Looking back, I recognize a period in my life when I had an unhealthy relationship with exercise – and of course, this correlated with a time I felt I needed to change my body. I was juicing and counting calories. I was waking up to work out in my bedroom before school and heading to the gym in the evenings. I followed an exercise program (from a non-credentialed person on the internet) and lifted heavy weights without proper guidance or form. I was weighing myself weekly, if not more often, and aligned my body fat percentage with my self-worth.
On the outside, I may have looked like a health-minded, dedicated individual. On the inside, I was struggling with poor body image and was preoccupied with food because I was restricting it. I overate on weekends and felt an immense amount of guilt if I skipped a workout. I remember working out on my birthday and feeling proud that I didn’t take a day off, even on my birthday.
While I never dieted or exercised to the point that my physical appearance caused concern to anyone, I was struggling with a damaging and unhealthy relationship to both food and exercise. People who have disordered eating, and even those with eating disorders, don’t always look like the stereotypical person with an eating disorder.
Fast forward several years and I no longer follow exercise programs or schedules. I no longer feel guilty if I haven’t lifted legs in a month. I no longer time my runs or force myself to do a certain amount of cardio. I do what feels good, which some weeks is just yoga. Some weeks it’s just lifting. Some weeks it’s just running. Some weeks it’s exercises or stretches on my living room floor. Some weeks it’s a variety and some weeks it’s nothing at all. Sometimes it’s a game of backyard volleyball or driveway pickle ball with my family. Sometimes it’s backpacking through the mountains. Sometimes walking during my commute is enough movement for me in a day. That’s what intuitive movement means to me.
So how did I get from then to now? I nixed “fitspo” from my social media feeds and began subscribing to body-positive media. And I completely changed my mindset.
My old mindset wasn’t concerned with my enjoyment of movement. My new mindset allows me to choose when, what and how much based on how I’m feeling.
My old mindset told me I needed to lift to “get lean.” My new mindset tells me lifting helps strengthen my bones, connective tissue and yoga practice.
My old mindset would tell me to power through every workout, even if I was intensely sore. My new mindset tells me how good yoga feels when my muscles aren’t super sore and how lovely it is to take rest days, even if that means lifting less.
My old mindset told me I had to go to the gym in the snow, rain and sleet and on beautiful, sunny days. My new mindset tells me at-home movement is just as beneficial as that at the gym and walking outside to run errands during the weekend is much more enjoyable than banging out reps inside a gym under fluorescent lights.
My old mindset said exercising on an empty stomach was good because I was burning fat. My new mindset says exercising a few hours after a meal or a couple hours after a snack is good because I have the fuel to power me through my activity.
Because I also re-learned how to eat intuitively, I no longer feel the need to “make up” for “bad” food or exercise choices. Letting go of the restriction and the rules didn’t turn me into an out-of-control person with chronic disease like so many are afraid of. It turned me into someone with more flexibility, better mental health and an improving relationship with my body.
So what do you say, is it time to let go of the strict workouts? I challenge you to give it a try — treat it like an experiment for a couple weeks and see how you feel. I’d love to hear how it goes.