Throughout my years of practice I have heard too many individuals talk about exercise as something they hate, something they dread, or most commonly, as something they only do when they are dieting. To some, the mere thought of incorporating exercise brings along a dark cloud of self judgement, shame and fear. When exercise becomes a ‘have to’ instead of a ‘want to’ – Houston, we have a problem!
Strict and rigid exercise routines and exercise performed solely to change one’s body, weight, or dependent on food intake may bring one to dangerous grounds. Quite often this results in inadequate fueling for what is being asked of our bodies, leaving one feeling fatigued, irritable, having difficulty concentrating, and more prone to illness, injury or further medical complications. These side effects may lead one to eliminate exercise all together, often creating guilt which challenges mental, emotional, and physical health. Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA, CEDRD in their book Intuitive Eating use the analogy of comparing exercising for weight loss to a time card being punched by a bored assembly-line employee, emphasizing that weight loss will not motivate exercise for long and will become discouraging when the results are not happening quick enough or are not what was pictured or promised. These authors recommend “decoupling exercise from weight loss,” and I couldn’t agree more.
You may be asking, what does exercise look like if it is not weight, calorie, or food focused?
First off, the definition of exercise is: planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movements; while the definition of physical activity is: body movement produced by contractions. Takeaway: whatever you want to call it, it is about moving your body. I like to keep it simple. So instead of categorizing and labeling movement, see what happens when you just call it movement. Does that take some of the pressure off? Refraining from strictly defining movement allows us to move away from unrealistic expectations. Other names that I like equally as much are: enjoyable movement, mindful movement, and intuitive exercise.
Secondly, identify the type of body movement that you like or enjoy that makes you feel good. This might be a bike ride with your children, a yoga class with your best friend, paddle boarding with your dog, or a walk on the beach at sunset. The music at the yoga class, your dog’s tongue flapping in the wind, or the salty beach breeze might make that experience rewarding and enjoyable enough to want to do it again! Unsure of where to begin, try to think about what you used to enjoy doing as a child, chances are these activities may still be something you have fun doing now. Did someone say kickball?
Lastly, consider what the benefits of movement are that you personally connect to. These may include: increased strength, flexibility, endurance, a more cheerful outlook, improved mental functioning, feeling of vigor, greater bone density, improved sleep, stimulation of immune function, improved circulation and lung function, reduced risk of chronic disease. Try to think of exercise as self care and health promoting instead of punishing, stress inducing, or negatively interfering with your health or well-being. I challenge you to focus on how moving your body is part of you taking care of you and know that it is okay to feel good about any movement that achieves this.
How can movement be part of your full life?
Sizer, F.S ., & Whitney, E . (2014) Nutrition concepts & controversies. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Tribole, E., & Resch, E. ( 2012). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary program that works. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Willer, F. (2013). The non-diet guidebook for dietitians. Raleigh, N.C: Lulu Publishing, Ltd.
Courtney is a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition and eating disorder treatment. She incorporates HAES and non-diet principles into her practice. In addition to nutrition consultations, Courtney leads a weekly meal support group. Meal group provides a safe space to challenge food rules and behaviors that prevent one from enjoying food or feeling comfortable in their body.