“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?