I posted a couple of days ago about we get information about fitness and health twisted in ways that end up with people having less of both. I mentioned in that blog that I had to repair my relationship with exercise and several people asked me to post about how to do it. To be clear, you can choose not to exercise – it’s a completely valid life choice. This blog is just about what to do if you want to exercise but you have some issues around it and/or are feeling stuck.
There are lots of ways that a relationship with exercise can go horribly wrong. It seems like gym class is custom designed to reward kids who are into sports and shame those who aren’t so badly that their relationship with exercise is damaged well into adulthood. I think that we can do better by our kids but for those of use who are just dealing with the aftermath we can still have a knee jerk reaction of never wanting to exercise again.
It could also have to do with unrealistic expectations. One of the things that I think is the most damaging about how we deal with exercise is that people are led to believe that exercise will result in weight loss and that health comes from weight loss. So people start exercising, they don’t lose weight, and they quit because they think it’s “not working”. In truth the research tells us that exercise will make us healthier but is unlikely to lead to weight loss (even if it does, the health and the weight loss are both side effects of the behavior – weight loss doesn’t make people healthier, it just makes them smaller.) So if you are looking at weight (instead of metabolic health markers and/or intrinsic messages like how you feel) you are likely to miss the actual benefits that you are receiving from your movement.
Sometimes a dysfunctional relationship with exercise is the result of rebellion. If you are fat you are probably tired of hearing “just eat less and exercise more” or having people tell you that you should exercise without bother to ask you if you exercise to begin with. Sometimes people just say screw it and don’t exercise as a way to give the finger to everyone who says that they need to exercise because they are fat.
So I think that if we want to repair our relationship with exercise the first thing is probably to let go of whatever way you got hurt around it in the past. If you want health now then you probably have to forgive or at least forget your idiot gym teacher – unless you’re cool with them affecting your current health.
Next I think you have to figure out why you want to do this. If weight loss is your goal, you’re probably barking up the wrong treadmill.
You may want to decide who you are doing this for. In my experience the problem with rebelling against people by being unhealthy is that we are the ones who suffer and we end up less healthy because of it, and the problem with doing healthy habits for other people is that we tend to resent them if we don’t like the habits. But that’s just me.
Finally, decide what you are going to try first, set some reasonable expectations, and then decide what – if anything – you want to measure.
I always recommend figuring out what you want to try first in terms of exercise. Then get a baseline and be totally ok with whatever it is. So if you want to try walking, go for a walk. If you make it 5 minutes that’s awesome. It’s 5 minutes more than if you didn’t go. Then set some kind of reasonable plan: Maybe your goal is 5 minutes a day 5 times a week with the goal of increasing to 10 minutes in a couple of weeks. Take it easy, you have your whole life to move your body and you do not want to be the fittest person in traction. You have nothing to punish yourself for and nothing to prove. This is a whole new thing and this is the first day of it.
If you don’t like the first thing you try, try something else. Try exercise with friends and alone to see what you like. Consider mixing it up. Consider not planning – Set aside the time to do the exercise, but allow yourself to choose whatever is appealing to you on the day. Remember that you can break up the exercise into chunks – it doesn’t have to happen all at once to get the benefits. Ten minutes in the morning, ten at lunch, ten after dinner is your thirty minutes – walking from the back of the parking lot or up and down the stairs totally counts.
If you are one of those people who just doesn’t like exercise I feel your pain – as a dancer I do stuff that I don’t like – flexibility is really important for example but I do not enjoy flexibility work. But it’s worth it to me to do it to meet my goals so I try to make cut down the misery as much as possible by listening to music I like or watching TV and I do it. I also I find it helpful to remember that it’s me and my body tackling flexibility – not me against my inflexible body.
Maybe you want to consider getting a baseline of your metabolic health markers – blood pressure, glucose, etc.. Maybe you want to work with a health care practitioner (perhaps one who comes from a Health at Every Size(r) perspective.)
In my opinion the absolute best thing that you can possibly do is come to exercise on your own terms.
- If you find the word exercising triggering, then substitute something else – movement, working out, whatever.
- Celebrate every single victory. Walked 2 minutes more today than yesterday? Booty shaking happy dance – rock on!
- Get the best equipment that you can afford. Look for deals on shoes on ebay or zappos.com or whatever. If you are going to walk regularly your body will thank you for having good supporting walking shoes. Danskin has a line called Danskin Now that is plus sized and (a reader told me) available in Walmart. Old Navy has some stuff, there’s also Xersion wear, so does Junonia. I’m not associated with any of these, it’s just what I’ve heard about. Sometimes you can find deals on ebay as well.
- Stretch. It does wonders to prevent joint pain (much of which is from muscular imbalances or tightness that pulls on the joints and has nothing to do with weight).
- Consider adding a little strength training- more muscle will help you move that big body around, support your joint health (since the muscle will take the load and not the joints)
- Consider adding pilates – core strength is has been key for me. It wasn’t until I was working with a trainer that I realized how wrong I was doing the DVD – if you can’t afford a class or trainer, consider paying for one session with a trainer to show you proper form and create a workout for you, then you can work at home. (Sometimes you can go with friends and split the cost) When you master that workout, go in for another session. (If you’re in Austin I highly recommend the Mindful Body Center – I workout there and they are amazing!)
- Go slow and if you feel some discomfort, honor that and take it easy. Remember that mixing up your workouts can help you avoid injuries due to repetitive motion.
- If you have access, water workouts are awesome, even done once in a while to give your body a break from walking or other higher impact activities.
- Decide what you want from this experience and create the entire experience to work just for you.
Exercise serves you, you do not serve exercise. You are the boss of your exercise underpants! Occupy your exercise underpants!
If you are looking for a place to talk about fitness from a Health at Every Size Perspective, join us at the Fit Fatties Forum!
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