If you've been working on your relationship with food, you may have noticed how much unlearning you have to do to repair that relationship. Intuitive Eating has 10 principles that can guide your progress and gives a few guideposts for connecting to your body.
I believe we need to have the same thing for exercise! With my work with clients, we've often had to explore their relationship with exercise in the same way we've had to explore their relationship with food. These principles may help to guide progress and serve as guideposts for connecting to your body related to movement. On a personal note, I had to reevaluate my own relationship with movement after a chronic illness diagnosis and these are what I created and used to guide my own exploration.
1. Reject the Sweat Mentality
Get rid of the definitions of what exercise is or must be! Reject that you must sweat in order for movement to 'count'. Evaluate if the things you used to exercise in the past are still beneficial. Keeping those barbells, treadmill or yoga mat around are only beneficial if they aren't causing guilt or shame. If they are allowing you to hold on to the hope that your body will change through movement, it could be beneficial to put them away for the time being. Keep the items or classes that you look forward to and enjoy, not the ones you suffer through. Get angry at diet culture that has made a connection between food and movement. Get angry that diet culture has put rules and guidelines on how you move your body. Redefine movement and what it means - challenge any confines you notice yourself putting on the definition of it.
2. Honor Your Body
All too often, we push our body past its limits while requiring more of it with each passing day. Honoring your body means providing it with enough sleep for your life, adequate energy and carbohydrates and comfortable clothing so that you can restore your relationship with movement. Asking your body to move without these, is asking your body to perform without caring for it first.
3. Make Peace with Rest
Give yourself unconditional permission to rest! If you have set guidelines on rest or how much you should move, you aren't able to hear your body's wise signals that it would like rest or like more movement. Explore taking a time off from movement entirely, giving your body rest and gently start to increase listening to when it is asking for movement or asking for more rest. Challenge the rules you have about rest and lean into how restorative it is for your body.
4. Challenge the Exercise Police
If you've spent a lifetime dieting and exercising to change your body, you most likely have strong guidelines of what exercise or a workout should look like. You may have personal trainers or exercise instructors in your head, saying mantras or common "motivational" fitness quotes that are playing over and over like a track. You may even find that changing the terminology you use, from exercise or workouts to using the word movement instead could be beneficial. If using the term movement feels more emotionally equivalent or less charged than exercise or workouts, change up your terms! If you find that term exercise or workouts have no emotional meaning or no predetermined definition, it is your choice if you want to keep using them. Regardless, it is time to challenge the voices that say certain movement is "good" or that rest is "bad"! If your own voice starts getting more critical or louder during your movement, start to chase these voices away, screaming a loud "no!" to them, if needed!
5. Discover the Feel Good Factor
Exercise may have been a 'punishment' or something to 'earn' a specific food. As a result, for many of us, the enjoyment was taken out of it. It may have been something you did to maintain a certain size or shape and felt like an obligation. Start to play around with movement and find what makes you feel good. Good can be during movement (joyful movement!) or it can be noticing the feel good factor after your movement. The feel good factor doesn't come from a place of accomplishment or 'checking off a box'. It may mean that you have an endorphin high afterwards or that your body has less pain throughout the day, another way the feel good factor can show up.
6. Feel Your Limits
Diet Culture has taught us that pushing past our limits is necessary. Your body has a lot to say about this and all too often, we've been taught to ignore it! Feeling drained after movement is a great sign that your body is communicating its limits. If you notice that your muscles are aching, constantly sore or feeling tight than normal, these are also ways your body is communicating. Your body's limits aren't always where we want them to be and they will change as we age. Leaning into this, as opposed to away from it, can increase overall intuitive movement.
7. Cope with Your Emotions without Movement
Movement can be a wonderful way to support anxiety, anger, sadness and many other strong emotions. AND if it is the only way you are working through some of these emotions, it can impact your relationship with movement. It can also impact your ability to listen to and respect your body. Broadening the options you have to cope with emotions may not always feel the same as movement will - and thats okay. Life happens and we don't always have the ability to get movement in the way we prefer. Having practices like meditation, a good cry session or a few lions breaths for example, can allow us to connect to our body and emotions with even more depth.
8. Respect Your Body
Your body has its own fantastic blueprint. Acknowledging and accepting body diversity can also mean respecting your body's unique arms, legs, stomach and rolls etc! Your ancestors gave you your body and most likely many other parts of you also. This also means respecting your body's limits and honoring those - even if it is different than what you feel like your body should/can do. What could this look like? It could be learning that your body may need less exercise than you (or society!) thinks it should. It could be that you need different types of movement than you ever thought would be included. It could also be that you hate it during but the benefits after (less pain, better sleep, for example) outweigh the effort. A key piece is getting curious. Are you enjoying what you are doing? How do you feel during? How do you feel after? What about the next day? Neutral curiosity is crucial as you explore what your body needs and what respecting it with movement means.
9. Allow Space and Time for Grief
I know this one personally and know how hard it is. Sometimes when we start to respect our body, it can come with a heavy serving of grief. We want to be rockstars, do ALL the THINGS and when we start to explore that there is a slight possibility our body cannot do that, grief is normal. Grief is not a one and done task to support, please give yourself grace and time as you explore it. If you have a therapist or skilled dietitian who can hold space for this, I highly recommend exploring it with someone.
Diet Culture says that our body should be able to do everything. Remember, diet culture does not know sh&t about your body or what its limits are. Grief doesn't need to mean the end of anything or a total moratorium on movement - unless that is what your body is asking for. It can mean sadness, deep loss and possibly, tenderness toward your body. Self-compassion is so important as you start to explore this and grieve with yourself. If self-compassion is a challenge, explore Kristin Neff's work and/or schedule a session with your therapist to explore it. This principle is simply asking to keep this option open or keep it on your horizon as you explore your relationship with movement.
10. Honor Your Health - Intentional Movement
Once you've broken down movement for yourself, or focused on repairing your relationship with movement, it MAY/COULD be time to explore next steps. ALSO, if you are thinking too much about movement changing your body or hoping with all hope that it could, there is the possibility that you may need to do more work on repairing your relationship with movement. Given the culture that we live it, it is entirely normal to still have a few thoughts that "maybe this will change my body" - we have been deeply conditioned that this is desirable. If you are counting on movement doing that or allowing yourself to eat certain foods because you are moving - I'd pause before increasing movement and focus on repairing your relationship a bit more.
If you are feeling ready and you'll know if your desire to move your body is focused on how your body feels, not how much it weighs or the size, start bit by bit. Center on what you enjoy or what makes your body feel its best. If you are feeling creeky, what could your body be saying? Do you notice any time that your body is craving something? Could you lean in and ask what? If you are feeling a need to "tone" - what could this really mean? Could your muscles be asking for something different?
As you start to do this, consider your language around increasing movement. If you are saying things like "out of shape" or "lost all my work" - can you add some gentleness around this? How would you speak to your younger self or your best friend as they add in more movement? Lastly, it will feel challenging most likely! Your body is letting you know that it is being moved. Can you approach it with kindness and hold space that you body can do hard things?
What of these principles are challenging for you? What would you change or add?