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If you’re like me you may be all too familiar with the beeping of the alarm clock at 5:30am (or any other early hour, pick your poison) and the sense of dread washing over as you think about the 6am high-intensity interval workout class you signed up for and you’re trying to motivate yourself to run to. For many people movement comes with some sense of dread, a dose of anxiety and is often motivated by feelings of guilt and shame (if I don’t work out I’m a failure or lazy). It’s no wonder when we’re surrounded by messages like “no pain, no gain” and “no days off.” We’re made to feel we’re only productive and active if we’re hitting the gym or a workout class that burns lots of calories and leaves you dripping in sweat. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth and is a fast track to burn-out and injury. 

Personally, I took a break from all movement for a couple of months (some research suggests that a 6 month formal break from movement can be reparative in our relationship with movement) to allow my body and mind to settle and to disassociate movement from the need to “earn” or “make up” for any foods I was putting in my body. This worked for me, but may not be for everyone. If you’re looking for ways to incorporate more joyful, and less punishing, perspectives on movement in your life, the following tips may help:

  • Focus on non-weight or appearance related goals. This can look like working toward  increasing the weights or reps during a workout or tracking endurance in running for longer distances or time periods. 
  • Try to move your body in ways that feel kind and intentional. A yoga class, stretching or some gentle walking are great ways to move your body while feeling mindful and noticing what comes up for you. 
  • Modify moves as needed in a workout. There’s no shame in the modification game – if anything, it proves you know your body best and can avoid serious injury.
  • Ditch the fitness tracker. Wearable accessories like the Apple Watch or FitBit can keep you hyper-focused on calories burned and meeting an arbitrary goal of “closing your rings” or reaching a certain number of steps. This makes movement a means to an end to change your body rather than appreciating your body for what it can do in the present moment. 
  • Take rest days! I can’t stress this enough, but taking rest days allows your body to relax, repair muscle tissue and you can come back feeling refreshed (and maybe even excited!) to move your body.

I also want to acknowledge that my experience and these tips come from the perspective of someone who is able-bodied, without a physical disability. Movement looks different for everyone so honor your body for what it can do. Also, we could all workout the exact same way and still look different – body diversity is beautiful and should be celebrated. If you choose to move your body today, take time to reflect on WHY you’re choosing to be active and how you can do so in ways that are kind and fulfilling for you. Whether it’s lifting up your kids or dancing around your bedroom I hope your movement is uniquely, authentically YOU.

By: Maddy Weingast, Assistant for Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image