Practice Intuitive Movement
The next principle of intuitive eating is about using your intuition to guide you in finding joyful physical activities.
I recommend completing this module over the course of a week, taking some time to review the material a couple of times, and to complete the journal exercises and audio meditation each day.
Start by listening to the talk below. When you're done, scroll down for the notes, journal exercises, and audio meditation.
Audio: how to Practice Intuitive Movement
PDF Workbook (New!)
Module 10 Notes
For most ex-dieters, the word “exercise” has some bad associations.
Physical activity is prescribed as a means of burning calories, changing your body, and becoming “deserving” of the things our society supposedly affords to people with the “right” bodies.
Even if you had a time in your life where physical activity was a joy and not a duty, diet culture has likely stripped you of that purely joyful relationship with it.
In the diet mentality, exercise is about exercising control over the body, and forcing it to take up less space. Exercise is not a joyful outlet, but a tool in the fight to change your body.
In the fitness world, food is deeply entangled in this fight. Personal trainers with limited knowledge of nutrition routinely prescribe diets and meal plans to their clients, with the message that if they want to get fit, they’d better “eat clean” or else the physical activity doesn’t count.
This misguided idea comes from an equally misguided, instrumental view of exercise: Movement can be used to “negate” calories consumed, but you’re always at risk of the reverse—your food “negating” the exercise you’ve done.
In this view, if you eat a donut, better hop on the treadmill to “work it off”—but if you eat a donut after going for a run, you might as well not have moved at all.
That’s a complete misunderstanding of how the human body works.
Calories are simply units of energy. The food you eat supports all the physical processes in your body that require energy, and we’re talking about far more than deliberate “exercise”—your body also needs energy to keep your heart beating, your lungs pumping, your liver and kidneys filtering out waste, your lymphatic system fighting off infection, etc. etc.
On top of all those basic biological functions, there’s your physical activity, both intentional and unintentional—not just the time you spend at the gym, but also the time you spend walking around your house, washing dishes, folding laundry, and playing with your kids or pets.
Even unconscious physical movements, such as tapping your foot, fidgeting with a pen, twirling your hair, whatever—all require energy.
This energy doesn’t all have to be consumed and expended over the course of a single day, the way fitness tracking apps and calorie calculators make you think.
In reality, the energy that you consume and expend balances out over the course of days or weeks, not hours, and trying to track it or control it is completely futile.
Tracking only allows you to guess at estimates, and there’s a far more finely calibrated tracking device built inside each and every one of us: Your hunger, fullness, and desire for movement and rest.
Your body takes care of energy balance amazingly well, without any intervention from you. All you have to do is tune in and listen.
Tuning in to Your Desire for Movement & Rest
Just as you did with your hunger and fullness cues, you can become aware of cues that your body desires movement. When you move in ways your body wants, it brings joy and satisfaction—just as it does when you eat the foods you desire.
Take a look at the infographic on this page, and see if you can start to notice the signs that your body is asking for more or less movement.
We’ve all experienced those feelings of stiffness and soreness from sitting for too long—think of how your body feels after a long ride in a car, train, or plane. Your body is crying out for some basic movement, such as walking and stretching.
Even in your normal daily routine you may sometimes experience restlessness, fidgetiness, or having a hard time getting comfortable no matter what position you’re in. These can be signs that your body wants movement, too.
On the flip side, your body also tells you when you’ve had too much activity. Sore muscles, fatigue, low energy, and even dizziness or nausea can all be signs that you’ve overdone it and need to rest.
The instrumental view of fitness tells you to “power through” these feelings of fatigue, but that’s the exact opposite of self-care. If you’ve done a lot of movement and you’re feeling worn out, the best thing you can do for your body and your health is to rest.
Rest helps the body repair itself, so that you have the capacity to do more activity when you’re ready. If you’re doing a sport or activity that requires the use of certain muscle groups, rest allows you to recover and come back with greater power and energy the next time you do that activity.
So both activity and rest are essential functions of the body, just as both hunger and fullness are essential functions.
And just as we’ve worked on noticing and honoring signs of hunger and fullness, I’d like you to work on noticing and honoring your body’s desire for movement and rest.
Here’s a recent example from my own life of what intuitive movement feels like:
I went on vacation with my family to a resort with a million activities—bike riding, swimming, river rafting, horseback riding, and more.
In the first several days, we took a nice moderate bike ride along the river to get the lay of the land, went for a short horseback ride, and went to the pool a few times. It felt like exactly the amount of activity my body wanted, and I felt great.
Then, on the fourth day, my boyfriend and I went on a hike. It started out wonderfully—a moderate trail that wound through a gorgeous forest alongside thick black lava rocks, down to the river and next to a waterfall. It was exactly the kind of movement I wanted. At first.
But the hike ended up being a lot longer than we’d anticipated, and on the way back we were totally out of water. By the last leg of the hike, I felt parched and exhausted, and just wanted to curl up in the middle of the trail and go to sleep.
When we finally made it back to the trailhead, we guzzled water and sprawled out on picnic benches for a bit, and then we felt good enough to drive home. On the way we stopped for ice cream to satisfy our now-intense hunger for something cold and sweet.
The next day, I could barely get out of bed, and the thought of doing more activities was about the last thing I wanted. So instead of going on a bike ride with the rest of the family (who had been spared our strenuous hike), my boyfriend and I lounged around the house, reading books and relaxing in the hot tub. (Tough life, I know!)
Years ago, in my disordered eating and dieting days, I would have felt extremely guilty about this day of rest. I would have judged myself as lazy and been convinced that I could see evidence of my body having changed instantly.
Thankfully that mindset is behind me, and I fully relished this day of rest. I savored the feeling of moving very little after having done so much more movement than I’d intended the day before. I let my body recuperate and honored my hunger and desires, which were pointing me toward bland, comforting foods and savory snacks.
I continued paying attention to how my body felt the next day, and you know what? I still didn’t want to do anything strenuous, but I felt like moving a little bit more. I gave my body what it asked for but didn't push it, and soon I was back to feeling my best.
In the coming weeks, try to allow yourself to go through natural cycles of movement and rest, and pay attention to your mental and physical responses.
Journal Exercise 1: Styles of Movement
This exercise will help you identify styles of movement you enjoy, and ways to make them more intuitive.
- What types of movement do you already engage in regularly?
- How much do you like those ways of moving?
- What could make you like them more, if anything? For example, engaging in them with less intensity, less frequency, etc.?
- What if guilt and “shoulds” weren’t part of the equation at all—would you still engage in all of these styles of movement?
- If you still genuinely would like to participate in styles of movement that feel more like "exercise," e.g. going to the gym or doing circuit-training classes, how can you approach them in a body-positive, non-instrumental way?
- What other types of movement do you enjoy?
- Is there anything you used to do in the past that you stopped doing because of circumstances (e.g. lack of time, finances, etc.) that you might be able to try doing again?
- What style of movement is your body asking for right now?
Continue paying attention to the types of movement your body desires throughout the week, and note your responses to this in your journal.
Further Viewing: Styles of Intuitive Movement
Not sure what styles of movement are available to you? Check out this video for some examples:
Journal Exercise 2: The Days-Off Challenge
Remember the pre-course survey you took in Module 1? The question that almost everyone struggled with was the one about whether you can take days off from physical activity without feeling guilty.
So now it’s time to change that.
In the coming week(s), pay attention to when your body is asking for a rest, and honor it by taking a day off from movement. You don’t have to be totally immobile if your body isn’t asking for that, but just take the day off from any structured physical activity or exertion.
Do whatever feels fun to you that isn’t physically strenuous, like seeing a movie or going to brunch with friends, taking a drive, bringing a picnic to the park, having a family game night, etc.
Check in with yourself at the end of the day, and write down your thoughts in your journal. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How does your body feel?
- Does it feel nice to rest and relax, or are you feeling anxious or antsy?
- If you do have any anxiety, can you identify any thoughts associated with it? What are those thoughts saying?
- What would it be like if you could incorporate more days of rest whenever you want them? Would anything about your life have to change in order to allow that?
- Cody app: EmBody Yoga and EveryBody Yoga programs
- Curvy Yoga
- "8 Ways to Keep Your Workouts Body-Positive," from Refinery29. (I don't love that they used the term "workouts" here, but the article itself is super helpful!)
Journal Exercise 3: Post-Lesson Reflection
In your journal, reflect on what you learned in this module.
- Are there particular aspects of intuitive movement that seem more challenging for you than others?
- Did anything seem easier than you'd expected?
- How will honoring your body's desire for movement and rest help you move closer to your goals and intentions?
Please provide your feedback to help us improve this module.