There have been times in my life when I've run multiple miles every day, and times in my life when I've taken long breaks from working out at all. In retrospect, I don't think either of these extremes were great for my body, but it goes to show how difficult it can be to figure out how to have a healthy relationship with exercise. Sometimes you're really motivated and committed to a routine, and other times the drive just isn't there — so how do you find a balance between the two?
According to wellness expert and health coach Carolina Drake, it all comes down to a concept called intuitive exercise — which, yes, involves many of the same principles as intuitive eating. "It is our relationship to movement based on our own body’s needs and energy instead of based on the 'shoulds' and external rules imposed by diet culture, fitness gurus, etc.," Drake tells Elite Daily in an email.
Understanding what is ultimately motivating you to go to the gym, a fitness class, or even to work out at home, is central to determining whether your relationship with exercise is healthy or not, Drake explains. "For example, if you find yourself going to the gym because you 'should' go, or because if you don’t, this will somehow make you feel 'less worthy,' or because if you don’t go to the gym, you won’t let yourself eat as much, then you might need to check your motives," she says.
In fact, if you're looking to re-evaluate whether your fitness routine is helping you connect with your body in a healthy way, a great first step might be to slow down and avoid stressing your body out too much, Drake suggests. Taking a break from your usual routine, she says, might give you the mental space to step back and look at your habits in a new light.
If exercising intuitively is a new concept for you, it might be hard to really know if your motivation to beat your squat record, for instance, is implicitly due to a societal standard of what a "great butt" looks like, or if you are actually just caring for and strengthening your body. Asking yourself some targeted questions — and being honest with yourself in your answers — can help you discover your own personal reasons for working out, Drake explains. For example, she recommends asking yourself a specific question like, "Am I choosing this workout because I’m attached to how it will make me look?"
Additionally, consider whether you're actually having fun when you exercise — maybe you're becoming more flexible, seeing mental health benefits, gaining some time to yourself, or even just learning something new. If your motivations only have to do with how you look rather than how you feel, then your relationship with exercise probably isn't as healthy as it could be, according to Drake.
If you have a gym membership, Drake says that finding an environment that is body-positive and inclusive is integral to supporting your own healthy relationship with exercise. Ask yourself, "Do the gym instructors have bodies of different shapes and sizes? Do they represent different genders, races, and sexualities?" If you're working closely with a trainer who seems to have certain weight biases, consider how this might affect the way you approach your workout routine, Drake explains, and the way you see your own progress, how you view your body.
According to Drake, exercising in a space where the people around you are both diverse and mutually supportive can help you look at fitness as a way of loving and connecting with your body, rather than a way to constantly try to "improve" or change it. In other words, if everybody at your gym looks the same, maybe it's time to find a new gym. (BTW, Superfit Hero's Body Positive Fitness Finder might really come in handy here.)
One struggle I personally have when it comes to my relationship with exercise is feeling guilty after choosing to relax or go out with friends instead of sticking to my workout routine. Drake tells Elite Daily this is a very common issue: "A lot of us think that we are being 'lazy' for not exercising, and yet that is a judgment imposed by diet culture’s messages," she explains. "If that judgment didn’t exist, we would probably like movement more because we don’t feel like we are constantly rebelling against what we 'should' be doing." And the truth is, she adds, shaming yourself into working out isn't just unhealthy. It's unsustainable.
Enjoying your body while you work out, on the other hand, can help you stay motivated long-term. Think about all the cool things that your body is capable of doing. "You might want to exercise to improve your posture and flexibility, to feel those endorphins kicking in and improve your mood after some cardio, to improve your stamina for sex," says Drake, "to feel great in your own body, to be part of a team and make new friends, to get stronger, etc."
There really are so many reasons to exercise. Find a goal that means something to you, that you'll be proud to accomplish when the time comes. And don't forget to be kind to yourself along the way.