You may have heard of intuitive eating, the concept that there are no “good” or “bad” foods, but rather you listen to your body and make food choices based on what feels right to you. This does not mean you eat anything and everything set in front of you at any time, but that you become more in tune with your body and its natural signals of when you are hungry, full, or satisfied. This pattern of eating helps to take some of the pressures off weight by allowing you to focus on what makes you feel your best and healthiest. Intuitive exercise, or movement, is the same idea of connecting with your body to determine what is the form of exercise or movement it needs that day. Here are a few thoughts and tips for trying to practice intuitive exercise.
Do a body scan
This is a great starting point. Do a scan of your body to gauge your physical state; are you tired, stiff, energized, stressed, neutral? This scan does not have to be a long process, it can be less than a minute, and you can do it in almost any position anywhere. You can do a top down scan, head to toe, or however you like to visualize your body. Focus on different body parts to see how they feel. At this point, you do not have to do anything, just pay attention to your body and see what you learn.
Avoid rigidity and use rest
With diet and exercise we tend to take an “all or nothing” approach. If we had dessert, our diet is broken. If we missed one day of exercise, our program is now worthless. None of this is the case. There is always the next choice and another day, we can leave the guilt behind and remain flexible. In these moments, use compassion rather than guilt. Guilt can cause even more stress and lowers motivation for the next workout. Compassion increases motivation and leads to improved health behaviors. Keep a loose structure; have a plan with some built in flexibility. You can plan your workouts for the week, but first do that body scan to see if your body is feeling up for the exercise you planned. This may mean your body is telling you it needs a rest day. Rest days are just as important as your exercise program, and they may even be more important. Listening to your body for the form of exercise you need, or to see if you need to rest, is a way to show trust and respect for your needs.
Choose what you enjoy
There is no need to do exercise you do not like. The more you dread a workout, the less likely you are to do it. If you are dreading the planned workout, this could be a form of movement that does not make your body happy. Try new things to see what you enjoy and makes you feel your best. We all have the voice in our head, so listen when that voice pops up when you are thinking about exercise or in the middle of a workout. If you are doing what you think you “should” be doing, take a pause. When “should” comes up, stop and think of “why”, and see if you can reframe your reason for exercise to be taking care of yourself rather than a punishment.
Pay attention to how you feel – and that means your clothing too!
Similar to the body scan at the beginning of the day or before a workout, check in with how you are feeling during your exercise sessions. Do you feel more energized after the workout? Are you sleeping better? Do you feel stronger? If you can, focus more on the internal and see what benefits you may notice. There might also be feelings of fatigue, which overall is not bad, but it could mean you need some rest. Exercise can already be uncomfortable at times, and being in clothing that feels restrictive or makes you insecure is not going to help with your desire to exercise. Find clothing that is comfortable, and you feel good in, and you might find it’s one less hurdle to exercise – even if that means new clothes!
Our physical health is important, and we can be quick to put ours on the back burner to help others or get more things done during the day. But the last thing we should be doing is beating ourselves up over not getting in a workout. Take the break to check in with yourself and see what movement would reward you and your body the most.
Kimberly Burke is a lecturer in the Department of Health and Exercise Science and the director of their Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members, while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more, see the Adult Fitness Program website