Moving Towards Intuitive Movement

Moving Towards Intuitive Movement

Blog post by Kelsey Pukala, dietitian at Nourishing Minds Nutrition

Intuitive movement goes hand-in-hand with Intuitive Eating.  The ninth principle of Intuitive Eating is Exercise—Feel the Difference.  In the Intuitive Eating book, intuitive movement is described as getting active and shifting your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calories you burn.  If you shift your focus away from weight loss, calories burned, or manipulating your body shape/size, that form of movement is probably a heck of a lot more sustainable and enjoyable.

Diet culture is constantly changing the exercise “requirement.”  By that I mean, it seems like the amount of exercise we are told is healthy continues to get more and more intense.  Anyone else feel this way? Like intuitive eating, intuitive movement is basically the opposite of the diet culture lie that doing more is better!  Moving your body intuitively takes into account preferences, ability, time, health and intuition. It’s not moving your body in specific ways that diet culture tells you to in order to look a certain way, but rather, tuning in to what feels good for YOUR body.

Often, when I ask clients what types of movement they enjoy, they have a hard time answering.  It seems that we are so immersed in diet culture, that we don’t even know what we enjoy! We spend waaaaaaaay too much time figuring out what we “should” be doing instead of figuring out if the movement we do even feels good.  Diet culture doesn’t take into account YOUR body or YOUR preferences, but intuitive movement empowers you to make your own decisions around movement.

Before we jump into what intuitive movement is, it’s important to note that movement will likely be very very gentle and/or nonexistent if you are in recovery from an eating disorder/disordered eating and/or do not have a regular period.  However, I would argue that even stepping back from exercise or practicing gentle yoga is 100% intuitive movement! Understanding what your body needs to heal is a fabulous way to tune into your body and be kind to it. Being kind to your body doesn’t always mean HIIT workouts multiple times a week or training for a marathon.  It absolutely can mean those things! While recovering from an eating disorder or disordered eating, it’s important to be gentle with yourself, show yourself a lot of compassion and honor that your body is trying to heal. 

Something else to note is that exercise is a form of stress.  Can it also help relieve stress and anxiety? Sure. But, if you are already in a stressed-out state (i.e. under-eating), healing from an eating disorder or exercising inappropriately, exercise may only be harmful.  A great question to ask yourself is, “would I still do this form of exercise at this intensity for X minutes/hours a week if it couldn’t change my body?”

That’s a tough question to answer… but it really gets to the root of WHY you choose to move your body.  Are you moving your body because it feels good and you enjoy it? Or are you moving your body because you want to micromanage your body or “burn off” something you ate?  Are you stressed out trying to fit exercise into your schedule? Are you continuing to move your body even if you’re sick or injured? These are all good things to think about!

So, how do you know if you are moving your body intuitively?  I think journaling and/or thinking about the aforementioned questions is a great start.  A healthy relationship with exercise means you don’t have to think too much about it. Movement isn’t something you’re forcing into your day because you feel like it’s required, but something that may be a nice addition if you’re feeling up to it.

We also need to broaden the spectrum of what is considered movement.  Diet culture often tells us that movement doesn’t “count” unless it’s strenuous and you’re dripping in sweat afterwards.  However, movement doesn’t have to be that complicated! Movement could be dancing around your house, stretching, chasing your kids around, walking with a friend, cleaning the house etc.  It can also be going for a run, strength training, or barre. We have to redefine what movement actually is! This can give you freedom from the black-and-white thinking and help you move towards a healthy relationship with exercise and intuitive movement.  

If you think about it, you probably move your body so much more than you think on a daily basis.  Even if you don’t have time for “formal exercise,” that’s okay because movement is more than just formal exercise.  Your body will be perfectly fine without formal movement.

I have definitely felt pressured to exercise a certain way, but I don’t have to do whatever diet culture says!  It’s okay to have thoughts about feeling pressured to move your body, I’ve been there. Have some compassion for where you’re at in the process.  Can you challenge the thoughts you have around exercise?  

I love ending blog posts with processing questions for you all!  Here are some questions to ask yourself around exercise/movement:

-Why am I exercising?

-Would I still exercise if it didn’t change my weight?

-Do I have strict rules/rigidity around exercise—like how often or how intense?

-Do I feel anxious or stressed if I can’t fit a workout in?

-Do I feel anxious or stressed if I travel or deviate from my exercise routine?

-What is my relationship with exercise like?

-Am I eating enough to support my mental, emotional and physical health?

-How do I feel after I exercise?

-Do I have other coping mechanisms available to me?

If you feel that your relationship with exercise is strained or complicated, you are not alone!  Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need help beginning to heal your relationship with exercise and pursue intuitive movement.

Thank you so much for this blog post, Kelsey! You can learn more about Kelsey and how to work with Kelsey at our practice’s website.