Exercise never came naturally to me. It was always a struggle, and something I had to “force” myself to do. I tried going to intense group classes (where I never could keep up with them), got a personal trainer who practices “tough love”, joined an ultimate sports team (which I totally flopped), and signed up for running races which only worked for a few months until I moved away from my running group… 

Needless to say, I never felt “good enough” because I always set myself up for failure by going completely out and hard at once which was unsustainable, and unenjoyable. 

Joyful Movement

As I came to terms that exercise is not meant to be about “punishing myself” for what I ate… and wanted to pursue it for general health benefits. I found Ruby at Autonomy Fitness in Vancouver who did a great assessment of my physical needs and limitations, to give me tailored exercises. I then integrated these exercises into the days I’m working long hours at the desk. This gave me a great push to make peace with exercise.

I also started going to LIVE WELL Exercise Clinics, which are not Health at Every Size®, but they do focus on bringing joyful health-focused individualized exercise to their clients. LIVE WELL’s classes are limited to 12 clients at a time, and there’s always 2 staff to monitor and support. I asked to not be weighed or track my weight, and they were respectful of my wishes. What I do track is my mood, energy, blood pressure and heart rate instead, and focus on improving my strength, stamina, technique and consistency.

Joyful movement is a way of exercising that highlights enjoying how we’re moving rather than feeling obligated to work out and exercising to punishing our bodies. It focuses more on how our bodies are feeling and moving in ways we enjoy. Some days we might crave a long walk, whereas other days we may want some weight lifting, cardio, or stretching! Below are five reasons why your exercise routine might not be working right now and how to incorporate joyful movement to help.

5 reasons why your exercise routine isn’t working:

1. Exercising To Burn Calories

Why it’s not working:

Calories are a form of measuring the “energy” provided by the food we’re eating… the age old formula of weight loss always talks about consuming less calories than you’re burning. What it is doesn’t tell you, however, is that how your body is working in the middle of this all. For example, if you consume too little food/energy, your body still wants to conserve the energy it already has – this becomes about “survival” for your body.  Also, focusing your efforts on the number of calories we burn, we end up punishing our bodies to reach that number and may push ourselves more than we can handle. 

What to do about it:

Focusing on exercising to feel good physically, mentally and possibly even spiritually can make a huge difference in your workout routine. Moving your body, pumping that heart, strengthening your muscles, working your joints, and improving the density of your bones, will all help with reducing the risk of mortality and improves your mental health – regardless of your body weight or how many calories you burn. This focuses on how good it feels to move which is a positive motivator instead of a negative motivator. 

2. Pursuing Exercise Just for the Look

Why it’s not working:

The mindset that you have to exercise just to shrink your body or look a certain way, is pretty harmful. Even if we all ate the exact same foods, did the same exercises, and had the same lifestyle, we’ll STILL have different body shapes and sizes. Also often we’re comparing ourselves to others, who we have no idea how their mental health is. I’ve seen people of all sizes struggle with disordered eating, eating disorders and body dysmorphia. If we continue to pursue unattainable ideals, we’ll continue to fail and feel like it’s our fault, while destroying our mental health in the process.  

What to do about it:

Start with knowing that your own needs are different than those of anyone else’s. You’re very unique and your preferences of how you want to move your body should be taken into consideration. You don’t owe a perfect bikini body to anyone…and you do deserve to enjoy moving in the world without fitting one single mold. Find yourself a supportive environment, trainer or exercise buddy… and if you find yourself still struggling with doing this in a positive way, seek a Health at Every Size ® therapist, counsellor or dietitian to help you through it. 

3. Working Out To Earn Your Favorite Foods

Why it’s not working:

Diet culture has gotten us to believe that in order to eat that cake, chocolate, icecream, pizza, pasta, or anything else, really, that we need to “make up for it”. By exercising any part of your body, you’re not targeting a specific food, whatsoever. Exercising to be allowed a snack or piece of dessert defeats the idea of respecting our bodies. It sparks an internal conflict and we may overlook eating to feel good since we’re busy counting calories.

What to do about it:

Practicing joyful movement is part of your intuitive eating journey. You don’t earn food… you deserve to eat all foods regardless! If you find yourself struggling with feeling a sense of control around food, that means you are leading with restriction instead of permission. This is something I can help you work through in our sessions. For a first step, start challenging those foods & your relationship with them. Remind yourself that you can eat for fuel, nutrition AND pleasure, you can exercise or not, and you can move on and make new choices on the next day.

4. Feeling Guilty When You Take A Rest Day

Why it’s not working:

When we get rid of rest days, we’re not allowing our bodies to recover the way they need to. Everyone needs to take time off to rest and recover. Physiologically, your muscles need time to rest during which they are regenerating and growing, and also rest will prevent injuries.

What to do about it:

Tuning in to our bodies after movement is a great way to gauge how our bodies are feeling. Take a minute to reflect on our bodies and having a rest day can give our muscles a chance to recover, for our body to get stronger, and also strengthen our relationship with our bodies. So you’re doing yourself (mentally & physically) a favour!

5. Doing Exercises You Don’t Enjoy

Why it’s not working:

If we don’t enjoy certain foods, chances are we won’t eat them, and we might have obsessive thoughts about food we want to actually eat – and the same idea goes for exercise! When we don’t have fun or find pleasure in our exercises there is a low chance that we’ll stick with them in the long run. And that inconsistency is likely what makes it harder to make exercise a habit and part of your schedule, rather than a chore that you need to keep finding time for.  

What to do about it:

Experiment with different exercises to figure out what ways you truly enjoy moving your body. Some people may enjoy strength training whereas others may prefer classes such as badminton or tennis, swimming, ultimate frisbee, kickboxing, cycling classes or pilates. Taking the stairs, walking to the store for shopping, taking a dog for stroll, or geotagging also counts as movement! Finding something you have fun with makes it much more likely you’ll make the time to do it. Dancing, anyone? Sign.me.up! To find different types of movement and activities, as well as body positive personal trainers and exercise pros, check out the body positive fitness finder.

Let me say this though… you don’t have to exercise if you don’t want to or not ready to… you don’t owe “health” to anyone. But if you CHOOSE to pursue health, you DESERVE to be treated with respect. So go out, get workout clothes that you’re comfortable in, shoes that don’t hurt your feet, and a gym/activity that allows you to move without judgment. There are many resources online to get you started in this movement, such as body positive personal trainers and the Health at Every Size approach to eating and exercise

If you’re ready to stop struggling with punishing yourself with restrictive dieting and unsustainable exercise, I might just be exactly what you need to walk with you on this new journey. Book your 15-min call with me to find out how we can work together and what services I offer to help you do so. 

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Photo Credit:

Thank you to Jennifer Pistor for letting us use her photo in our blog image. Jennifer Pistor is a local body positive model and has a blog where she writes about ethical + sustainable fashion, body positivity, and life as a mom.

Blog Contributor:

This blog was written with the help of UBC dietetics student, Sophia.

 

References:

PEN Nutrition [July 1, 2019]
https://www-pennutrition-com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=803&trid=8762&trcatid=42

NCBI: Evaluation of a Community-Based Program That Integrates Joyful Movement Into Fall Prevention for Older Adults [July 1, 2019]
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5960858/

Frontiers in Psychiatry: Implementation Intention for Initiating Intuitive Eating and Active Embodiment in Obese Patients Using a Smartphone Application [July 1, 2019]
https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00243/full 

The Original Intuitive Eating Pros: 10 principles of intuitive eating[July 1, 2019]
https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/