Welcome to Principle 9 of Intuitive Eating: Exercise – Feel the Difference. Your relationship with exercise is just as important as your relationship with food when you are an intuitive eater, so first take a moment to think about why you exercise and how it makes you feel. If you don’t exercise much or at all, that’s totally fine; being physically active does not define your worth or value as a person! If you’re trying to improve your relationship with exercise and/or trying to determine how to incorporate joyful and sustainable movement into your lifestyle, then you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.
It’s important to first acknowledge that exercise is often associated with dieting and weight loss in our health-obsessed culture. We are told to exercise heavily and to go on various fad diets that don’t adequately fuel and nourish our bodies, in order to lose weight. Many of these programs advertise how much weight can be lost in a certain amount of time by following an exercise regimen, or how many calories a certain workout burns, making claims that are often unrealistic and harmful. Similar to restrictive dieting, extreme exercise programs may result in rapid weight loss at first; however, it is usually temporary and unsustainable. Furthermore, participants might burn out both physically and mentally because of “crash exercising,” and end up feeling sore and miserable during workouts.
Exercise should be something that can be done long term without harming one’s physical or mental health. In fact, when done appropriately, it should improve health! It’s worth noting that exercise does play a role in metabolism and preserves lean muscle mass; however, if the main reason you are exercising is to lose weight, your motivation for staying active might not last. Learning to separate exercise from weight loss goals is part of the process of becoming an intuitive eater.
As explained by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (authors of Intuitive Eating), if you’ve never enjoyed exercise or experienced euphoria while working out, it may be due in part to the following reasons:
You were forced to exercise by others, such as your parents or a gym teacher at school, which led you to feel unmotivated and resentful towards physical activity. Consider how it might feel different if the choice to exercise is yours!
You were bullied or teased for being uncoordinated when exercising, which led you to believe you are not good at exercising. Time to challenge this belief and find types of movement that feel natural and good in your body.
You are not eating enough before workouts. Just like a car can’t run on an empty tank of gas, our bodies can’t function – let alone exercise – when we are not properly fueled. When you don’t have enough energy, working out feels like a chore rather than being refreshing or fun. How can you adjust your pre-workout meal or snack to better fuel your workout?
Regardless of your previous beliefs about or experiences with exercise, exercising is for everyone, and everyone benefits from it. There are countless benefits of physical activity that have nothing to do with weight loss, such as increased bone strength, increased stress tolerance, reduced risk of chronic diseases, decreased blood pressure, increased heart and lung strength, improved sleep, and improved learning and memory, to name a few. In addition, being active prevents negative effects of chronic stress that create hormonal imbalances, which result in increased fat deposition and appetite.
Shifting your focus to how it feels to move your body and viewing exercise as a way to take care of yourself can change the way you feel about movement. This is one of the keys to consistent exercise. When something feels good to you, you are more likely to do it again. So instead of counting calories burned, explore how you feel during and after exercising. Ask yourself these questions to assess how you feel:
Are you able to manage stress better?
Are you less irritable? More easygoing?
Do you feel more energized?
If you exercise in the morning, do you feel more alert?
Do you sleep better?
Do you feel more empowered?
Are you in a better mood?
Making exercise fun is another great way to make it a lifelong habit. This might mean exercising with a friend, trainer, or family member, or exercising solo for some quality alone time. Choose activities that you enjoy; consider dancing, biking, swimming, basketball, volleyball, jogging, jumping rope, or exercising on stationary fitness equipment. Other tips include putting on your favorite music or listening to a podcast while exercising. Lastly, wear comfortable clothes when working out. If you are not comfortable, it won’t feel good to move your body. With these tips in mind, we hope you feel inspired to start exercising in a more sustainable and enjoyable way. Cheers to feeling good!