Intuitive Movement: How to Enjoy Exercise with at Home Exercise Programs, Opinions on Popular at Home Workouts, and How to Deal with Triggering Diet Culture Messages within Them, Part 1Apr 22, 2022
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Today's post and podcast episode is a kind of follow up to this post (episode 212), on finding joy in movement with special guest Sam Anthony. In this two part episode we'll be diving in deeper into finding a new relationship to exercise through intuitive and joyful movement, and I'll specifically be talking about this in the context of exercising at home, with some of the popular online workouts and subscriptions that are out there. In today's episode we'll get into the topic of shifting our perception of what exercise should be, we'll talk about how to navigate diet culture messages and triggers in exercise programs, how to set boundaries, limits and be responsible for your triggers so that your path to healing a tumultuous relationship with exercise, food and body is the priority, and towards the end I'll share a brief message to all my disabled peeps who might be listening, or anyone who due to illness, injury, recovery from surgery or other health circumstances can't engage in movement. If you are disabled, and you love our show, but the topic of physical movement and exercise is hard for you to hear, skip on over to the end of the show. In part 2 coming next week, I'll be taking you down the list of at home workouts I've tried, and how they rate in terms of body diversity, whether they are free or full from diet culture messages, I'll share my favorite classes or trainers in each, and share a few amazing peeps that get gold stars in the intuitive and joyful movement department.
For many of us, exercise has gone from being that joyful way of being active we experienced as kids, where movement was just what happened as we played, biked to reach our favorite places, had fun with friends, and cannon balled into swimming pools until our fingers were wrinkly and we were shivering and were called inside.
Somewhere along the way (thanks diet culture!), we lost this playfulness. Exercise quickly turned into a should, messages came in through culture, TV, magazines, product lines, that became very ingrained, on how changing our bodies to fit a beauty ideal is "the thing you have to do", as an adult, and especially as a woman.
It's hard to navigate shoulds that come with such specific body standards attached, our busy lives, our increasingly more sedentary lifestyles (we've gone from working fields all day to sitting in offices for most of our waking hours), the fact that we've internalized that adults aren't supposed to play and if/when we're active it needs to be as productive as possible, plus the fact that movement is associated with more positive health. Put all of these messages together, and you have a recipe for confussion, self-shaming thoughts when we can't do it, comparison, competition, and lots of self punishment.
As you know, I'm a huge fan of movement, but it was once the source of so much obsession, perfectionism, and the start of disordered eating for me, and it started with precisely an at home exercise program that was filled with very disordered information. I've had to come a long way from that place, to where I stand now, that exercise and movement make me feel good, but I couldn't do what I had done before or at the intensity I had done it (which incredibly is what fitness professionals actually recommended, not something imposed on myself by myself).
I had to navigate the fact that movement improved my body image (my self concept of how I see my body), even when my body stayed the same (cellulite and belly fat and all). I had to re-learn, that exercise that you think you "must" do, is often very different from the one you "want to do" and that you might have previously deemed "not enough".
I had to learn that there was a whole other world of possibilities when it came to movement, in that there is a way to explore a few things and find what type of movement we actually enjoy, have fun with, where the physical benefits are the positive aftermath, but the presence and connection to our body, and the enjoyment and fun is front and center.
I never found this at the gym.
I never found this in team sports.
I never found it in typical forms of exercise.
Although for many years of my life I talked about my love of running, eventually, I came to realize that there were some shoulds attached and that what I loved was the pace, the music I listened to, being in the forest, and all of that I could find in other activities that ended up being deep wonderful loves (and that didn't hurt my hip and knee which sadly started hurting a lot when I used to run). I had to find them in forms of exercise I can't wait to get to (most days), because yes, there will always be days when you're not looking forward to exercising and feel your day is too busy, and some of those will become days in which you just go for a walk to clear your head. Some days you'll notice that although the computer is calling, a little stretch or a short exercise session might help you relieve stress. There will be days in which your body is too tired, and those will become rest days.
For me, my love of running turned into walking and hiking in nature. Even though I also have fond memories of my running days, it's not for me anymore, I outgrew it, and that's allowed too.
My hatred of the high intensity interval training workouts I thought I HAD to do, turned into fun dance workouts and choreography I loved to do.
Very vigorous barre classes, which although ballet inspired, were not my cup of tea, were swapped for actual ballet classes at my makeshift barre (mi kitchen island chairs).
I found my long lost love of ballet again (hear that story in ep.212), and realized that even in my late 30s and now my early 40s, the only thing keeping me from doing this again was me, that fun and joy with dance was allowed at any age.
My hatred of PE class and team sports, made me realize that I loved solitary exercise (except the walks with hubby and the dogs which I cherish).
My hatred of gyms turned into at home workouts.
My not so big love of weight training, transformed into something that works for me now, in that I have a knee that causes me problems sometimes and that needs to be strong for all that dancing I do, and a back that needs a bit of strengthening. Those long recurring, and intense weight lifting videos I used to do, have turned into short ones that strengthen specific muscles that help prevent knee pain and back pain. I take this as a quick, short, chug of medicine, and then follow it up with the dancing that brings me joy.
Obsessively exercising every day, and at the worst part of my disordered relationship to food and using exercise as a means to purge, twice a day, turned into several full on rest days a week, leaving the exercise I love for the rest of the days.
This is a journey, not reserved exclusively for me. It isn't something only those who have struggled with food and exercise addiction/obsession can do. In this very diet-centered and weight obsessed culture we live in, I think all of us need to have a real sit down with our exercise habits, and see what needs to go, what we actually want to do, and how to bring peace to this aspect of our lives, to reap all the mental and physical benefits of movement regardless of our appearance, and there are many.
I can't speak to tips when finding a local sports team to join, or how to find a fitness trainer that actually respects what our limits are, and our past with food and exercise (although I will share some incredible women who are changing the world of fitness putting the spotlight on mental and physical benefits without a focus on weight). I can't speak to activities I've never tried, I can't speak for specific gym memberships, or group classes I've never done.
What I can talk to you about is at home workouts.
I've tried and used so many, and if you've been wanting to incorporate more movement, strength or flexibility at home, but you're also trying to heal your relationship with food, exercise and are working on body neutrality and acceptance, I can tell you what I've seen and what I've found, because the truth is, it's tough out there when it comes to finding at home workouts or memberships that are free from diet culture. They are still very much stuck in that belief, that shaming (even when done with a smile and motivational phrases), inspires change in people, when in fact shame inspired change does not result in better health outcomes or sustained health habits.
Why I Love Online and at Home Workouts
Many years ago, I found out, almost by accident, thanks to a very old and convincing infomercial that sold you a set of pilates dvds before anyone knew what that word meant, that there was a reason I always went to gyms and quit shortly after, or joined yoga studios and then decided they were not for me. It wasn't because I was lazy or because I lost interest, I found that what I truly enjoyed, was not having to leave my house, figure out what to wear, worry about how others saw my body or making small talk, listening to music I didn't like, and having to set out time to get ready, get in my car, drive, exercise, and return home. It was such a huge interruption to my day and it only worked during that honeymoon phase. With those pilates dvds, I learned, that I actually loved movement. Movement in the privacy of my own home, movement that meant I could pause what I was doing, take a 10, 20 or 30 minute break to do a video, and then continue on with my day.
I was 21 then, I had left my dancing days (which was the only thing I ever loved going to class for, but back then I didn't even think of it as exercise), today I'm 40 and at home workouts are still how I move my body, and dance has returned.
If you've ever said "I hate working out", "I hate cardio", "I hate going to the gym", and are wondering what to do if you hate exercise, the first thing I would tell you is to try a kind of movement you love doing (for movement to last it shouldn't feel self-punishing), and to try to find a workout that includes it, that you can do right at home.
What if you don't have the "willpower" to exercise at home or on your own
I know some of you might be thinking: "I don't have the willpower to exercise at home or on my own". To that I say, find something you love doing, something that brings you connection with yourself, something that is a great source of me time, and you'll find yourself looking forward to it when you learn to respect your body and answer to its cues: some days are indeed rest days, some days are for gentler movement, some days are for energetic movement.
When you learn to respect your body, and you begin the process of putting weight loss or appearance changes on the back burner, letting your body find the place that is right for it, and focus instead on connection, personal time, the lovely feeling of strength or stretching, moving because its fun, moving to de-stress, moving to clear your head, moving because it gives you energy, moving because it improves the health of your bones, moving because it will give you more fexibility as you age, moving because it helps your mental health, your relationship with exercise begins to change. If when exploring this, you find that you're one of those people that loves the gym, loves group classes, needs other people around you, go for it, but for me, being able to do it at home has been a game changer.
At Home Workouts can be Bursting at the Seems with Diet Culture Messages and the Pressure to be as Thin as Possible
One thing I should tell you, and it's the main reason why I decided to write this post and episode, is that sadly (although this is changing in a few cases), when you're on this journey to improve your relationship with food, ditching the diet mentality, you are practicing intuitive eating and intuitive movement, and are working on body acceptance and neutrality, you might go exploring in some at home exercise memberships or programs and find yourself smack in the middle of diet culture.
Where fitness trainers are giving nutrition advice and aren't qualified to do so.
Where you only see one "perfect body ideal" in the teachers and trainers and this isn't the way most of us look.
Where you are constantly being bombarded with the pressure to lose weight, trim fat, tone for the wedding, and get a bikini body for the summer.
Where you are often pressured to purchase nutrition drinks, protein shakes, fat burners and diet systems that don't work in the long term.
They are the breeding ground for many disordered beliefs about food and body and even when we enter them with our head firmly on our shoulders, that we're just there for the fun classes, the message that our bodies aren't enough can seep in deep, and we can learn very unhealthy behaviours.
What to do about Body Image and Dieting Triggers in at Home Workouts:
When we're on this journey to making peace with our bodies, our food and our form of movement, we can find ourselves in so many different places along the spectrum. We can also find ourselves going through difficult times, or have a different past histories with food and exercise.
We can also have different triggers, for some of us it's a certain time we feel we must do exercise for (and by that I mean the duration of a workout - I had this belief with cardio and it took me YEARS to dismantle it), for others the trigger lies in seeing numbers, like calories burned, miles run or cycled, etc. For others it's the language we hear during the class.
These triggers can keep us clinging to the belief that if we do it perfectly enough, for longer that is necessary, more than anyone else in the class, we might get that ideal body type we've always wanted. The problem is that for most of us, that is not a place where our bodies can healthfully go.
The point of the journey in which we're at is also important. Having to wear a Fitbit or another tracking device when our problem with exercise has been an unhealthy obsession with numbers might not be the best idea, as it will keep us disconnected from our bodies. If we're years into a healthier relationship to movement, a trainer saying "don't you want to look good for your partner/wedding day/day at the beach" (all things I've heard in at home workouts) might not affect us anymore, but if we're just getting started on this journey, it might keep us very much stuck, confused, pushing ourselves too hard and then leaving movement behind altogether, but now with a feeling of failure on our backs.
Ultimately, we are the ones responsible for our own triggers, and for setting boundaries with these messages. We can choose to say no to them and cancel a membership and try something else out, we can choose to counteract these messages within ourselves when we're strong enough to hear them and still be able to say to yourself "all bodies are bikini bodies" I'm here for the movement, the fun, and out of respect for my body I choose to not internalize this.
Since I've tried so many online programs, at home workout programs and classes (both free and paid), I want to be here as a bit of a guiding light, sharing what my experience with them has been, where I see that improvement is needed, and who gets gold stars for trying their best. I will also share what I do to counteract these messages when they surprise me sometimes, because the truth is diet culture and triggers are everywhere, and we have to learn to deal. All of this is coming in part 2.
A little note to all my lovely readers and listeners with a disability
In these two episodes we're talking a lot about the movement of our physical bodies. Although I will give a shoutout to one at home exercise program that has included a disabled trainer, I know that these spaces can feel so excluding. Growing up with a mom with a disability myself, I want you to know this, so that you know you always have a warm and inclusive place here. There are many things you can do to connect with your body that do not include physical exercise, and physical exercise and body connection can also mean: physical therapy, in whatever way is possible for you. My mom could never ride a bike, joy a gym, I never once saw her run, and yet it was through physical therapy, to help her gain some flexibility and some mobility, that she found release, relief and yes, also so many days in which it was so painful to do and she resented it, but it counts! Being in water is another great way to relax your body and find a bit of body connection and the de-stressing effects of exercise, this was the thing that helped my mom the most throughout her life, even if all she was doing was floating in the water. Breathing, meditation, gentle stretching, are great ways to engage that mind-body connection if exercise isn't possible for you. More importantly, what I want to say is this: I do not believe that exercise is a moral imperative. It is something that can bring us great joy (I find that in dance and I'm so grateful to have that), it is something that can help us manage our stress and anxiety, and that can help support our health, but it isn't the only one. In a world that was not made for bodies that are different, know that you always have a space of understanding here.
Stay tuned for next week's post and episode where I give you all the ins and outs of the exercise programs I've tried, where they get their gold stars, where the triggers are, and who is getting it right or is getting closer.
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