Is My Exercise Healthy?
Much like our relationship with food, we also have a relationship with exercise. We know it can improve our mood, decrease stress and improve our overall health. But many times, we end up in a place where exercise is not healthy. Whether we're using it as a way to control our body size or to punish ourselves for eating some forbidden food, the activity becomes a stress on our body and mindset and is no longer beneficial. Ultimately, the goal with movement should be that it comes from a place of internal motivation, free from external pressures. You do it for the inherent satisfaction of the activity, as it aligns with your core values. So what does this mean? We pursue movement that makes us feel good and that we enjoy, without worrying about the end result. We prioritize physical activity and incorporate it into our routine because it gives us pleasure. We're not worried about how it will affect the scale, we just enjoy moving so we continue to do it.
If that's not how you view movement, maybe it's time to reevaluate. It's okay to totally take a break from exercise. Many times that's the best way to heal the relationship. Before we can begin the work of healing, we first need to be honest with ourselves about our intentions. I went through my own process with exercise too. I had to work through intuitive eating and finding joyful movement for myself (read more on that here). But it is totally possible. It just starts with being honest with ourselves and bringing awareness around the mindset and feelings.
Questions to consider:
When exercising, am I typically trying disassociate myself from the present moment and movement?
Am I going to work out because I feel guilty for eating or spending money on a gym membership?
Am I exercising only to distract myself from uncomfortable emotions?
Does movement "count" if it's only for a short time, or if you don't break a sweat?
Would I still continue doing this activity if it had no effect on my body's shape or size?
Depending on how you answer these questions, it may be an indication that you need to take a break from exercising to address some of the underlying thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and a preoccupation with weight may also be an indication that an eating disorder is present, so it's best to work with your own health care provider if you have concerns.
If exercise is only tolerable when you're distracting yourself from your body, then it's likely not the kind of activity that provides enough internal rewards to be sustainable or beneficial. Similarly, when exercise is motivated from a place of guilt, then it's probably not the best choice right now. We want to avoid black and white or all or nothing thinking, so feeling like you need to work out for a specific amount of time and break a sweat likely means it's time to take a break.
Discovering the motivations for exercise works in tandem with the process of moving toward intuitive eating. Many of the same mindsets come up as a result of the diet culture we live in. When we work on un-learning those principles, we can achieve a healthier relationship with movement. We can't really do one without addressing the other. While you're working through your own process, you may wonder; "is it okay for me to do any movement?" And that will largely depend on the person. It may be appropriate to walk or try yoga and work toward bringing some awareness around the body and how it feels during movement. But it may be best to simply stop all forms of intentional exercise for a while. Not forever, just until you are able to view it from the lens of self care and enjoyment, without ulterior motives.
If you're interested in healing your relationship with exercise, feel free to reach out to me with questions! I'm happy to work with you or I can point you in the direction of a registered dietitian in your local area!