Relationship with Food Series Part 6: Happy Movement (Literally!)
We’re finally here for our last instalment of our relationship with food series! So far we’ve talked about the importance of really seeing where you’re at with food, how to navigate your past history with food so we can learn from it, I’ve shared so much of my own journey with dieting, and the huge relief and healing that came when I found intuitive eating and how I managed to find the balance between that and my choice to be vegan. I also shared so many great resources, as we discussed emotional eating, and I gave you some amazing tools to help understand our emotions, all in the hopes that food goes back to being simple (you can find all the posts and episodes in this series here).
The truth is I could go on and on with different topics and smaller aspects of what has helped me heal my relationship with food and why this is an ongoing journey, but for now I think we’ve got plenty to work with along with some of the previous series like our bikini revolution series, and our body image series. The only topic that I had yet to mention was exercise, because yes, usually, when we’re working through our relationship with food and body, we need to talk about movement.
Today I want to share a bit about my own journey with exercise, what happens when I use it, abuse it, and under use it, I’ll talk about the importance of finding the right motivation to keep exercise at a happy place, and towards the end I’ll be sharing our at home exercise library, filled with fun routines you can do at home, whether it’s the middle of winter, way too hot outside or it’s pouring, also in the hopes that you might step out of your comfort zone and try something new that makes you feel giddy.
A Bad Place with Exercise and Turning it Around
I’ve been an avid exerciser for many years now, from swimming and dance when I was a teen, to running and going to fitness classes as a young adult, to intermittent appearances at yoga and pilates studios, to some of my favorite things now, hiking or walking in the woods and dancing in my living room.
Through the years there have been so many ups and downs in my relationship with exercise. When I look at it from afar, there is one thing that definitely stands out. Whenever I found my motivation to exercise in an inner desire to move my body, or the boost it would give my mental health and in the relief of anxiety, the fun of a particular style, or a point of connection with Carlos or a friend, exercise sticks and it stays in this healthy place of me being highly motivated, doing not too much and not too little, with no pressure or rigid demands. Whenever the motivation came exclusively from me trying to alter my body size though, it always ended badly. It ended in me overdoing it until the point of it being an unhealthy obsession or in some cases injury. It also ended in me having obsessive control over the way my body looked and did or didn’t change, it ended in me trying yet another diet, pulling me further away from a healthy relationship with food, and it ended in me eventually quitting when it was unsustainable, leaving me defeated, overwhelmed, an unable to look at my body with kindness.
Now I get it, in the world we live in today it’s almost impossible for us to separate exercise from the way our bodies may or may not change in terms of its appearance. I think it’s always important to acknowledge that we might have this in the back of our minds, or that we may wonder what the results of exercise might be along the way. For me, the key in healing my relationship with exercise (and its inevitable link to the way we eat and live) had to do with finding other motivations. Motivations that weren’t related to the way my body looked. Also, just like I would ask myself what I felt like eating and I’d let both taste preferences, desires and the gentle knowledge of what would nourish me inform my choices, I would begin to ask myself how I felt like moving on that day, and I’d let my preferences, the weather, my energy levels and the basic knowledge of how different exercises might help my body do its magic inform my choices (and by magic I mean the magic of living a happy and active life).
This has all meant that for years I’ve varied what I do, I’ve tried to be active every day, and this can mean something as simple as walking the dogs, all the way up to a run, a bike ride, a yoga class, weight training in my living room while I watch a movie, weight training with a trainer or class online, stretching or yoga, a pilates dvd, a swim in the pool in summer, or my favorites, a hike or a dance class. I listen to my body while I do it, and I never go beyond the limits of what my body feels comfortable with. I also listen to my body when it says “not today”. Sometimes not today lasts more than one day and I listen to that too.
When it comes to my motivation to exercise, one of the biggest sources for me has always been the fact that most of us feel a great boost and improved energy when we move, but honestly, most of the time my motivation has been how much my body image (not necessarily my body), improves. Even when my body doesn’t change an inch, I can feel I’m in my body. I can acknowledge my own privilege of being in an abled body that can enjoy movement (side note: if you’re disabled, injured or temporarily or permanently bed ridden or can’t do exercise, there are so many things that can help you achieve this mind body connection, mindfulness being one of them). I can feel the strength of my muscles and the increased flexibility and ease of movement and I feel fantastic. Even when my body doesn’t change I can look at my body and love what I see, with imperfections and all. It’s always been this way for me. Even when my body stays the same, my positive body image skyrockets and I feel so confident in my own skin. This is a huge motivator for me, but the biggest and newest source of exercise motivation snuck up on me this year, and thank goodness I had my eyes wide open to notice.
The blues and the rescue
Earlier this year, with the pressures of my new job, the wonderful work at Brownble that just kept growing and growing, teacher evaluations, parent reports to write, recipes to test, dogs and hubby to care for and hang out with, I was so excited and consumed with work that the first thing I let slide, for the first time in many years, was my daily exercise.
I kept telling myself I’d get back to it when X was done. I kept telling myself that I’d pick it back up next week or the week after that. I had been under so much stress and anxiety that I didn’t see an old familiar wave of the blues sneaking into my life.
After the reports were handed in, and I aced my teacher evals and the podcasts were recorded, I found myself sleeping 2 or 3 hours more than I normally did (it was so noticeable that even Carlos asked me why I was sleeping so much). I found myself feeling uninspired and unimpressed and like I wasn’t my usual bubbly self. Every day I woke up and said I would start to exercise and I couldn’t get out of bed to do it.
I tried reminders, alarms, setting my workout clothes out the night before, buying a new workout program, finding a cool new yoga instructor on youtube. Nothing worked. I delayed and delayed, and soon it had been almost 3 months without exercising. Soon after that I found myself getting easily overwhelmed, extremely anxious, teary eyed for silly things, sleeping all the way up to 13 or 14 hours a day on weekends. Something was up. It didn’t take me long to recognize that a wave of the blues had come and quietly wrapped itself around me even though I had so much to be thankful for and in spite of the fact that I could still feel happy about certain joyous events. Maybe it was my mindfulness practice but this time around (and very different to the times I struggled with depression brought on by anxiety in my early teens), I noticed that something was off before it got the best of me. I turned to the advice of the first therapist I had when these symptoms first appeared in me as a teen, “start healing by moving, start with a walk”.
I started with long walks with my dog listening to audiobooks or a cool podcast or a new record. I went outside, took deep breaths, watched our youngest dog revel in the excitement. The next day I did it again, as if it were prescribed medicine. The next day, I did it again. After just a few days I saw my mood changing ever so slightly, then I started looking forward to the walks, then I started to dance once a week again, then one day I magically felt like doing a tiny amount of weight training.
All of this went hand in hand with lots of journaling to understand what had got me to that place (and in so many cases exercise can help in the presence of therapy and medication, both of which can be life changing). I needed to shift my mindset when it came to overworking and over pleasing, but the daily walks were the magical key that made all of that work possible. They gave me the breathing room needed, and the much welcomed boost of endorphins that can be so positive in times like these.
I re-learned instantly, and almost got a movie flashback in my head, of being a teenager, and going out for a walk after my therapist insisted that this would be my homework for the month. I remember how I immediately started feeling relief, how my mood got better in just a few days, how my anxiety got better. I was looking forward to those moments, I was more in my body and less in my head, and slowly but surely, I started to climb out of what had felt so overwhelming.
Now, two decades later, same thing.
So BIG lesson earned:
Exercise = mental health for me.
Exercise = stress relief for me.
Exercise = the biggest mood booster for me.
Exercise = a mood, health and happiness tune up.
All the other wonderful side effects of exercise would always be there too, but it was such an eye opening and mind-blowing experience to see just how much it helps me stay happy, and nothing is as important as that. Now it’s like taking my vitamins, and without the pressure of using it to change my body to meet some societal ideal, it stays within healthy, fun and sustainable limits, and it’s propelled by the purest source of positive motivation.
Thinking outside the box
My daily exercise routine looks so different from one day to the next, and it mostly involves dance, running, walking, hiking or biking, a little weight training, yoga or pilates, and most of the time I work out at home. It just works for me and I’ve found so many cool classes online, both paid and free that mean I can keep my routine going year round.
Sometimes it’s 20 minutes, sometimes it’s just my daily walks with the dogs, sometimes it’s half an hour, sometimes it’s an hour, sometimes I don’t know how long I did it for, sometimes it’s rest. The only rule is it has to be fun, and when I’m feeling less motivated, a walk for my mental health is a Godsend and I never not feel like doing it when it comes from this place of self kindness.
A few years ago we created a little workout library, because often our lack of motivation with exercise has to do with the fact that we think of working out as just one or two things, a gym membership where we’ll go for hours and do gruelling classes, or nothing, and there are countless options to help you find movement you love to do. You can access some of our favorite online classes or programs through the button below.
I wanted to share exercise as the last little link between us and our relationship with food because ultimately for me, exercise has helped me tune into my body, it has helped me develop that interoceptive awareness we talked about last week, and as you’ve learned throughout this entire series, our body has all the magical tools to help us navigate our eating from a safe, healthy and balanced place, without the need for external rules or regulations. Exercise is empowering (and mindfulness is the perfect exercise for the mind if you live in a body that can’t do traditional physical exercise). It helps us feel powerful and helps us feel embodied and like we have the tools to live a happy life, find a joyful place with our eating, and find freedom from all the rules and toxic culture around our bodies, food and rigid regimes. It helps us say “I’m the boss of me, and I’ve got this!”
With all the kindness and self compassion of the resources and tools I’ve shared throughout this series, my hope is that you begin to find your way to a better relationship with food and exercise, and that you begin to care for that beautiful body you’re in, no matter its size or ability.
Thanks so much for going on this little journey with me!
As is tradition after a long series in the blog and podcast, we’ll be taking a few weeks off to refuel and enjoy some family time under the sun, and then we’ll be back with so much more. In the meantime, enjoy our workout library below!