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Intuitive exercise: lose the focus on weight loss

Would you exercise if it had no impact on how your body looks?

Most of us will have associated exercise with weight loss at one point or other. It’s unavoidable: most fitness experts have chiselled abs and bulging quads, with promises on how to ‘tone up’, ‘lean up’, or get that ‘beach bod’.

It's damaging stuff, not only for those who exercise with these aims, but also because it intimidates many others, and makes them feel unwelcome in gyms and fitness classes.

We are often encouraged to focus on burning calories, or on earning our food when exercising. This can lead to disordered eating and serious eating disorders. It also means that we miss out on enriching our lives and don’t try different activities, become overly-focused on what our bodies look like, and risk over-training and injury.

Luckily, the conversation is beginning to shift, and we are collectively beginning to realise that our reasons for exercising should not include weight loss.

Exercise has so many other benefits including: reducing the risk of certain diseases, strengthening our bones, muscles and joints to aid daily movement, improving digestion, improving circulation, improving our lymphatic systems improving mobility, flexibility and balance, reducing chronic pain, improving brain function and it also connects us socially.

It all makes perfect sense, but how do you really change your mindset and begin to truly love moving your body with no care for body size? We spoke with Julie Newbry, the Intuitive Trainer.

How did you get into intuitive exercise?

Most of my life I tied exercise to weight loss.

Unfortunately, this meant I only exercised to lose weight, I only did the types of exercise that burned the most calories, and I never really enjoyed it. I began working as a Personal Trainer and felt pressure to have low body fat and defined muscles. I began over-exercising and under-eating. Eventually my body crashed and I was constantly sick and injured.

I began working with a therapist to help me have a better relationship with my body and food, and she introduced me to intuitive eating, Health at Every Size, and intuitive exercise. For the first time in my life, I realised that exercise could be about respecting my body and didn't have to be tied to punishing it and becoming smaller. It changed my life and the way I coach my clients.

My current favourite ways to exercise are strength training, boxing, and dancing. I love feeling strong and feeling my body move in new and challenging ways. I also love to walk and listen to podcasts.

How can I learn to stop focusing on weight loss?

First of all, be kind to yourself. It will take time to develop the ability to ignore all the messages the fitness industry is putting out there about exercising strictly for weight loss, so have lots of self-compassion as you figure this out. The dieting, weight loss focused culture is ingrained in every area of society and it’s hard to dissociate yourself from this.

Some things that might be helpful are:

  1. Make a list of the reasons you want to exercise that have nothing to do with physical changes. Refer to this when you feel those weight loss thoughts creep in.

  2. Unfollow social media accounts that focus on weight loss and aesthetics.

  3. Diversify your social media so that you see more body types, different types of exercise and ways of eating. It’s very helpful to see different bodies exercising and living life.

  4. Ditch the fitness trackers and scales.

  5. Try new and different forms of exercise and see what you enjoy.

  6. Find a personal trainer who doesn’t talk about weight loss.

  7. Listen to podcasts that talk about Intuitive Eating and exercise.

  8. Have a mantra that you say to yourself when exercising that focuses on the way your body supports you and helps you live your life. This may help to shift your focus.

How often should I exercise?

This will vary from person to person. Our bodies were made to move and most people feel their best when they get some kind of movement in most days. That can be anything from housework, walking, gardening, hiking, or more intense structured workouts. I like to encourage people to keep an exercise journal so they can track how they feel before, during, and after they exercise. This can help them to see patterns of when to back off from exercise, and when to increase it.

Is there any exercise I shouldn’t do?

It’s important to stop any exercise that causes pain (including little aches), and to go and see a professional. You might simply need to alter your form, or there could be something bigger going on. Our bodies are great at telling us when we slow down and pay attention.

As far as intuitive exercise goes, no form of movement is off limits as long as your intentions are helpful. Why are you doing this? Do you enjoy it? Is it enriching your life?


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