating trust in the context of that relationship.
We don’t often think of this as an internal dynamic, but it is. When we can learn to listen to our bodies and our own internal “yes” and “no” signals, we cultivate a habit of respecting our own needs, limits, boundaries, and desires.
This is good for everyone, but it’s an especially useful practice for people who have been through a traumatic experience. Trauma almost always comes with the experience of having one’s choice or power taken away on some level. When we can return that in small ways—for example, eating when we are hungry, stopping when we are full—we are cultivating an internal experience of choice and power, which makes us feel safer and more powerful in our day-to-day lives.
Self-Consent and Food
One of the most powerful yet simplest places to practice self-consent is with food. Hunger is a desire signal—it’s a “yes” to food. Fullness is a “no” signal, an internally felt sense of “enough.” So many of us ignore these signals or have a hard time hearing them at all because we are in a habit of, for example, cleaning our plates because that’s what we were taught, or eating for taste or comfort rather than hunger.
It can be a wonderful strategy to practice self-consent with food while also using mindful eating and intuitive eating. Mindful eating essentially means slowing down enough to really pay attention to the experience of eating—the tastes, the smells, and also the internal signals your body is giving about the food. Intuitive eating is a practice of listening to what and how your body wants to eat and learning to trust those signals.
It’s not always easy to practice these things, especially if you have a difficult history with food, but it is a part of that self-love and self-consent practice that can, over time, make a huge difference in your self-esteem and daily experience of pleasure.
Food isn’t the only place you can try out self-consent. You could try it with rest and sleep, with socializing, even with noticing which of the people in your life give you a “yes” feeling and which of them give you a “no” feeling. This isn’t about setting up rigid rules, but rather about paying enough attention to your body that you can feel its response to whatever you are doing and respect that internal response.
There will be times when this practice feels clear-cut and easy and times when it feels more complicated. The point isn’t whether or not you get it right every single time. The point is that you are in a practice of teaching your body that how you feel, what you want, and your limits and boundaries matter. Establishing this internally makes it a million times easier to do so with other people and so will improve our relationships with others as well.
**By Julie Peters