If you've been following us you have likely noticed that I like to run. I'm not fast but I like to go far. When I'm talking about my longer runs I usually hear friends say "that sounds miserable" and maybe you feel that way, too. Or maybe you're wondering if exercise aligns with HAES and Intuitive Eating principles? In short, exercise and HAES/Intuitive Eating can coexist.
First, though, we want to touch on enjoyment as it pertains to physical activity. Whatever you are doing to move your body should be enjoyable. Whether it's going for a walk, rowing, basketball, strength training, yoga or training for a marathon. We are all different and will find different activities enjoyable. Find what YOU enjoy and do that. Exercise is not supposed to feel miserable and if it does it is likely because of 2 key reasons that are highlighted in Intuitive Eating:
1) The exercise regimen was started when a diet was initiated. Which means you are likely not properly fueled enough for exercise to feel good.
2) The body was being subjected to unrealistic amounts of exercise. Over exercising can lead to a lot of problems including poor sleep and injuries.
Both of these usually happen when weight loss is the goal, which brings us to the next point on whether or not exercise aligned with HAES and Intuitive Eating?
The answer is yes, it absolutely can be. There's even an entire principle in Intuitive Eating dedicated to moving your body. In addition to being enjoyable, moving your body is also a way to take care of yourself mentally and physically with the byproduct of these benefits:
The goal is to shift your focus to how it feels to move your body rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise. Let's explore 2 different exercise mindsets:
Diet and Exercise Mindset: If the goal of exercise is to lose weight you are also likely dieting which means exercise is not going to feel good because your body doesn't have the fuel it needs. You only feel good when the number on the scale goes down or you burned a certain number of calories. If you don't see progress on the scale you feel as if all that dieting and exercise was for nothing.
Fueling and Training Mindset: This mindset focuses on how exercise makes your body feel. You are fueling your body properly so that you have enough energy to feel good while exercising. The goal is not to lose weight or to burn a certain number of calories but rather to have enough “gas in the tank” to be able enjoy what you're doing and maybe even see improvements in your performance if that's a level you're at.
This picture is my fuel for a longer run. If I was in a diet/exercise mindset I would go out there and not take in any carbs or calories. I would feel miserable during my run. I would likely not be able to finish my run. And I would be doing some serious damage to my body and likely end up injured and not able to exercise at all. Instead, I approach moving my body with a fueling and training mindset. If I’m going to exercise I make sure I eat something containing carbs beforehand since that is our body's preferred source of energy and will help me to not feel fatigued during my workout. If I’m exercising for more than an hour (like on a longer run) I will eat during the run. When I’m done exercising I refuel my body with the nutrients that I just used up.
If you decide to exercise it needs to be when you're ready and in the right mindset. Don't do it for weight loss. Don't do it because that person you saw on social media showed a picture of their ripped abs. Do it for the joy and health it brings you. If you aren't ready to go down that path or it's medically contraindicated that's ok, too. We are all in different places and just like the food we eat does not make us "good or bad," the amount of exercise we do or don't do does not determine our worth either. ️
Cheyenne is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist located in the Charleston, SC area.