There, I said it.
I may write and talk a lot about food, body image and freedom, but I don’t mention exercise much. It’s pretty controversial, actually. With all my nutrition classes and health training, I am very aware of the health impact that an exercise routine makes and yet I can state it simply: I don’t work out.
Am I recommending that you don’t work out? That depends. Does the thought of not working out fill you with fear, anxiety or guilt? Then, maybe. Does it fill you with excitement and freedom? Then, maybe. Maybe working out isn’t for you either.
Let me explain. During the worst years of my disordered eating, exercise was not an option. It wasn’t for fun. It was for the image, the look I was going for (because the emaciated skin and bones look is super hot, right?). I wanted to look like the girls on the cover of Shape magazine, which I subscribed to and devoured every month. I don’t think there was a single day that I didn’t work out in some way. From exercise videos to hours on the treadmill, long walks, running and weight lifting; I did it all. It consumed me as much, if not more than my rigid eating or lack of eating rituals.
As I gradually began the journey of recovery, exercise was the last to go. I learned to eat more freely and to accept and feed my cravings, but I could not ditch the 5-mile runs, bike rides, weight lifting sessions and yoga. You may be thinking, “Why should you? Those things are all so healthy.” Yes and no. They can be healthy but often, they’re not. When exercise is used as punishment (I ate this so I have to work it off), or to reach some physical goal (I will work out every day until I lose 15 pounds), it has power over you. You can take that power back!
Baby steps though… I traded my treadmill for an elliptical because I wanted to be gentle to my body. My rigidity continued, despite my intentions and finally I sold the elliptical and “forced” myself to take a slow, leisurely walk one afternoon a week. My intention on these walks was to quiet my mind and connect with the nature around me instead of drowning out my feelings with loud, upbeat music and pushing my body harder. I learned a lot on those walks. Gradually, I gave up running and pretty much anything that felt like I was forcing myself to do it. If I didn’t have a desire to do something, I told myself, “No.” It was a gentle “no”, much like a parent to a child, protecting myself from, well, myself. Honestly, I was scared that I would gain weight, lose muscle mass and turn into a big blob, but I didn’t. Our bodies are so incredible. Because I had already become an intuitive eater, I didn’t actually have to worry about what my body would do. We all have a natural set point for our weight that our bodies will arrive at easily, when we allow ourselves the room for some fluctuation. I found mine and I’m happy with it. I’m also happy that working out doesn’t control my life, my schedule or my relationship with my body.
The phrase “working out” is so mechanical, so laced with work. Shudder. That’s not fun! What do I suggest? The Health At Every Size model has a concept called Joyful Movement. It’s truly beautiful and I will try to describe it to you as best I can. Think of playing as a child, running around the neighborhood or in your backyard, playing tag, chase, climbing jungle gyms and kicking a soccer ball around. That was joyful. Swimming in a pool or the ocean during the summer months or being on a sports team you enjoyed. Joyful. Something happened to change that. Puberty? Media? Ideas of what you should be doing and how you should look? Maybe it was all of the above. Whatever it is, we lose that desire to move in a natural, joyful way and then we turn to “work outs” to fix ourselves. Dancing. Swimming. Walking. Running. Lifting weights. All of these are movements that can be joyful, or rigidly structured in such a way that the joy is stripped from them. If you are like I was and you need to step away from “working out” to discover what joyful movement looks like for you, give yourself permission to just stop. Adding activity into your life in a more organic way may help you find movement that you can enjoy. Things like parking farther away, taking the stairs, walking over to a co-worker instead of calling, strolling the neighborhood with your children and playing fetch with your dog are all activities that can easily be added into your life to increase movement while decreasing religious, structured, controlling regimens. It’s about turning off the timer (the one that says 30 minutes a day, 3-5 times a week) and giving yourself a break. You’re not a machine after all, despite what the fitness magazines would have you believe.
I still have my weights. They just don’t tell me what to do or when. I grab them once or twice a week and strengthen my muscles because I like the feeling I get when I lift them and I like knowing that I’m strong. I still have my running shoes, but now they push a stroller with my two beautiful girls when the weather is nice and my friends are alongside me for a good, long walk filled with deep conversations and laughter. I got a Wii last year for the winter months and I love doing programs on it like Wii Fit Plus or dance games. I had to stop that for a while too, though, because I felt my old triggers returning and the need to do it for a certain amount of time every single day. When I go back to it, it will be because I want to have fun. I guard the freedom I have with a passion. I ache for others to have that freedom too. I believe it is my mission and my purpose. Contact me if you want to schedule a session or just check-in. I love hearing from you!