A post about why I decided to stop taking the stairs and more importantly how to shift from over-exercising to moving intuitively and choosing exercise that feels good.
“Take the stairs.”
“Park your car in the furthest spot from the entrance.”
“Walk in place during TV commercials.”
Yep, I’m ashamed to admit that used to utter these phrases to my clients back in the day.
When I first became a dietitian, I worked in an outpatient clinic at a hospital, and I remember I always took the stairs. I always took the stairs because I told my clients to take the stairs. I always took the stairs because the dietitians were “supposed to” take the stairs. I took the stairs because I didn’t want my colleagues or clients to see me taking the elevator. This was also the time when I encouraged my clients to park their car in the spot furthest from the entrance and to walk in place during TV commercials. As I sit here now reflecting on these things, I’m like that sounds god awful. Who wants to interrupt a comfy couch sesh winding down at night while watching your favorite show with shame and guilt about not moving during three minutes of commercials? Certainly not me. And yet, I was telling my clients to.
Why? Because back then I didn’t know any better. Back then I didn’t know about intuitive eating and health at every size. Unfortunately, the pursuit of weight loss was all I knew. If only I could find all of my clients from 7+ years ago and apologize to each one of them.
Today, I rarely ever take the stairs. Why? It’s simple. I hate stairs. You’re more likely to find me jumping out of a plane than you are to find me on a stair master at the gym. And now I giver zero f**ks about what people think of me for not taking the stairs. Sometimes my husband will take the stairs and I’m on the escalator like “byeeeeeee, hope I beat you!” I let go of the “shoulds” around taking the stairs. I allowed myself to listen to my body to learn what types of movement it actually does enjoy (yoga, walking, spin, dance) and gave myself permission to only do types of activity that feel good in my body.
Our culture has a pretty effed up relationship with exercise, just like it does with food. The fitness industry and “fitspo” has convinced us that we need to be killing ourselves at the gym each day to be healthy and lose weight. Because of this, we have a warped perception of what counts as exercise. Most of my clients are surprised to learn that walking and yoga counts as physical activity. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that for substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalence combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. That means walking for 30 minutes 5x/week. That means running for 25 minutes 3x/week. Based on these figures, so many people are overexercising.
Shifting from overexercising to intuitive movement
Here are a couple questions to ask yourself to get curious about your exercise routine:
“Am I doing this exercise because I love my body or because I hate my body?”
“Is this exercise going to energize me or leave me feeling depleted?”
“Do I feel better about myself or worse about myself when I leave class?”
Start to get in touch with how your forms of exercise make you feel. Maybe you go to barre class because you think it’s going to help you get “toned” but every time you go, the instructor is talking about 6-pack abs and beach bodies, and you’re spending the entire class comparing yourself in the mirror to the other bodies in the room. You leave class in a downward spiral of negative self talk and body loathing. Or, maybe when you go to spin class, you push yourself past your limits because you want to burn more calories, and you leave class feeling completely exhausted, feeling like you need a nap.
If the purpose of exercise is to improve health, then why are we choosing forms that deplete us and make us feel worse about ourselves? Because there is usually some belief present that you can micromanage your body through exercise.
What if instead of exercising to micromanage your body size, you exercised to care for your body?
Take some time to think about or write down which classes you’ve taken or which forms of movement (walking the dog, skiing, roller blading) you actually enjoy. And not enjoy because of some “should” or expectation or feeling like you’re in control, but actually enjoy. The kind of enjoy that puts a smile on your face. Fills your soul. Energizes and rejuvenates. For me, it’s yoga, walking in nature, dancing, spin (as long as there is a good playlist), and skiing.
I’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge my privilege here. I’m a white, cis-gendered, able-bodied female of high socioeconomic status. I have privilege to be able to take exercise classes and I recognize that not everyone can engage in the forms of movement they may want to. Perhaps for some people, taking the stairs and parking the car far away and walking in place during commercials are the only ways they can incorporate movement into their days. I’m not saying taking the stairs is bad. I’m just saying if you don’t enjoy them and there are other types of activity you DO enjoy and are able to engage in, then go do THAT.
Tell me, what does your relationship to movement look like? How can you make one shift towards intuitive movement?
That’s funny, I loved taking 6-8 flights of stairs every day when I was younger. Now that I’m home, I miss it, and I’m having trouble finding what works for me while watching the pounds multiply.
Hi Lisa – I’d encourage you to look into the principle of joyful movement, focusing on finding movement that you enjoy! Here are a few resources that you might find helpful for exploring movement in a different way:
Do the activity you enjoy indeed! Exercise has saved my life in so many positive ways. I’m so grateful to have this body and I love that exercise helps me nurture and take care of it. Great post Kara!
Yes! Love that, Sara!
Yesyesyes. The amount of time I use to spend doing calf raises while cooking, or planks during commercials, or whatever a “health” and fitness magazine told me to do is unreal. Mind you, I was also engaging in excessive amounts of structured fitness on top of this. Our culture has a very warped view on health and exercise and I am glad that people (like yourself) are starting to speak up about it! It feels so good to let go of the ‘shoulds’ and focus on what I actually want to do.
Love this, Molly!! You hit the nail on the head.
This is a great reminder for so many of us who exercise regularly. And as an intuitive eater too, it is important to be reminded of this part of the equation. I would totally fall outside the range of what the CDC recommends. I get 5 hours a week of moderate to vigorous activity. For the most part I would say that I love the time I spend exercising, I am always that girl who is chatting and laughing during class. It is such a great stress reliever for me. I love that it takes my mind off things for an hour- and afterwards I feel like I can handle what ever comes my way. I know not everyone is there yet with loving to exercise, and it’s a great reminder to tailor what comes out of my mouth when I am teaching a class. I wouldn’t want anyone to leave feeling bad about their body!
Thanks for sharing this, Katie! Yes, so important for fitness instructors to create a body positive space!
I am so guilty of the same advice early on my career – “park the farthest away at the grocery store”, “shop the perimeter of the store”, “do push ups during tv commercials”…and you know what – all that advice is annoying. Seriously how annoying would it be to do push ups during commercials if you seriously didn’t want to. Love this post and advice!
Right?! I would be so pissed if someone told me I needed to interrupt my downtime watching TV with having to worry about getting up to do pushups during commercials! So important to think about how we would feel taking the advice we’re giving our clients. Thanks for sharing, Brynn! xo
I love this! Everyone should do what they love instead of what they are expected to for physical activity. I think it is important, though, like you stated in your last paragraph that maybe taking the stairs or parking further away are the only ‘exercise’ some people are getting in a day. If that works for some people and they enjoy it – do it. If not, take that parking stall in the front row! As with anything, it’s all about finding what works for each individual. Thanks so much for sharing this message!
Love this Kara!!!
I love this! I worked as a Clinical Dietitian when I first started out. And I covered the 6th and 7th floors, and our offices were in the basement. When I’d go see patients, I would always make myself take the stairs. Hindsight I realize how crazy that was, but I was doing the same thing in telling clients to take the stairs more often. I thought If I didn’t take the stairs like I was telling them, then I was a fraud. I tortured myself everyday climbing 8 flights of stairs! I would always have to pause at the top of the stairs for 5 minutes to catch my breathe, face palm. I wish I could go back and knock some sense into my younger self sometimes. lol
This was a great message!! Thank you for sharing!
Right?! Same here! If only we knew back then what we know now! So interesting to hear other dietitians having similar experiences.