Are You Using Exercise As A Diet?

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Did you know that our movement patterns tend to mirror our eating patterns? Yep. So, if you gravitate toward weight loss food diets odds are that you are ‘exercise dieting’ as well.

What is exercise dieting… and why it isn’t helpful

tired-exerciseExercise dieting is no pain/no gain exercise so punitive in nature (think: boot camps) and unfortunately is widely accepted as THE way to get in shape. However, research shows that exercise ‘diets’ that embody a no pain/no gain approach do not work long term – and in fact, are bad for your health.

A study recently reported in The Journal of American College of Cardiology, revealed that strenuous jogging for long periods of time is as bad for you as being sedentary.

Now, you may be thinking – ‘yeah too much movement is not my issue’, but doing too much, too soon IS the issue for most people when they start an exercise program and a good example of this is when the New Year comes around.

Every year millions of people make New Year’s Resolutions that are related to exercise with the motivation to create better health and fitness, but research shows that 70% of those resolutions have been abandoned by Valentine’s Day and 90% of those resolutions have gone by way-side by the end of the same year.

This 90% failure rate is not about a lack of willpower or discipline as many would think – but about the approach taken.

No More “No Pain, No Gain”

The mindset of ‘if you’re not hurtin’ you’re not workin’ or ‘pain is just weakness leaving the body’ ends up being a deterrent – not a motivator for exercise adherence, not to mention it sets up a potential health hazard by way of injury and/or illness.

Most of us will only willingly put ourselves through pain for a short amount of time – but then self-preservation kicks in – and that’s a good thing.

So – instead of thinking you lack willpower or discipline, maybe you have touched that hot stove one too many times and learned what hurts instead of what feels good – and decided (consciously or unconsciously) to stop exercising.

However, if we feel a sense of urgency to be fit or to lose weight yesterday – logic can easily be replaced by impatience and desperation, and desperate thoughts often lead to desperate measures. But, what we turn to in order to ‘whip ourselves into shape’ ends up being a trap, not the shortcut we hope it will be for weight management.

Strategies for a Healthier Relationship with Exercise

So – I want to share 2 key strategies for shifting out of this no pain/no gain mindset to ensure you are on the right path for making fitness a way of life – instead of a dead end.

Strategy #1: Work With the Body’s Cues – Not Against Them

At Green Mountain we encourage participants to move in a way that honors – not ignores the body’s cues. This practice of tuning into the body – of being mindful with our movement takes time to learn, but is necessary for learning how to work with the body we have today and for fostering a healthy relationship with exercise.

Mindfulness Improves Exercise Adherence

A new study was published last month in The Journal of Health Psychology that looked at what makes exercise feel like a chore for some and then enjoyable for others.

A questionnaire was given to 400 adults, half were women – and the questions were about exercise habits, how they generally felt during exercise, as well as how mindful they were during movement (so – how present they were to their experience).

Basically researchers were trying to determine the correlation between mindfulness and exercise satisfaction. What they found was that for those who enjoyed exercise more, they reported the highest level of mindfulness with movement.

This is important information – because it shines a light on the approach with exercise and that mindfulness – becoming aware of the body’s cues in the moment, and learning how to honor those cues – is key to enjoy exercise and find long term adherence.

Strategy #2: Find Your Middle Ground

For many who are caught in the all or nothing pattern with movement (swinging from sedentary to no pain/no gain exercise) the question becomes:

no pain no gain[quote]What does middle ground feel like?  What does mindful movement entail when it comes to frequency, type, duration, and intensity?[/quote]

Well, the answer is unique to the individual because we are all different – we have different needs, wants, conditions in the body, fitness levels, etc… So, illuminating that middle ground becomes an exploration into what does and does not feel good for YOU.

The goal – just like with our relationship w/ food – is to go off auto-pilot, and to shift out of this all or nothing cycle with movement. To collect data around your immediate experience with certain types of movement and then how you feel during and after movement.

Questions to Ask Yourself

For example, does the thought of an indoor fitness class repel you? Are you feeling knee pain during movement but continuing to exercise hoping it will just go away? Are you sore for days after exercising thinking that’s what getting in shape requires?

All of these are signs that you are in no pain/no gain territory. In order to find your middle ground – start small, and build on the experience of feeling good and energized. Your body and mind will love you for it.

Just Walking Each Day Has Amazing Benefits

health benefits walking infographic

There is a creative and informative video I highly recommend that you Google after this – it’s called 23 1/2 Hours and this short video summarizes the physiological and psychological benefits of just walking 30 minutes day. It’s eye-opening and really brings home the point that something is better than nothing, that you don’t have to be out there running marathons to get fit, or to be healthy.

To quickly summarize some of the stats from this video: 30 minutes of walking a day (and not necessarily all at once) decreased knee arthritis by 47%; decreased symptoms of diabetes by 58%; and decreased anxiety and depression by almost 50%!

So – we are talking a significant improvement of quality of life with moderate, consistent movement.  This is powerful information for keeping our motivation in check with regard to a broader vision of self-care – physically and emotionally.

NOTE: If 30 minutes sounds like a lot – then start with 10 minutes and work upwards as your body allows.

Time to Assess YOU

So – in order to make movement a way of life – instead of another ‘exercise diet’ aimed at weight loss – it’s time to assess what you’ve been doing and then to experiment.

What makes you feel strong and empowered? What builds – not depletes – your energy? What type of activity opens you up – instead of creating a contraction or a sense of dread at thought of doing it?

What is motivating you to move in the first place? If it’s for an improved quality of life and improved happiness – incorporating consistent, moderate, and mindful movement can serve as that springboard for creating the life we desire by working with – not against ourselves in the process.

 


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About the Author

Erin Risius, MA, LPC

Erin Risius, MA, LPC, is a former program director of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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