“You probably want to die right now.”
In a particularly heart-pounding sequence of an at-home workout DVD, personal trainer Jillian Michaels expresses in a single phrase why we tend to view the act of moving our bodies as an inherently painful activity. (It’s supposed to hurt, right?)
It’s no coincidence that Michaels, known as “TV’s toughest trainer”, was an original trainer on The Biggest Loser, the long-running reality television show in which large-bodied contestants compete, through semi-starvation and excessive injury-inducing exercise routines, to drop the highest percentage of their original body weight. (After a 17-season run, the show was cancelled last summer amid discoveries that the contestants were given illegal drugs to aid in their disturbingly rapid weight loss.)
Jillian, we’ve got news for you: Exercise should not make you want to die.
In fact, when you exercise intuitively, you should feel more alive than ever.
Remember Running Like the Wind?
In previous columns, we have reminded you how it felt to eat as a child; we are all born intuitive eaters, after all. Guess what? We were also born as intuitive exercisers.
Envision your seven-year-old self running in an open field, playing tag, jumping rope. Your heart is beating quickly, you feel the network of muscles in your legs waking up, your breath playing catch up. Feels amazing, doesn’t it?
The travesty of the diet mentality is that exercise, once a joyful way to move one’s body, has been transformed into the ugly partner of calorie-restricting; if you want to lose weight, you gotta eat less, and burn more.
The Messed-up Math of Calories In/Calories Out
Your body needs calories for all its life-sustaining activities, like sending blood throughout your body and breathing. If you were to stay in bed, you’d burn calories simply from your body performing its most basic functions. And if you run some errands, your body will burn even more calories. Decide to head to the gym? Your body will scorch through its calorie bank. The more you move, the more calories you’ll need to sustain your activities.
In other words, you can try to “burn off” that slice of cheesecake through exercise, but you will only be making your body hungrier. When you get back home after swimming laps at the local pool, and your body screams to be fed, specifically with carbs, it’s not because you’re a failure or a hopeless pig, it’s because your body needs those calories to function.
Weight-loss wisdom tells us to eat less and exercise more, but when we outdo the delicate caloric balance by not eating enough to sustain our exercise, we are literally starving ourselves in the pursuit of health. Not healthy.
Exercise Should Not Make You Want to Die
Have you ever started a new diet and exercise regimen on the same day? We’ve all been there. You might “be good,” logging the requisite hours of weekly exercise while counting your calories and food groups. But what happens when you break your diet?
You drop the exercise routine like a flu-infected tissue.
Exercising consistently can feel like a chore if you view it as such, but if you relate to exercise as a much-needed break in your day and a step toward improved or preserved health, you’ll be much more likely to make it part of your life.
Additionally, viewing exercise as an adjunct to diet disengages you with your body. Just like a dieter eats her no-dressing kale salad without a mind to taste or satiation, precluding the possibility of eating intuitively (and dreaming about chocolate fondue the rest of the day), a non-intuitive exerciser cycles on the elliptical until her “calories burned goal” has been met, pushing herself past a healthy stopping point (possibly toward injury) to meet an extrinsic goal.
Would you believe you could move your body in a way that makes you feel good? When you get to that place, exercise can become something you look forward to.
Return to the Joy of Movement
In Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch report that “one key to consistent exercise is to focus on how it feels, rather than playing the numbers game of counting calories burned.”
Additionally, try to focus on exercise as a form of self-care.
The authors list the following whole-body benefits that exercise can accomplish: increased bone strength, increased stress tolerance, decreased blood pressure, reduced risk for some diseases, increased heart and lung strength, improved mood, and improved learning and memory.
Building Bodily Attunement
Just as your body has different nutritional needs than your best friend’s, your body also has its own requirements for exercise. Find your active happy place by experimenting with different forms of exercise. For some, intense exercise can be a cleansing release, but for others, a too-intense activity can cause stress and injury. As always, be kind to yourself.
How do you know when you hit on the right type of exercise for your body?
Successful and joyous exercise should:
Rejuvenate rather than deplete.
Enhance the mind/body connection rather than cause a disconnection.
Alleviate stress rather than amplify it.
Provide pleasure rather than pain.
The Month of Iyar – Stop and Smell the Flowers
Take advantage of the friendly weather this month for new discoveries of radiant, fun-filled movement.
A study from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry found that outdoor exercise was “associated with increased energy and revitalization, as well as decreased confusion, anger, depression and tension, when compared with exercising indoors.” What’s more, the outdoor exercisers reported they were more likely to repeat their activity.
Think of the sunny weather as a wake-up call to breathe new life into your workouts, and allow yourself to enjoy the simple pleasures of moving your body. Believe us, you’ll want to do it again.
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The Ten Principles of Intuitive Eating
Adapted from Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Reject the Diet Mentality
Honor your Hunger
Make Peace with Food
Challenge the Food Police
Respect your Fullness
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Honor Your Feelings without Using Food
Respect your Body
Exercise – Feel the Difference
Honor your Health
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Rena’s Tool of the Month
How to Fit Fitness Into Your Life
To fall in love with exercise, make your movement fun and easy to fit into your schedule.
There are three categories of exercise. Try rotating them for variety and long-term enjoyment.
- Strength training (weights, push-ups, squats.)
- Endurance and cardio (dance, jump rope, trampoline, Zumba)
- Flexibility (yoga, pilates, stretching)
This month, figure out what kind of exercise you can easily incorporate into your life. Even fifteen minutes of movement a few times a week can lift your mood and condition your body. For example, choose to walk instead of drive, or join in your kids’ pillow fight! If you are cleaning your home anyway, set a timer for ten minutes and see how quickly you can sprint around the house picking things up. Or, take a cue from Rena, and listen to a podcast or a shiur while hula-hooping!