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Take pleasure rather than punishment with exercise

Posted February 15

Exercise should be a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for something you ate yesterday. (Deseret Photo)

For anyone who is familiar with the non-dieting approach to health and wellness, you've likely asked yourself how exercise fits into the equation of connection with your body and overall self-love and acceptance. How can you exercise in a way that supports all the hard work you've done to reject the dieting mentality and make peace with food?

The truth is, exercising because you hate your body isn't likely going to get you anywhere. If the reason you get up in the morning before work, put on your stretchy pants, and head to the gym is because you are disgusted with yourself, you're likely going to run into problems with those changes actually lasting in your life. Your 'why' for exercise really shouldn't be to change your appearance.

Exercising because you want to punish your body isn't likely to lead to lasting peace. If you can learn to make exercising and moving your body about pleasure and joy, rather than punishment, you will likely feel and be more healthy and whole as a result.

A few years ago, I was in a spin class at my gym. I'd spent the first 45 minutes of the class trying to push myself a bit to get a good workout in. At one point, I took a minute to slow my pace and looked around the room. When I looked around, all I saw were grimacing faces and looks of utter despair. People literally looked like they wanted to die and it got me thinking about exercise.

I realized in that moment that I don't want to exercise from a place of punishment. I wanted to use exercise and movement as a way to celebrate the things my body can do, and realized moving my body can be a source of pleasure and joy if I let it! As I looked around the room that day in spin class, I realized that I'd spent so many years of my life exercising militantly when I really could have been enjoying it this whole time!

Let me be clear: sometimes it brings me joy to push my body and really get a vigorous workout in. Sometimes a really intense sweat and racing heart is exactly what I need. But, other times, a nice easy walk around the neighborhood helps me re-center and feel grounded. Exercise and movement are now about those things for me rather than manipulating my body.

Exercising and moving our bodies is an important part of our health — our bodies are made to move and they function best when we make time to move our bodies throughout the day. As with anything else, though, exercise can get out of control. We can fall victim to not moving enough or even exercising too much and either end of the spectrum can be harmful for our health.

So, how do we find a balance?

Exercise should be a celebration of the many ways our bodies work for us, and shouldn't be used as a punishment for something we ate or did the day before. When we use exercise and movement as a way to celebrate our bodies, we're not just tapping into the physical benefits of movement, we're finding ways to increase our joy, contentment and gratitude for life. And let's be honest: people who find ways to make exercise and movement enjoyable are able to actually stick to their exercise routine because it's fun.

So, think about a way of moving your body that you enjoy and commit to start moving more joyfully today!

Paige is a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in helping people heal their relationship with food. She hosts Nutrition Matters Podcast and has a private nutrition consulting business based in Salt Lake City.

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