After taking some time to reflect on your relationship with exercise, you might be ready to take steps to rewrite the narrative of how and why you move your body.
Let’s continue with a story we encounter often in our clinic. For anonymity purposes, we’ll continue to name the client Anika.
Anika recognized that she had a disordered relationship with exercise and was exercising compulsively. She wondered where to begin with changing her relationship with exercise. She began working out less often. This was a big shift for Anika and she often felt the urge to go back to her regular training frequency. She spent quite a bit of time with this change before reducing the duration of her training sessions. Part of her still felt guilty for taking rest days, but another part of her really enjoyed being able to recover. Slowly, Anika felt like she had more energy and felt less obligated to work out as often. Anika heard of intuitive exercise, but she had no idea what it was or how to put it into practice.
What is Intuitive Exercising and Why is it Important?
Intuitive exercise allows you to tune into how your body feels on any given day and engage in movement that responds to how you feel. That means choosing the frequency, type, duration, and intensity that feels good in your body at that moment. Intuitive exercise enhances the mind-body connection, which is the relationship between a person’s beliefs, thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and physical health. Intuitive exercise allows you to build an awareness regarding your body’s cues and feel the different sensations in your body. From that awareness, you can then choose to respond to the signals your body sends you (1). With time, this awareness may have a ripple effect on other areas of your life. You might start to notice and respond to your body’s cues regarding hunger and fullness, your need for social connection, your energy levels, and your body’s need for sleep!
Intuitive exercise is energy-giving as opposed to energy-depleting. You most likely feel more energetic than prior to your activity. Intuitive exercise is also flexible and does not adhere to a strict schedule or rigid rules. Intuitive exercise allows you to experience different types of exercise and it encompasses all sorts of movement, not just traditional forms of exercise. Some examples include gardening, playing with your dog, going for a walk, or dancing in your kitchen. That being said, there can be barriers to practicing intuitive exercise. For athletes, intuitive exercise can be hard as they don’t always get to choose what feels good in their bodies at that moment.
What about Diet Culture and Exercise?
Diet culture messages can be found everywhere. From gyms, to yoga studios, to sports teams, to gym class, to the fitspiration accounts on Instagram. We are constantly exposed to diet culture messages that convey the “no pain, no gain” mantra or the “I need to burn off that Thanksgiving dinner” attitude. These messages can cause us to be disconnected from what our body actually needs, which puts us at a greater risk of exhaustion, illness, injury, and a disordered relationship with exercise and food.
These messages are often the source of or an important contributing factor to a disordered relationship with exercise and/or disordered eating. When actively changing your relationship with exercise and/or food, it can be helpful to unfollow certain social media accounts.
To Exercise or Not?
If you’re questioning your relationship with exercise, it might be helpful to ask yourself a series of questions to determine if exercising really honors what your body needs.
- Is my body properly nourished?
- Am I doing this movement because I value or hate my body?
- Is my worth or value contingent on doing this type of exercise?
- Am I giving up something valuable to do this movement? For example, resting or spending time with family or friends.
- If I knew that this type of movement wouldn’t change the shape or size of my body, would I still do it?
We would like to thank one of our clients for coming up with these questions. For a visual version of these questions, take a look at this handout!
Have you heard of Gentle Movement?
Gentle movement invites us to take note of how we’re feeling and engage in movement that feels good in our bodies. This type of movement comes from a place of connecting to ourselves and being very intentional with the movement we choose to engage in. In this paradigm, rest days are a way to recharge and recover from various forms of exercise and stressors. A great first step in practicing gentle movement is to notice the intention behind your choice of movement. Take a few moments before engaging in exercise to tune into your intention. What do you hope you get out of it? Working with that awareness, you can ask yourself if that’s aligned with your values and your goals. What type of movement best serves your body and your values at this time?
Gentle movement appreciates that your body and its needs change from day to day. For example, some days you’re more tense, some days you can swim faster and some days a handstand is not accessible. Gentle movement teaches us to recognize and normalize these fluctuations.
Here are some examples of gentle movement:
- Going for a walk instead of a run.
- Using resistance bands instead of lifting heavy weights.
- Practicing yin yoga instead of power yoga.
Intuitive exercising is a practice! It takes time to build awareness regarding your body’s cues. It’s also a whole other practice to honor those cues accordingly. With time, this awareness may start to trickle down into other areas of your life!
If Anika’s story resonated with you and you feel like you may be struggling with your relationship with exercise or food, please reach out to our team to see how we can support you. You can contact us at (202) 738-4726 or email@example.com.
Written by: Jessica Francis, Registered Dietitian, in collaboration with Registered Dietitian Jamie Lee
Sööma est une entreprise bilingue qui fonctionne en anglais et en français. Nous fournissons des articles de blogue, des recettes et des articles de diverses sources qui sont parfois écrits en anglais et parfois en français. Si vous vous sentez incapable d’accéder à un article ou à un sujet spécifique en raison d’une barrière linguistique, veuillez nous contacter à firstname.lastname@example.org et nous serons heureux de traduire le contenu pour vous.
Sööma is a bilingual company that operates in both English and in French. We will provide blog posts, recipes and articles from various sources that are sometimes written in English and sometimes in French. If you feel unable to access a specific article or topic due to a language barrier, please reach out to us at email@example.com and we will be happy to translate the content for you.
- Tribole Evelyn and Resch, Elyse. Intuitive Eating – A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach.
- Galatola, Lina. “Breaking Free From Diet Culture.” Nourish Mind Body Nutrition, 1 Apr. 2019, nourishmindbodynutrition.com.au/2018/04/04/breaking-free-from-diet-culture/.
- Raffoul, Amanda. “Breaking Free from Diet Culture on International No Diet Day.” Waterloo-Wellington Eating Disorders Coalition, Waterloo-Wellington Eating Disorders Coalition, 6 May 2019, www.eatingdisorderscoalition.ca/blog/2019/5/6/breaking-free-from-diet-culture-on-international-no-diet-day.
- Jennings, Kerri-Ann. “A Quick Guide to Intuitive Eating.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 25 June 2019, www.healthline.com/nutrition/quick-guide-intuitive-eating#basics.
- Moy, Jordan, et al. “Dieting, exercise, and intuitive eating among early adolescents.” Eating behaviors 14.4 (2013): 529-532.
- Mahtani, Nikhita. “Intuitive Exercise: A Workout Plan Based on How You Feel.” Well Good, 4 Mar. 2019, www.wellandgood.com/workout-plan-intuitive-exercise/.