There’s nothing like that rush of endorphins after you smash out a tough workout. Your muscles are tired, you’re covered in sweat, and you’ve given it your all.
What’s not quite as fun? Going home after that workout and standing in front of your open fridge, agonizing over what to eat. After all that hard work you just put in, it’s tempting to feel like you’ll be undoing your progress if you eat the “wrong” thing.
An interest in fitness goes hand-in-hand with an interest in food, and in my experience, it’s easy to put way too much emphasis on the food. I’m a big advocate for intuitive eating because it helped me heal my relationship with food and my body.
But as a health and fitness enthusiast, I was afraid to start intuitive eating because it felt like I had to sacrifice that passion.
Now that I’ve been an intuitive eater for a few years, I realize how wrong I was! It’s entirely possible to maintain a fit, healthy lifestyle while eating intuitively. Contrary to popular belief, intuitive eating isn’t about letting yourself go, forgetting about nutrition, or ceasing to care about your health.
If you’ve been curious about intuitive eating, but you’ve been hesitant to try it for yourself because of your love for the gym, this post is for you! These are my top tips for implementing intuitive eating when you’re a health and fitness junkie like myself.
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Acknowledge Where You’re At
Before I discovered intuitive eating, I was an over-exerciser and an under-eater. But because I was surrounded by people whose lifestyles were similar to mine, I never thought the way I treated my body was a problem.
It took losing my period and feeling completely lethargic for me to realize I wasn’t treating my body properly. My hope is that you don’t have to wait for these severe repercussions to start treating your body with kindness and giving it what it needs.
Because our culture is so obsessed with dieting, it can be difficult to take an objective, honest look at your relationships with food, exercise, and your body. It may help to ask yourself these questions:
- Do I take measures to restrict the number of calories I consume each day?
- Do I feel the need to “burn off” the foods I eat by exercising?
- Do I exercise because I feel like I have to in order to have the body I want?
- Are most of my thoughts consumed by food and exercise?
It’s normal and ok if you answer “yes” to some of these questions. There’s a difference between having a passion for fitness and an obsession with fitness. The goal should be for this interest to remain a healthy part of our lives without ruling and controlling us.
Diet and exercise are often inextricably connected – it’s hard to disconnect our feelings about food from our motivation to exercise.
If you come to realize you’ve been pushing your body too hard or that you haven’t been feeding it enough, it’s a good idea to take a temporary break from working out. It can be scary and sometimes even feel impossible not to exercise, but sometimes, it’s what’s best for you in the long run.
You can still find gentle ways to move your body while you’re taking a break! When I was at the very beginning of my journey to recovery from disordered eating, I went on long morning walks through my neighborhood. That was my only form of exercise for about six months, and eventually, and it was difficult at first. But eventually, when I was mentally ready, I was able to start incorporating other forms of movement.
I highly recommend seeking help from a Registered Dietician, a doctor, or a mental health professional if you need some extra guidance.
Find New Motivation
What motivates you to exercise? And what factors do you consider when you’re deciding what to eat?
When the answers to both of these questions have something to do with your external appearance, it’s a recipe for excessive restriction, exercise addiction, and disordered eating.
One of the most important shifts you make when you start eating intuitively is a shift in motivation. Intuitive eating helps you to recognize your value apart from what you look like on the outside. Rather than eating only for fuel and nutrition, you can allow yourself to eat for pleasure, satisfaction, and reasons that have nothing to do with your weight.
For us fitness enthusiasts, an important parallel shift occurs in our motivation to exercise.
If your main reason for working out has been to look a certain way or to lose weight, it may be time to come up with a deeper reason.
Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having reasonable weight-loss goals or wanting to look your best. When these external measures are your central focus, however, it’s easy for your relationship with your body to become disordered. After all, you’re more than just a body!
What are some deeper, more sustainable reasons to maintain an active lifestyle?
- To live a longer, healthier life
- To have more energy
- To feel happier and more focused throughout the day
- To reap all the mental health benefits (endorphins, people!)
- To sleep better
- To have fun and to have some “me time” during the day
- To be a holistically healthier, well-balanced person
Do you see how these reasons are different from the more externally focused ones? The deeper motivations are focused on providing lasting change that flows over into other areas of your life.
You were put on this earth to do more than shrink until you die. Take a more thoughtful approach to your exercise motivation, and you’ll be much more fulfilled with your results.
Loosen The Reins of Control
Those of us who enjoy planning out our meals, scheduling our workouts, and keeping track of our fitness have one thing in common – we like to be in control.
The truth is, there are a lot of things in life that fall outside our domain of control. It’s tempting to turn to our own bodies to regain a sense of control in our lives, especially when life events throw us off balance. And while our weight is something that seems within reach for many of us to manipulate and change, it’s often not worthy of the disproportionate amount of time and effort we allot.
Learning to accept those things that aren’t in my control has given me a new sense of freedom in life. It’s what allows me to go to a spin class, push myself to do my best, leave looking like a sweaty mess, and enjoy whatever food I feel like eating afterward, whether that’s a smoothie or a burrito.
It’s important to remember the last of the 10 principles of intuitive eating – gentle nutrition. Emphasis on the gentle. When I listen to my body and feed it what it wants, my body thanks me. My priority is feeding both my body and my soul. What happens to my physique as a result is secondary.
When you stop trying to control every calorie that enters or exits your body and adopt a more relaxed approach, you’ll start actually enjoying your life and living in the present.
Ultimately, that’s what it means to be an intuitive eater while working toward fitness goals – disconnecting each bite of food from each rep in the gym. Eating and exercising intuitively gives you a new sense of enjoyment and satisfaction in your life, and it’s worth doing whatever it takes to get to a healthy place in your relationship with your body.
Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not possible to eat intuitively while prioritizing your health and fitness. You absolutely can, and your life will become much more peaceful, meaningful, and intentional in the process.