What Intuitive Exercise Is and How My Exercise Journey Began
If you have read some of my previous blog posts, you’re already familiar with Intuitive Eating (IE). But what about Intuitive Exercise? Well, I promise I didn’t make it up! It is just as great as IE!
You might be wondering what all my hype is about. Exercise is just exercise, right? Same old song and dance. You might find it helpful to hear someone else’s journey to know whether or not it resonates with your own. Here we go!
About 7 years ago, I embarked on a journey as an independent consultant for a popular fitness multi-level marketing company. It will remain unnamed for privacy purposes.
My original goal was to use this opportunity to develop my own business through product sales and fitness coaching. It also became a fitness journey for me as I found it quite difficult to sell many of the products. They were NOT cheap.
I became “proof” that the products worked. I became physically fit, lost a few inches (I didn’t have much body fat at the time anyway), and built muscle tone. Needless to say, I felt pretty good about my progress. However, there was another change…
About 3 years into it, I quit the business and discontinued the products and workout plans to save money as I finished grad school. However, I suddenly started to feel very inadequate.
I had thoughts like “Now what do I do for exercise?”
“Do I have to start going to the gym 1-2 hours a day?”
“I won’t have accountability anymore if I try to work out at home.”
So guess what I did? Basically, nothing. I just stopped exercising altogether. I had developed an “all or nothing” mindset around it because of the common belief that exercise had to be structured, intense, and “fitness-focused” to count for anything.
My body began to change in ways that made me very uncomfortable. I gained a significant amount of weight in an 8-month period due to a combination of “1st year on the job” stress + lack of adequate self-care.
Simply put, I was at a low point and began to fish around for a new diet plan to try and fix my problems… I think you may know how all that turned out! Diet failure, after failure, after FAILURE.
In 2020, I read Intuitive Eating and discovered Intuitive Exercise through IE Principle #9: Exercise – Feel the Difference.
Authors Tribole and Resch describe this type of exercise as a focus on “how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effects.” (1)
Needless to say, this started my whole new perspective on what exercise is and how it should feel to my body.
The Difference Between Intuitive Exercise and Fitness Training
Before I continue, I want to reassure you of something. It is A-OKAY to exercise for fitness! In fact, it is important for your activities of daily living, overall health, and longevity.
Let’s take a second and dive into the distinction between Intuitive Exercise and fitness training.
According to the Mayo Foundation, fitness training incorporates 5 components of physical fitness (2):
- Aerobic fitness (cardio or endurance training)
- Strength training (bone and muscle strengthening)
- Core exercises (abdominal, back, and pelvic strengthening)
- Balance training (stability and coordination)
- Flexibility and stretching (improve range of motion and injury prevention)
Because I am not a certified personal trainer (CPT), I will not go into great detail about what specific types of exercises fall into each category, but I LOVE this NASM-certified RD, CPT’s approach, and highly recommend following her if you want more fitness and exercise content!
Intuitive Exercise is primarily focused on movement that feels good to your body and embraces whatever pace is most comfortable for you, WITHOUT striving for weight loss.
There are also 5 components of the benefits of Intuitive Exercise as well (3):
- Stress level (does it relieve stress?)
- Energy level (does it give you more energy/improve alertness?)
- General sense of well-being (does it improve your outlook on daily life?)
- Sense of empowerment (does it help you “seize the day”?)
- Sleep (does it help you sleep better?)
As you can see here, fitness training is focused on the “what” of exercise and movement, while Intuitive Exercise is focused on “how” it is done. Intuitive Exercise can literally be any kind of movement you want it to be!
But it is important to understand that they are not mutually exclusive. Fitness training CAN be Intuitive Exercise for you if it supplies you with the 5 benefits listed above and vice versa.
How Intuitive Exercise Brings Authentic Health
So why do I call Intuitive Exercise a “quick fix?” Well, because anyone can do it, its benefits can manifest very quickly for you!
I doesn’t take a lot of time, energy, or effort to notice the impact a brief nature walk has on your mood or stress level. Learning a new TikTok dance with your family and friends is fun and empowering (some of that choreography is no joke!).
Intuitive Exercise is about obtaining what authors Tribole and Resch call authentic health (4).
Authentic health exists at the intersection of inner attunement (your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about who you are) and your external health values (physical/clinical health and wellness habits).
Intuitive Exercise is an essential part of authentic health. Without it, it is nearly impossible to achieve true and lasting health and well-being.
God made all our bodies move in some way to prevent their rapid deterioration. Even those with disabled bodies require regular movement for their health, no matter how small.
Now that we know how to distinguish Intuitive Exercise from general fitness training, let’s talk about how to distinguish Intuitive Exercise from exercising for weight loss.
Separating Intuitive Exercise from “Quick Fix” Weight Loss Plans
Diet culture loves to give you a lot of false hope. It loves to promise “quick fix” weight loss program results that are not a realistic representation of how your unique body will respond to its schemes.
Intuitive Exercise is different. It doesn’t promise any ground-breaking weight loss results. There’s no obligation for you to move or manipulate your body in ways that are beyond your physical capacity. Also, doesn’t bribe you with claims that only certain types of exercise are beneficial to you.
But here is what it certainly CAN do for you:
1. Intuitive Exercise can help balance your hunger and fullness cues (5).
Several studies have shown the link between regular exercise and appetite regulation. If you have ever noticed your appetite change as you incorporated an exercise routine into your daily life, this is totally normal.
With more energy expenditure, your body will likely need more food to help find a balance. However, don’t stress about overeating as a result of Intuitive Exercise. Listening to your body and honoring your physiological hunger and fullness cues is still important!
If you want more content on this topic, I talk more about honoring your hunger in this blog post!
2. Intuitive Exercise can help lower your risk of certain chronic diseases (6).
Regular physical activity has been linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), type 2 diabetes (T2D), and certain cancers (i.e.breast, colon, and prostate cancer).
Remember, it is important to recognize that Intuitive Exercise focuses on how you move, so it may be helpful to use different types of fitness training in an intuitive way in order to align its benefits with disease prevention.
If you have a pre-existing chronic condition, it is always a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise routine in order to prioritize your safety.
3. Intuitive Exercise can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety (7).
Remember the “quick fix” stuff I mentioned earlier? Well, this is one of the ways Intuitive Exercise can be a quick fix!
Studies have shown that decreased depression and anxiety is one of the immediate benefits of moderate-to-vigorous exercise. And just for a quick frame of reference, moderate exercise is like a brisk walk, and vigorous is like a morning jog.
If you experience clinical depression or anxiety (seasonal or year-round), making Intuitive Exercise a regular habit may allow your doctor to adjust some of your medications, which may in turn decrease some of the common side effects (i.e. nausea, insomnia, weight gain).
4. Intuitive Exercise can help improve your relationships (or invite new ones!).
This one is more anecdotal, but it is still a potential benefit of Intuitive Exercise! If you have found that you have felt isolated by either avoiding exercise or letting diet culture and weight stigma convince you that you are only comfortable exercising alone, it’s time to break out!
It is easier now than ever to find other people that share your interests in physical activity. Whether it is joining a community sports team or just taking a short walk outside and saying hi to your neighbors, you can easily be social while engaging in exercise.
One of the best things about building relationships during Intuitive Exercise is that it takes your mind off the exercise itself.
It is so easy to engage in deep conversation with a friend or loved one while exercising and completely lose track of time and how much your body has been moving! This is especially helpful if you struggle with separating Intuitive Exercise from weight loss.
Intuitive Exercise: Your “Quick Fix” for Authentic Health
Which of these benefits of Intuitive Exercise will be most helpful to you on your Joyfully Nourished Life journey? Feel free to share in the comments below!
Much love, friends! <3
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Much love, friends!