So, here we are on the Intuitive Eating journey again and now on Principle 9 of Intuitive Eating – movement feel the difference or how I prefer to look at it – get your body moving in a way that feels goooooooooood to you!
We all knew that this principle was coming! But the Intuitive Eating approach and trusty book has a totally different approach to movement and exercise in a way that tunes in, listens to and respects our bodies. It follows on pretty naturally with the last principle of ´Respecting Your Body´ and invites us to think of movement and activity as a way to improve our health and quality of life rather than a punishment.
How do you view exercise?
A have to do, because that is what I am supposed to do?
Push through it til its done?
Don´t even go there don´t have the time, energy, inclination?
Do it and love it?
Begrudgingly do little bits here and there?
Many people don´t see exercise as something they enjoy for a variety of reasons whether it is hangover from school days, labelling ourselves as not good at it, associating it only with weight loss, whatever. Exercise for some of us is not associated with enjoyment, more with abuse and punishment of our bodies to reach and end goal – lose weight.
The need for fuel
As part of this connection with weight loss we may have limited our food options, particularly in terms of carbohydrates which can actually make exercise even more challenging and less enjoyable as we need carbs to function – especially for movement. Studies have shown how we need carbs to feed our bodies, otherwise it eats our muscle protein and does not provide us with sufficient fuel. This makes exercise hard, drudgery – no wonder, if we are running on empty. So this can really affect our ability to do exercise let alone enjoy it! Yet often instead of changing our diet and increasing our carbs we may blame ourselves for not having the willpower to show up and exercise or pushing through it day after day. We wouldn´t expect a car to run without fuel, so why do it with our bodies? We actually need way more carbs than we might think to do exercise – 1 slice of bread for swimming 200 metres, 3 slices for running 2 miles, over 15 slices for cycling an hour! Get the picture?
Rethinking Exercise and Movement
When you are ready to start thinking about incorporating more movement or reassessing what you do consider these points:
- Focus on how your body feels – before, during and after movement rather than thinking of calories, weight loss or any of that stuff. Consider stress levels, energy levels, overall wellbeing, mental state -thoughts and feelings, sleep. Do these alter before, during and after movement?
Or if you don´t currently exercise how do you feel about the above right now and use this as a baseline once you feel ready to shift to movement.
- Break free from the idea of losing weight – this will not be a motivating factor in the long term. Instead consider something that is more powerful to you. For example, to improve your ability to run/play with your kids or grandkids, to reduce the need for medication or developing health problems, improve quality of life and longevity. Movement will help with all of these and having a strong motivator without it being attached to losing weight will make you far more likely to want to do it rather than just abuse or punish your body.
- Movement to help with reducing stress and improving cortisol levels. Something we all know, but often forget.
- A way to improve your overall health in so many ways from reducing blood pressure, likelihood of chronic diseases, improving mental health, etc, etc.
- It doesn´t have to be all or nothing. You don´t have to run a marathon or commit to the gym 5 times a week, for example. Find what works for you. Also it doesn´t have to be an hour straight of activity, every minute of movement counts throughout the day. A 10 minute set of stretches or yoga in the morning followed by a 15 minute walk at lunchtime, taking the steps at work, doing some gardening or cleaning all count towards movement. We can look at movement in different ways and change up or make some adjustments to what we do currently.
Exercise and Time
¨I don´t have time for exercise¨ is a common one thing to hear. And yes, it can be tough. But as has just been explored above, it doesn´t have to be a whole class, gym session or a full hour to count. Look at ways to incorporate into your daily life whether it is walking or getting public transport rather than the car, taking the stairs, walking whilst taking a meeting or chatting with a friend – get creative! And if you have to make exercise an appointment in your diary, then do just that. Maybe doing it with a friend or family member will make it more enjoyable too!
Also, find exercise that you enjoy. You are far more likely to do it then too. Maybe something you did as a kid and have stopped doing or try something totally new that you may be curious about. Remember it doesn´t have to be cardio or full on sweat to count – all movement makes a difference over the period of a day.
Prioritising movement as a lifelong commitment
We can often start an exercise routine as part of a new regime, diet or way to lose weight instead consider making the shift to see it as an integral part of life. This makes it more sustainable and more likely we will find ways to include it in our lives creatively and also make it more enjoyable!
Instead of measuring on apps or fitness machines the number of calories burnt, focus on the enjoyment of the movement of being outside, spending time with a friend while doing it, for example. Variety also makes it more fun and you can also add in listening to a podcast, watching tv or reading too for some exercise – change it up and multi-task!
Remember to keep movement regardless of where you are especially if you travel a lot and remember your exercise clothes/shoes which should always be comfortable and feel good.
As we get older strength and stretching are increasingly important, especially for women, so try to include at least two strength training sessions – there are loads on YouTube to choose from. They will help fend off osteoporosis and general health concerns as we grow older. Stretching like yoga and pilates a couple of times a week will help too, but find what works for you and what you enjoy.
Enrichen your life
Above all looking at exercise as a way to enrichen your life right now and for the future is critical. Ditching the need for weight loss and purely training for this outcome. Instead find movement that you enjoy and feel good after you have done them, whilst remembering not to overdo it and to rest too. It is all a balance.
Sometimes we also need to remind ourselves of the enjoyment of movement – as we may get set in a routine that we get bored or frustated by. Also, we can slip into old habits of exercising to change our body shapes and freak out if we can´t do exercise or aren´t seeing ´progress´. Remember why we are moving our bodies – to care for them, listen and respect them and make life more enjoyable rather than drudgery or a punishment.
I never considered myself a sporty person at school or beyond and pretty much only did exercise to lose weight in my 20s and 30s. I remember punishing myself by going to the gym which I really disliked and never considered exercise could be enjoyable, apart from when I went swimming. In the last 15 years or so I have reviewed that approach and gradually found exercise I enjoy. These does change too as sometimes I can get bored after a while of some forms of exercise. I regularly incorporate zumba, walking, football (yes, I even have joined a team!), padel (a mixture of tennis and squash) swimming, yoga and strength training depending on how my day or week looks. I have altered my perspective to make movement a non-negotiable and try and find ways to fit it in my day even if it is just a few minutes of dancing between meetings or doing a chore after sitting at my desk for over an hour.
This has taken a lot of trial and error to find what I like and I do recognise that I haven´t totally ditched the desire to alter my body in some way. However, I am a lot more focused on thinking long term about caring for my body, especially as I am now in my 50s and want to ensure my quality of life for years to come and reduce health issues. These are pretty powerful motivators for me these days! Thankfully I have the motivation and desire to do this and access to resources to do exercise, but I have also found lots of free ways to enjoy moving, particularly in nature, with friends and on YouTube. There are infinite possiblities – try some new things out and have a play! Above all, enjoy moving your body in a way that feels good to you!
How do you feel about exercise? Have you been able to shift into working alongside your body rather than punish it? Is it a means to an end or something you enjoy doing? Please get in touch with your thoughts, ideas, comments about moving your body, intuitive eating and any questions too! I LOVE to hear from you……….
Images: Hulki Okan Tabak, tabitha turner, Emma Simpson, Javier Allegue Barros