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My intern, Ally, is taking over my blog to bring you a 10-part Mini training teaching you about the ten principles of Intuitive Eating. Each week, a new blogpost will go live summarizing the key elements of the principle while also giving you actionable steps to bring the principle into your life. Ally’s written several posts in this series already, including:

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out those posts to get up to speed!

This week, Ally is teaching you all about Principle 9: Movement- Feel the Difference. To make sure you don’t miss any posts from this series, click here to subscribe to my weekly newsletter.  

Take it away, Ally!

Exercise is often portrayed as a chore we must put ourselves through. Perhaps you hate running, but you’ve forced yourself to run for years in an effort to lose weight. Or, maybe you’ve been strictly lifting heavy weights and doing HIIT workouts because you feel pressured to “get toned.” Diet culture convinces us that exercise is simply another method for changing our physical bodies. Just as the act of dieting makes us feel guilty and unhappy, this mindset around movement has the same effect.

When you adopt a new workout plan with the goal of changing your physical body or compensating for the food you eat, exercise will never be pleasurable or sustainable.

By switching your focus to how exercise makes you feel, you can find fun, sustainable ways to enjoy moving your body. Principle 9, Movement- Feel the Difference explores how you can rid yourself of rigid rules about exercise and begin to reap all of the benefits and happiness that comes with movement. Movement should be fun, and you deserve to move and live in a way that aligns with your individual preferences, attunement cues, and day-to-day lifestyle.

“When a diet fails, exercise often stops because it was only done as an adjunct to dieting. You’re left with memories of feeling bad, which makes you less likely to want to exercise in the future.” (Intuitive Eating page 218)

As we’ve come to understand, restrictive habits and behaviors burn us out both mentally and physically. In the same way that diets involve food rules, many exercise regimens involve a similar form of guilt-ridden rules about what constitutes an exercise as “counting.”

Diet culture often blames the individual for not having enough “willpower” to exercise- let’s take the example of the “New year, new you” advertisements every winter from the fitness industry. Every year, this language around exercise gets you to believe that working out is a matter of personal responsibility and discipline. Inevitably, when you can’t stick to a workout plan prescribed by the societal accepted norms of what “counts,” you end up feeling guilt and shame. In reality, it’s likely the workout plan wasn’t aligned with your body’s needs and preferences to begin with, so no wonder it was unsustainable!

So many people don’t even know where to start with healing their relationship with movement. A question that might be helpful to ask yourself is: if there was no guarantee that exercise would change your physical body, how would you choose to move?

Because most people associate exercise with dieting, it’s normal to have an all-or-nothing mindset around movement. You may have formed internalized rules about what “counts” as exercise as a result of living in diet culture. Perhaps, you’ve been taught that in order to reap the physical and mental benefits of exercise, your workouts must take a certain amount of time, but did you know that according to the World Health Organization, even a 10 minute walk or some light stretching is enough to clear your mind and make you feel good? (World Health Organization 2010). In today’s culture, it’s likely unrealistic to assume that you’ll have an extended period of free time to workout during the day. Rather than forcing yourself to adhere to rigid rules for day-to-day exercise, consider adding little bursts of movement to your routine when you’re able to. Lifting this pressure will allow you to have fun with movement and use it as a time to take care of yourself, rather than punish yourself. Remember: exercise is something that should add to your quality of life, not take away from it.

Researchers say, “it’s about time we decouple exercise from weight loss, because it minimizes its myriad significant health benefits. (Chaput et al. 2011)” (Intuitive Eating page 220)

Diet culture tends to frame weight loss as the “ultimate goal” that all individuals should seek. Yet, movement is important for a variety of reasons that are entirely unrelated to weight loss. Some benefits of moving your body include:

  • Increased strength
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Reduced risk for chronic diseases
  • Improved mood
  • Improved learning and memory 
  • Increased stress tolerance

Importantly, you can attain the above benefits and more even if your body size and shape doesn’t change.

When you’re constantly worried about food and exercise, that adds an extra burden of stress to your life. This added stress in addition to everyday stressors often leads to compiled chronic stress, which ultimately interferes with your ability to reap all of the typical benefits of exercise. In a state of chronic stress, your body produces excess cortisol (stress hormone) in response to a perceived “threat.” This is often associated with hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, and elevated neuropeptide Y release (which increases appetite). Let’s recall that exercise typically reduces stress, but when it becomes compulsive and extreme, it has the opposite effect.  

For several years, I wore an apple watch to track my workouts. At first, I found this to be a helpful, interesting tool for tracking my distance during high school swim practices. Over time, however, I started to focus more on the metrics captured by my watch than the actual swim itself. After swimming, I’d analyze not only the distance I swam, but the calories I burned. Soon enough, this translated into me tracking all forms of movement on my watch (even a 10 minute walk!) to make sure that it “counted.” I found myself feeling stressed and anxious on days where I didn’t meet my “move goal,” and hourly exercise reminders from my watch only made matters worse. When I saw that I had burned less calories doing a particular workout, this led me to (falsely) believe that it wasn’t a “good enough” workout and I need to “make up for it” by eating less. I’d often skip rest days, because I didn’t believe that I was actually deserving of rest. The extra layer of stress associated with fixating on exterior metrics caused me to miss out on all of the enjoyment that comes with exercise.

 Now, as an intuitive eater who’s been working to heal my relationship with food and exercise, I no longer wear an apple watch. Each day, I focus on moving in a way that makes me feel healthy, happy, and strong- sometimes, that’s lifting weights, other days it’s a walk outside, and some days, I just rest. On my intuitive eating journey, I’ve learned that no form of exercise is morally better than another. Taking some time off of exercise won’t negatively impact your health by any means- in fact, it’s entirely healthy to take breaks. Our bodies need rest, and it’s necessary to take care of yourself by moving in a way that feels good.

The act of prioritizing time to take care of your mental and physical health may feel nearly impossible. In today’s busy world, that’s understandable! Yet, intuitive eating is a self care framework therefore making time for yourself is an important ingredient in being able to hear your body’s cues.

Movement can be an excellent way to connect with yourself and find peace. Brainstorm pockets of time throughout the day that you could devote towards yourself- maybe 5 minutes of stretching in the morning, taking the stairs a few times per week at work, or a short after-dinner walk to wind down from the day. When deciding upon how to move your body, be sure to choose something that feels enjoyable to you, whether that be a dance party to your favorite songs, an at-home pilates workout, a group fitness class, biking, jump roping, or walking your dog. 

While you may engage in formal movement, you can also reap benefits from informal movement– movement that’s built into your day-to-day activities. Informal movement can be equally as beneficial as formal movement. Some examples of this kind of movement that is built into your day-to-day life includes: unloading the dishwasher, gardening, changing your sheets, doing laundry, walking to class, or cleaning the house. Be aware of getting stuck in the trap of believing that movement only counts when it’s “formally” occurring at a gym- informal movement can be a sustainable and realistic way to incorporate movement into your life.

Aside from redefining what movement means to you, it can also be helpful to get rid of exterior metrics like trackers, fitness watches, and apps so that you can focus on how movement genuinely makes you feel. Wear comfortable clothing that makes you feel good about yourself- if you’re in something that’s tight, hot, or heavy, moving your body might feel like a chore. All things considered, movement should be used as a tool to energize your body, not deplete it.

Did you hear the news? We launched a podcast here at Leah Kern Nutrition! Shoulders Down Podcast is a podcast designed to teach you how to harness your intuition to govern not just how you eat but also how you live. New episodes get released every Tuesday!  Click here to listen to our latest episode on the intersection of pop punk culture and anti-diet culture and disordered eating in the LGBTQ+ community with anti-diet dietitian, Kristin Lawton. 

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