You’ve heard of intuitive eating. But have you ever heard of intuitive exercising?
Intuitive eating is a philosophy floating around a lot in the past few years. Essentially, you listen to your cravings instead of restricting yourself. It’s a natural way of living: eat when you’re hungry, eat what makes you feel good, and listen to your body’s instinctive flow. Our bodies will always tell us what they need, as long as we listen.
A few posts ago, I talked about how carbs were making me a bitch and how I corrected my imbalance by increasing my protein intake. That’s a prime example of listening to your body — even when it’s telling you something you don’t want to hear.
You can translate that same mentality into another aspect of your physical well-being: exercise.
To start, let's talk about New Year's Resolutions. Going into 2021, we each have a lot of ideas about how we’d like this year to look (essentially, anything not like 2020!) We have our blessings and our downfalls from our year spent navigating a global pandemic, and your resolutions may seek to address issues that popped up when we spent our year inside. They might be to lower your screen time or to lose those quarantine pounds.
But year after year, gym memberships spike in January and tank in February. Diets fall apart. Especially this season, when we have so many other, bigger things to worry about -- the health and wellbeing of our loved ones, for example -- goals motivated by how we look in a dress, or innate ideas about social status, feel...less important.
Some of our resolutions centered around exercise are rooted in the following reasons:
You want to tone up.
You want to lose weight.
You want to somehow correct something you don’t like about your body.
These goals are oriented in a negative mentality, which means that they will likely (unfortunately) be unsustainable. In order to inspire real change, your goal should be about your identity and how you feel. Intrinsic more so than an external motivator. (On that note, if you haven’t read Atomic Habits by James Clear, it’s an excellent crash course on habits and how to adjust them.)
While easier said than done, exercise is much easier if it’s about how you feel, and who you are, more so than a goal like “I want to drop ten pounds before my vacation” or “I want to go to the gym five days a week.”
Instead, try reorienting your phrasing. “I want to sweat enough to feel good about myself”, or “I want to stretch every morning after brushing my teeth.”
Positive rewards are more motivating than punishment, and building in flexibility allows you to celebrate your wins in moving your body while still allowing yourself rest, forgiveness, and changes of plans.
Here’s a shocker for you: I don’t actually "work out".
Yet I have 11,000 followers on Instagram, where I’m regaled as a fitness influencer, someone who promotes exercise and health. But I don’t work out.
I don’t do crunches in my backyard. I don’t do CorePower exercise classes for the sake of targeting specific muscle groups.
Instead, all of my favorite activities involve being outside and moving my body. I naturally love surfing, yoga, hiking, and swimming, so my free time inevitably revolves around those, and that's where I get my exercise. These activities are also great ways to spend time with friends, to ease any nerves, and to reconnect with myself.
If those goals were linked to something like weight loss or a strict regimen, I’m not sure I’d be able to love them as much -- and I’d probably be less willing and able to keep them up.
I can do these, and I can intuitively exercise, because I allow myself to do physical activities that I love. I’m naturally active because I get into flow states and regularly participate in my favorite hobbies. Moving your body should feel fun. I hate to break this to you, but if you hate your workout, you need to find something else to do that you actually enjoy. Bonus points if it involves being outside, and fresh air.
There’s a quote that I love that’s always been able to frame my activities for me well. “It’s not that you’re doing too much that takes your energy away; it’s that you’re doing too little of what gives you energy.” For me, the thought of surfing for two hours or going to the skate park with my husband Devin fires me up. That excitement is what gets me out there, and that’s what keeps me constantly on the go.
It also makes me much more conscious of when I need a rest day. If I'm naturally obsessed with a physical activity, and it generally restores me rather than drains me, I know that if I'm not feeling it on a given day, my body needs a break. It is not weakness, and it's not laziness. It's genuine exhaustion, and I need to take care of myself.
If you want to try intuitive exercising, here's what I suggest. Experiment a little first. Try a new hobby. Vary your routine. Instead of going for a run, try grabbing some skates and seeing how it makes you feel. Put on a yoga flow on YouTube and try to follow along as best you can. You're not pigeonholed by what you think a "proper" workout is, and I can guarantee you that it's so much easier to get moving if you're psyched about an activity (and loving the endorphins.)
You can also find ways to keep yourself accountable for it. You could build or find a meetup group (following COVID-19 precautions, of course!) for hiking, if that’s what you choose. You can tag team with a buddy with the goal of trying a new activity each week until you find something that sticks. I promise you that it will come.
What will make your body feel good? Can you get outside today? What activities that involve moving your body seem fun to you?
Ask yourself those questions, and follow through when you can. That’s the way to lead a sustainable, fit lifestyle.