Trusting your body allows you to enjoy a more peaceful relationship with your body and better meet its needs, rather than constantly being at war with your body and second-guessing its needs.

But how do you build body trust?

To answer that question, I think we must first understand how to build trust in general. Renowned marriage researcher John Gottman, PhD, author of several books including The Science of Trust, believes that trust — the belief that your partner will be there for you and has your best interests at heart — is the foundation of a healthy relationship.

TrustThe key skill for building trust, according to Gottman, is attunement, the ability to listen, connect and turn toward each other with empathy instead of judgment or defensiveness.

Now consider this: the key skill for building body trust is also attunement. Body attunement involves “tuning in” to your body — becoming aware of how your body feels, identifying its needs, and responding to them, rather than judging or dismissing them.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “But I can’t trust my body. My body has betrayed me.” Well, let me (very gently) ask you: Can your body trust you?

When you notice your body is hungry, do you stop to honor that? Or do you dismiss it, saying, “I can’t be hungry. It’s not time to eat yet.” Do you stop to notice signs of hunger or fullness at all?

When you notice your body is tired, do you give yourself permission to take a break? Or do you keep pushing your body to the point of exhaustion?

When your body’s in pain, do you meet it with understanding and compassion? Or do you chastise it with judgment?

Can your body trust you to meet its basic needs? Can your body trust you to meet its needs for rest, movement, play, sleep, and a variety of delicious quality foods?

Gottman says:

What I’ve found through research is that trust is built in very small moments, which I call “sliding door” moments, after the movie Sliding Doors. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner.

Let me give you an example of that from my own relationship. One night, I really wanted to finish a mystery novel. I thought I knew who the killer was, but I was anxious to find out. At one point in the night, I put the novel on my bedside and walked into the bathroom.

As I passed the mirror, I saw my wife’s face in the reflection, and she looked sad, brushing her hair. There was a sliding door moment.

I had a choice. I could sneak out of the bathroom and think, “I don’t want to deal with her sadness tonight, I want to read my novel.” But instead, because I’m a sensitive researcher of relationships, I decided to go into the bathroom. I took the brush from her hair and asked, “What’s the matter, baby?” And she told me why she was sad.

Now, at that moment, I was building trust; I was there for her. I was connecting with her rather than choosing to think only about what I wanted. These are the moments, we’ve discovered, that build trust.

One such moment is not that important, but if you’re always choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship—very gradually, very slowly.

At any moment, there is the possibility of connecting to your body and turning towards its needs. These are the moments that build body trust. This is easier said than done if you have a long history of dieting or struggling with an eating disorder. Both dieting and disordered eating disconnects us from the body, leading to muted and less reliable body signals. Meeting your body’s needs consistently over time (typically with the help of a dietitian and therapist skilled in disordered eating) helps the body and mind heal, and rebuilds body trust. And yes, I repeat, you can rebuild body trust. (It starts with listening.)

Remember: your relationship with your body is exactly that — a relationship. What kind of relationship do you want? A mistrusting, hostile, unsupportive, dismissive one? Or a kind, respectful, peaceful, trusting one? It’s your choice — starting with small “sliding door” moments each day.