Our Exercising Habits
Around this time of year, starting in October, I hear about two main fears that overwhelm most of my clients with eating disorders:
1. I’ll eat too much (or not enough) food over the holidays, going back to my eating disordered behaviors
2. I’ll either over-exercise to deal with the stress, or not exercise enough.
My last blog post addressed the first fear. If you missed it, you can read it here. Today I’m going to help you with the second fear. Our comforting routines are often disrupted during holiday time. There is a lot of free time, a lot of food, and a lot of pressure to fulfill social obligations. These pressures can cause us either to over-exercise (called “exercise purging”), or to slack off on exercise, which can lead to depression and a resurgence of eating disorder symptoms.
Here are my three top secrets on how to keep up healthy, joyful movement over the holidays
Secret #1 Exercise for the fun of it
Never exercise with weight loss or calorie burning as a goal and I mean never with a capital N. If you haven’t already, make the switch from seeing exercise as a “necessary evil” to a desire to put joyful movement into your life every day. This can be quite a challenge, combined with holiday pressures put on us about making exercise “resolutions” for the new year (combined with lowered gym membership offers!), one can easily start to overdo physical activity, or just go hide under the bed without moving at all!
What is joyful movement? Our bodies are meant to move. We’re not meant to sit all day and be still. We’re meant to move, but we’re not meant to hurt when we move. We’re supposed to have fun when moving our bodies and enjoy them. But the media and our culture has brainwashed us to dread exercise and see it as a chore. This actually results in us exercising less!
A lot of times people come into my office and say: “I hate exercise, I just don’t want to do it!” Then they try to hoist themselves up on a treadmill or put themselves in a spinning class. I’m not saying spinning is bad, some people love spinning, but a lot of people don’t like it. Most people force themselves do an extreme workout program they see on TV or a “bootcamp” of some sort which promises the result of having a perfect body.
Before some of you write me and tell me “I love fitness boot camp!” I do acknowledge that some people do truly enjoy these types of exercise. However, most people hate them and cannot sustain that type of exercise program over the long term. If you change your outlook to joyful movement you will actually want to exercise and move your body.
Change your exercise outlook. If you stop exercising for weight loss or for burning calories, or to “get ripped”, you’ll start to think about it for fun and feeling good in your body. Then you’re going to exercise more, and be fit for life, I promise. Exercise should never hurt—find exercise that “doesn’t feel like exercise”. What does this mean?
Be creative and come up with fun ways to move your body.
For example, do you know that The American Heart Association actually has bathing a dog on their approved list of exercises?
Secret #2: Move to feel good not to look good
When you practice joyful movement, try to concentrate on how your body feels, not how it looks. Again I know I talk about this a lot, but I’m trying to deprogram you from all the advertising that we’re bombarded with day in and day out, from the moment we’re little until the day we die.
Advertisers have conditioned us to focus on exercising for the sole purpose to create a perfect looking body, rather than a body that feels happy and energized. It’s a model built on low self-esteem and shame, telling you that if you don’t look perfect then you’re a failure. Luckily, THEY have the answer with their compulsive exercise system or their program.
Let’s get out of that shaming model and turn towards a pleasure filled, joyful model.
A perfect body is either unattainable or requires ongoing compulsive exercise and food restriction to achieve and maintain. Think for a moment about all of those compulsive exercising programs that you see on TV. I don’t want to say the names, but you know which ones I’m talking about (i.e. maybe it takes you ninety days to get that body – wink, wink).
If you actually follow the “program” and achieve that body, then what are you going to do? Continue it for your whole life until you’re eighty or ninety years old? It’s unsustainable in a healthy way over a lifetime …but they don’t talk about that part.
Keep up activities that you will want to participate in for your entire life, including over the holidays. Getting on the exercise perfection treadmill only leads to low self esteem, and potentially physical harm. Too much exercise can hurt you, so don’t try to be perfect and have a perfect body. Move to feel good!
Just as you need to listen to your body about the food it needs to intuitively eat, you also need to learn to listen to your body’s signals about exercise.
Many people push themselves to exercise when they are in pain. When they’re aching from the last workout, they push themselves through it and that’s unhealthy. You can get injured. Your body will tell you what it needs and sometimes it needs to rest, not to move.
Secret #3: Exercise can cheer you up
It’s important to think of exercise as a depression and anxiety fighter and a brain energizer, rather than a weight control method. Even though there is a lot of pressure to look and feel happy over the holidays, depression actually gets worse for many people during this time of year. I always say that joyful movement is the number one natural depression fighter!
If you focus on exercise as a way to lift mood and ward off anxiety and depression, you will be much more likely to stay active your entire life. Remember that exercise increases endorphins, which are a feel-good chemical for your brain. These are so much better goals to think about than losing weight and having the perfect body.
Anti-depressant medication has its place, especially to help chronic depression or anxiety. But I also believe in using as many natural methods to fight anxiety and depression as you can, before you try medicine. Exercise is by far the number one way, if you talk to doctors, to lift depression and anxiety, because it floods the body with endorphins. That’s very similar to what psych medicine does, and exercise can do that naturally. This is another great reason to keep exercising throughout your life besides exercising for weight loss.
Plan in advance to have a joyful movement routine over the holidays, and you will insulate yourself from your eating disorder symptoms, depression and anxiety. If you’d like to learn more about joyful movement and other natural deterrents to eating disorder symptoms, check out my latest webinar 10 Proven Tips & Tricks for Successfully Handling the Holidays Without Overeating, Purging or Starving.