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Yeah…Immaeatthat

Jan 29

thoughts on how to exercise.

In my opinion, making peace with movement doesn’t mean you never exercise again. Instead, it’s about being able to interact with movement in a way that enhances your life and supports you in living your values. For me, there hasn’t been anything in my life that has tormented me quite like the requirement to have to exercise. It was something I thought I’d suffer from for my entire life, but God didn’t leave me there in that place of misery.

I’ve had several requests to do a post on how to incorporate movement again when you used to have a disordered relationship with exercise, so I wanted to share no specifics or “shoulds”, but instead some thoughts I have on the matter. 

thought one: this body is not made to be thrown around.

One thought I’ve had often is, “this body is not made to be thrown around.” It’s made for intentional movement that respects my body. I watched the Docuseries Cheer on Netflix and it was so painful. So much self harm disguised as a sport. When watching I just kept thinking, how reckless. If you’ve watched it, then you saw how difficult of situations some of the kids came from and that many were suicidal and cheerleading gave them purpose and a safe space. I worry what happens to them once their temporary savior is no longer an option, since the sport of cheer, unless you go on to coach, is unsustainable.

Watching the show made me think how for the average, non-elite exerciser, we need to be able to distinguish between sensation vs. pain to keep ourselves healthy. Pushing ourselves to sensation is okay, pushing ourselves to pain results in harm and should be avoided. If you cannot respect the limits of your body and instead move in a way that breeds injury and disease, then you need a goal to not exercise.

There is a need for honesty here. Maybe you want to be thin/toned/given the title of an athlete, but if that isn’t going to happen without throwing around your body recklessly to the point of injury, then that needs to be accepted and respected before you can healthfully engage in movement again.

thought two: exercise isn’t a way for me to cope.

Similar to Joshua and Samuel in the bible with their stones, I have a box in my closet where I keep reminders of the things God has taught me. The idea is that by having visible reminders of these things I won’t have to keep learning the same lesson again and again. So far these have been things that I thought I’d always suffer from, but through knowing Him he’s taken them for me. One of these reminders I keep concerns running and it’s taped to my 2009 marathon results.

One of my constant prayers around this is, “disrupt me, oh God. If my body or exercise shifts towards becoming too important, disrupt me.” May it be with realized wisdom, injury, or a body change that isn’t readily accepted in our culture.

I now realize, for me, exercise was always to punish, to numb or to create a false refuge where I thought I’d find my worth. Now that I know that, when I’m not feeling self compassionate or am so overwhelmed I want to numb out, I don’t go to exercise. Exercise is not an option for coping for me. This has been one of the most beautiful realizations for me – exercise is to add to my joy, not to cover up negative emotions. I had this wrong for so many years.

Since I stopped consistent running 7 years ago, I’ve coped with a negative situation by running exactly one time and it was a couple weeks ago (I did 1 mile by 2 minutes walking. 20 seconds running. 2 mins walking. 20 seconds running. repeat. because that’s what my PT recommended and I was able to do it pain free) because I was curious what would happen. It was a cool experience to do it and realize, “okay…that still does nothing for me. Noted. I can respect that. That wasn’t the right way to take care of myself in that moment.” I explained why I think running doesn’t help me cope in my Window of Tolerance post and after my experience a couple weeks ago I still stand by the assessment I made in that post!

For years I was using exercise wrong. If I’m having a bad day, exercise will not turn it around (I feel like that’s a common thing people say…”just go exercise” or “exercise is the most underused anti-anxiety drug” –> for me, I disagree.). It will numb me out, distract me, and lead to me feeling more frantic, anxious, and depleted than I began. The takeaway here is: Exercise is not something I do in times of distress. Exercise, for me, isn’t a way to cope with negative emotions. I’ve realized now that exercise only feels like stress relief and pleasure if I’m in a healthy place. What do you think?

thought three: you need to have authority over your own body.

One thing I love about Momma Strong is how she says, “You have authority over your body.” Meaning, move your body how you should move your body based on you being a unique human with needs, don’t just blindly follow what I’m telling you to do without making an assessment of if it’s good for you. Make the informed decision! No one is going to micromanage your exercise for you. You have to do it.

There are a lot of ways to take care of your health that are good. You have to decide which are nourishing to your body and mind. Haley shared the below Determinants of Health graphic on Insta and it’s such a good reminder of all that goes into us being well. Too much emphasis is put on food intake and movement.

What do you think? Have you found a way to move that respects your body? Are you currently exploring what movement gives you energy or are you taking a break from movement? Have you ever thought to ask yourself: When did exercise become unfun?

25 comments on “thoughts on how to exercise.”

  1. I’ve read Your post on exercising and I thought to ask for Your advice…
    I’m struggling with exercise addiction. It all started 18 years ago when i wanted to lose weight and there have been times I’ve eaten really little and times I’ve eaten a lot. Nowadays I don’t restrict my food intake very much, although I still have some restrictions, but I just can’t quit exercising. I don’t take rest days and I feel I don’t deserve to slow things down since I’m not diagnosed, I have regular period and I’m not underweight. It feels like my body is used to this, but I’ve had hypothyroidism since 2007, I have no libido nowadays and my weight tries to go up no matter what I do. I’m afraid I’ll lose my fitness if I cut down on exercise. This week I’ve done already almost x hours of training. The longest breaks from exercise have been after giving birth.

    My beautiful daughters are 6, 4 and 1 year old and I don’t wish them to learn my restrictions but my brain keeps telling me to exercise because it’s good for my health. I don’t know what to do.

    • Hi Irene, have you read these posts? –> immaeatthat.com/category/compulsive-exercise/

      They might give you some things to think on, one thing being how exercising without the ability to rest isn’t good for your health.

  2. I love this because I have struggled in a similar way with disordered exercise. I have found over the last few years that I must ask myself EVERY time, “why am I doing this movement?” If it’s for body change, I just don’t do it. I have learned if the gremlins are talking, I have to ignore them completely! But if I want to enjoy some time away from the kids or work, or have an excuse to read uninterrupted (my $10/month gym membership is basically used for a place to read while walking the treadmill!), or just move my body freely, then I really enjoy myself! I like feeling my body move in different ways. Yoga is fun because it’s always different-but even that is tricky as some power classes are too body change focused for me. I love riding my bike and walking. I have learned to let my body move as it wants and that looks different every day. Above all, like with food, if I find myself thinking/planning how I’m going to exercise, it’s a sign I’m headed down the wrong road. So much of this journey is being attuned to these internal cues and gently responding. Thanks for your words along the way-they have helped me more than you know. 

  3. I agree with a lot of what you say here! I will say, as someone with anxiety, I do find exercise to be somewhat therapeutic at times in a few different ways

    -it doesn’t so much numb me, as help me tune out some of the overthinking i’m prone to – oftentimes, after a run, i feel a little bit clearer and better able to address questions/problems/issues i’m having.
    -also, running specifically for me is a great place for me to think – i’m able to get away from technology/work/overall distractions and just focus.

    that being said, what’s important for me is also discovering ways outside exercise to achieve the above – like cooking a fun meal, therapy, taking a hot shower, and hey, sometimes picking a medication that works for you. I think exercise can be an outlet, as long as it’s part of an overall holistic approach to overall health (referring to mental rather than physical here!).

    Anywho, thanks for letting me reflect on this and great post :)

  4. Beautiful post. I remember reading your blog once wen you called exercise ‘movement’ and that was a huge game changer for me. I started to think about what movement feels good and began to appreciate my body for what it could do – not for what it looked like. Re-framing what exercise actually is and seeing it as a way to explore my body, connect to it and appreciate what it can do has been a wonderful experience. Of course I have compulsions to do heavy workouts but I will try to stop and ask myself if it is the movement my body wants and question where the motive to workout that way is coming from, Spoiler alert: most of the time its diet culture!

  5. This post helped me a lot – especially the comments from fellow readers. I come from a past of being obsessive about exercising and my body. My body was my idol for so long and now I’m trying to get to a place of embracing, loving, and accepting my body just the way it is. But I keep trying to fix it. I say I am getting free but in reality, I still keep thinking that I would be happier if I was skinnier. I have asked myself, “can I stop exercising?” and the answer is always no. I ask myself, “if I knew I was going to die next week, would I still focus so much on exercising and my body?” And the answer is no. I would do what is fun and feels fun in terms of exercise. So why can’t I just live? Why can’t I just be happy with moving my body, because I GET TO rather than wanting it to change it to be skinnier? This is what I’m trying to work through.

  6. YES. Thank you for your comments re: “exercise is a good way to deal with stress” idea, which is soooo common. I do think it’s true that incorporating regular exercise can help with mood, etc. … but I think choosing to exercise because it’s supposed to “make you feel better” often results in numbing out (or at least it did for me). So it always makes me cringe a little when exercise is touted as the antidote to stress/anxiety, because I used it to numb (and not deal with, so it would always come back in some way) stress and anxiety.

  7. Movement is something I keep in perspective to not overdo. That is one of the reasons why I like yoga-I’ve heard many instructors encourage folks to tune into their bodies in how they’re feeling today and not necessarily follow every command they’re giving nor what the person next to us is doing. I also like the community aspect of group classes at the studio/gym. I do experience some workouts as a metaphor for breathing through difficult moments which can translate to not running away from feelings or burying them-but to stay in the moment. I do check myself on a daily/weekly basis on whether or not a particular class is something I need that day and if not-to not feel guilt. Recently I started taking ice skating lessons which is fun and found out that the nearby dance studio offers adult drop-in ballet and tap classes which is exciting! I appreciate your posts on the topic!

    • Love the ice skating idea! I had a client do that recently and thought it was such a great idea. For her it was nice to have the focus on learning a skill rather than focusing on the movement itself.

  8. Hi Kylie! Great post and I love your thoughts. I especially agree with “I’ve realized now that exercise only feels like stress relief and pleasure if I’m in a healthy place”, as I think it is so important to take care of yourself in other ways first! I can honestly say that I don’t exercise to change/punish my body or to numb or try and “run away” from my feelings. For me exercise gives me time to reflect and take a step back, much like calling my mum or taking the dogs for a walk or play does. I think my main “struggle” is that exercise feels like part of my identity and I would like to explore ways to reduce that image, as it will give me time to explore other hobbies and parts of myself that I might not have discovered. Therefore this post resonated with me and I will continue to keep developing myself :)

  9. I’ve definitely been in a place where exercise (specifically, running) felt like punishment and an obsession. I ended up taking about a 2 year break from it, and when I started picking it up again, it was within some boundaries about distance and frequency. Nowadays, running feels gentle and free, and I am able to choose not to run if my knees hurt or if I’m tired or something life that. I don’t even have a “schedule” really, I just do it when I feel like it and when I have time.

    As a PS – I love how with the points you made in this post, you pointed back to the bible with examples set for us by God about how we should treat our bodies. That’s the beginning of everything good/healthy/productive — the one who created us!

  10. Thank you for this beautiful post. You are the first person that I have seen call out Cheer. Everyone is praising it so much and I won’t watch it because I think it would be too triggering for me. Our culture glorifies pushing our bodies past what they should be so much. In the past, I was always pushing myself harder and had to constantly be reaching more goals. And because I was always striving for something, I was never enough. Working through my relationship with movement has been much harder than my relationship with food. My identity was so wrapped up in it. I would get shin splints and continue running or injure myself in the gym and keep going. I had to take a huge step back and ask myself about my intentions. I have also had to take so much rest. I am now enjoying walking, yoga, and getting outside when I can. I have definitely gravitated towards more gentle movement because I was always doing the complete opposite in the past. It is so lovely to start listening and trusting my body again. I feel peaceful and free for the first time in a long time. Thank you for the work that you do and sharing your beautiful words.

  11. This is a timely post, as always! I recently injured a muscle and rather than rest it, continued to go to regular workout classes because I “didn’t feel pain during the class.” Now that I’ve given it time to rest, I wish I had done it sooner!

    One of the things I thought a lot about as I worked through the discomfort of not exercising are my values, one of which is “taking care of my physical & mental health”. Sometimes, taking care of my physical health means moving my body, but by ignoring an injury, I was not taking care of my physical health & not living in line with my values.
    This really helped putting rest into perspective & reminding myself of how important it is for physical health!

  12. The timing of this post was helpful for me to read a healthy perspective on exercise. I recently started a new therapy for postpartum depression and I told the psychiatrist that the only old hobby/“passion” I’ve retained through my depression is going to the gym- but that I don’t always consider that a win because it’s the only hobby that still allows me to remain fixated on controlling my body, and I have TONS of anxiety when I can’t get to the gym. She argued with me and said “oh but exercise isn’t bad- it’s a great obsession to have and it sounds like it REALLY helps control your anxiety!” (Misunderstanding that the source of the anxiety stems from actual lack of exercise). She then added “plus, you’re obviously not underweight so you should be fine to exercise as much as you want!” Aaaaand game over- my past eating disorder brain fixated on that one comment- I basically heard “you’re obviously fat and need exercise, so why would you quit?” And I don’t think I heard another word she said for the next hour because that looped in my brain over and over. The past week has been a huge struggle of mixed thoughts and feelings about how I should think about my body/food/exercise. This post helped me “reset” my brain to a Godly rather than earthly perspective on what my personal values and goals for my life/body are. So thank you for your wisdom- it was much needed today! 

    • I’m sorry you had that experience! Ive struggled with well-meaning friends encouraging me to use exercise as an anxiety antidote, not realizing that obsessing about exercise contributed significantly to my anxiety. I can only imagine what it feels like experiencing that from a mental health professional. I hope you find someone soon with a better understanding for your treatment. We all deserve to receive care free of weight stigma and diet culture/thin ideal rhetoric.

  13. This post was really helpful! I’ve made a lot of progress on compulsive exercise but it is usually the first area to creep back up when I am under a lot of stress. As you said, exercise feels great when I’m mentally in a good place – a time I set aside just for myself and also enjoy socializing with friends I’ve made at the gym. But when Im worn down I find it hard to listen to my body’s cues if it is asking me to reduce the workouts I planned for the week. This post reminded me that when I started tackling my obsessive relationship with exercise, if I felt torn about some exercise I planned I would ask myself, “if I do this exercise, will the only reason be for body image/fear of gaining weight if I don’t?”. If the answer is yes, then I don’t do it. That will be helpful to use again!

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