Is Your Exercise Plan Just Another Diet?

by Marsha Hudnall

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Either you’re in or you’re out. You’re on or you’re off. This sounds like a diet but it can also describe how you approach exercise. It’s diet mentality thinking, which is marked by extreme thinking and judging yourself, your behaviors and your body as good or bad. There’s no in-between. This polarizing thought pattern sabotages women who struggle with weight and weight management.

 

Is Your All-or-Nothing Thinking Getting in Your Way?

Here’s how diet mentality thinking plays itself out with food:

You spend days (weeks if you can make it that long) sticking to a diet or “being good.” Then, after successfully ignoring your hunger cues and tuning out what your body actually wants, the inevitable occurs: You break free… big time… overeating or even binge eating. You’ve “been bad,” so you say “to hell with it” and start a cycle of overeating or binge eating, followed by self hate, then desperation, until finally, you decide to be “good” again and start a new diet.

Now think about how the same scenario can play out with exercise:

You work hard to burn calories, exercising even though you really don’t like it, often pushing your body to its limits day after day. You ignore feelings of fatigue, minor injuries, boredom and dread and just keep going. Until one day you can’t. So you don’t. All-or-nothing thinking sabotages you as one day turns into several, then into weeks and even months because the idea of working so hard isn’t something you can motivate yourself to do again. So you sit on the couch, often overeating, until you get so disgusted with yourself, you start the cycle again.

 

What is Mindful Exercise?

Green Mountain has worked with women since 1973 to help them achieve lasting change through mindful eating, also known as intuitive eating. They learn to listen for and trust their internal cues for hunger, appetite and satiety. They pay attention to physical hunger and satisfaction. They select foods they are in the mood for or that make them feel good, and they enjoy the food as they eat. This, they are finding, is finally a sustainable approach to food and to life.

Mindful eating may be fairly well-known, but what about mindful exercise? At Green Mountain, we encourage women to apply the same mindful or intrinsically driven approach to exercise. This means letting go of the need to run a certain number of miles, burn a certain number of calories, or lift a certain amount of weight to make a workout count. Intrinsic movement is about listening to what your body wants and needs – and quieting the “shoulds.” Following these steps will help you build a foundation for healthy living and erase the diet mentality to exercise:

 

4 Tips for Becoming Successful at Exercise

  • Think beyond calorie burning. If you exercise solely to change your thighs, tone your abs, or lose weight, it might motivate you for a while, but probably not long-term. In this state of mind exercise feels more like torture than pleasure and you’re less likely to stick with it.
  • Be in the process. Be present to your body during exercise. Notice your energy, expression, joyfulness and playfulness. Use those good sensations to reconnect you to your sense of power, freedom and possibilities. Envision feeling stronger, more flexible and celebrate each session as a success.
  • Try anything and everything. You never know what exercise you’ll end up loving until you try it. Go figure skating, try snow shoeing at your park, pick up a hula hoop, drop into a Nia class, or go horseback riding. How do these make you feel? Chances are you’ll find something you want to keep doing.
  • Remember it all counts. The body is designed to move and to move in a variety of ways. You may not even think of it as “exercise.” Activities such as gardening, walking to the post office, and playing with your kids (or playing like a kid) count as movement. It doesn’t all have to be 20 minutes of structured activity at your target heart rate.

 

Final Thoughts about Creating Lasting Success

Find your passion. In order to make exercise a consistent part of your life, it’s about enjoying it. Notice how doing an activity you like makes your body and mind feel. Mindfully focus on the internal benefits rather than the external. Most importantly, be active because you want to, not because you “should.”

**A version of this FitBriefing was originally published in Fit Bottomed Girls.

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