When you were a kid, was there a vegetable your parents forced you to eat, even though you absolutely hated it? Let's go with broccoli. I mean, who actually liked broccoli as a child?
You managed to choke it down at the dinner table, mainly so you wouldn't get your Super Nintendo privileges taken away, but you hated every bite. Even the smell of broccoli made you gag. If you were lucky, your parents were distracted to where you could slip a few spears to your dog.
Eventually you were old enough not to be forced to each vegetables, or had managed to be such a brat about broccoli that your parents gave up. Your days of eating broccoli were over. FREEDOM!! You vowed to never eat another bite of broccoli again.
That is, until one day when you were going out to eat, and the pasta you really wanted came with broccoli mixed in. You asked the waiter, but they said no substitutions. "Fine. I'll just eat around it," you said.
But then a funny thing happened when the dish came out. The broccoli looked...tasty. Instead of the steamed broccoli you were served as a child, this was roasted and golden with lots of crispy bits. It was covered in a yummy looking pasta sauce. You were intrigued enough to take a bite, and as it turned out, broccoli is actually delicious!
Now broccoli is one of your favorite vegetables. You cook it at least once a week, and even find yourself actively seeking it out on menus. You've discovered you not only like it roasted, but sauteed, raw, and even steamed, the same way you hated it as a child.
So what does this have to do with movement?
Imagine broccoli isn't broccoli, but an early morning boot camp. Or running. Or a cardio class. It's not your parents forcing you to go, but an anxiety over your body that's forcing you to drag yourself out of bed at 5:30. Exercise feels like a chore. And not a moderately annoying chore, like hand-washing dishes, but a chore like cleaning the hair out of your drains or scrubbing your toilet.
Perhaps it would be an interesting experiment to see what happens by giving yourself the freedom to skip that class until you actually want to do it again, just like you gave yourself permission to not eat broccoli until you actually wanted to eat broccoli again. It's not unusual to need a boost of motivation on occasion to make it out for a run or to a class, and then feel really happy you did it once you start moving. But if an exercise has completely lost it's joy, then you're not doing yourself any favors by forcing yourself to do it.
It might feel scary to not work out for awhile, especially if you're struggling with body image and exercising as a way of coping with the anxiety that stems from that. There may be this fear that if you take a break, your body will fall apart. I promise, your body is resilient. Plus, forcing yourself to exercise may not be changing your body the way you think it is. Over-exercise can slow metabolism, especially if paired with under-fueling. And I often see clients eat more after forcing themselves to do vigorous exercise - food becomes a reward for completing an exercise chore.
In the meantime, if you like, you can make movement a part of your everyday life. Do you enjoy gardening? Do you have dogs that need to be walked? Do you have a house that needs to be cleaned? Do you have kids who enjoy playing outside? There are dozens of ways you can incorporate movement without a formal exercise setting, and you'll get all the same stress relieving and physical health benefits.
Eventually, you'll notice a craving for movement. It might not be the same type of workout you were dreading before, but perhaps something different, like dance class, jogging or maybe even strength training or crossfit.
Honor that craving. Then you can begin to rediscover the joy in movement.
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