Joyful Movement or Principle 9 of Intuitive Eating, Exercise: Feel the difference
Honesty moment: I have not written a blog post in quite a while, and since my initial plan was to post weekly I was feeling sort of down on myself for not meeting my goal. But as a recovering perfectionist, these days I find it so much more liberating to be able to mess up, not meet a goal, and keep going verses giving up because something doesn’t look exactly the way I planned it to. Doesn’t that really fit for how we eat and how we move our bodies as well!
Additional side comment – the reason I have not been posting is because I have been spending the last few months completing my yoga teacher training. How perfect since the topic of this post is joyful movement!
Let’s face it! Physical activity has a plethora of both mental and physical health benefits.
Evidence shows that regular movement can lead to reduced health risks including: cognitive decline, colon, lung and endometrial cancers, heart disease, hypertension and stroke, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, and premature death. It can also improve quality of life factors like strength, balance, stamina, mood, stress tolerance, sleep quality and memory to name a few.
But similarly to diet there is so much info out there about what, when, how and how much that it can be confusing to figure out what works for you. I find my clients often in a pendulum of exercising rigidly and obsessively followed by periods of in activity. The “all or nothing” relationship with exercise can feel similar to dieting and then being “off the wagon,” or restricting and bingeing.
If the main goal of movement is to lose weight, burn calories and/or sculpt your body to look a certain way then it makes sense that movement falls pray to the diet mentality and the same effects that it has on your food. Research has actually shown that those who exercise for the purpose of weight loss are more likely to hit snooze/skip a workout than those who choose to do movement for other reasons like health benefits, reduced stress, and fun!
So if physical activity has loads of benefits, but your relationship with movement is disordered, what do you do? - Insert the intuitive eating way.
Intuitive or joyful movement as I like to call it, is all about focusing on the benefits you receive from participating in activities that you enjoy.
Screw the “no pain, no gain” mentality – You don’t have to feel pain or soreness to receive the benefits of movement, and in fact, exercising at this level can lead to inflammation in the body, burn out and injury.
Instead it’s important to practice mindful movement: which focuses on the following:
- rejuvenates, rather than exhausts or depletes
- enhances the mind-body connection
- Alleviates stress, rather than amplifying stress
- Provides genuine enjoyment and pleasure (the Intuitive Eating Workbook by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch)
To start, you can think about the types of movement that you truly enjoy doing.
What constitutes as physical activity/movement? It doesn’t have to be a structured sport or exercise to count as movement (though these can be great) activities of daily living like gardening, house work, taking out the trash, dog walks, and doing laundry or the dishes are also movement.
In addition, consider how and where you would most enjoy performing these activities, alone or with others, indoors or outside, etc.
Make sure to explore any barriers to doing the activities you want to participate in. There are several considerations to make here including checking to see if diet mentality is sneaking in and encouraging a type of activity for weight loss vs pleasure; history of teasing or bullying during sports; weight stigma present in several gyms and fitness facilities; lack of knowledge about how to do a certain type of activity; financial requirements of certain activities, and available time.
Then you need to determine how often and how much! This is where your body is the expert. You are the only one who is going to know how you feel and if you want to move your body on a certain day. Remember that this information is supposed to come from your body and not rules that you make up in your head. And remember to consider things like other commitments, social time, energy level, lack of sleep, sickness or injury. If you are finding it difficult to stick to joyful activities or listen to your body vs your head’s rules ie: doing exercise that you don’t enjoy just for the “calorie burn,” exercising while injured or sick, or not taking days off then you will benefit from working with an eating disorder professional for additional support.
Final notes – taking rest days is part of a balanced relationship with movement. Days off allow our muscles to recover, helping us grow stronger and receive more of the benefits from the movement that we do. Even small changes to your daily activities can create impacts on your mental and physical health so try it out! And if you don’t know what activities to start with – May I suggest YOGA! ;)