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  • Writer's pictureCarly Onopa

To Move or Not To Move?

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice. Please talk with a medical provider before starting any exercise program.

What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of exercise? Is it a specific type of exercise? Or maybe a specific place to exercise? Or just a feeling you have when you exercise?

Our current culture has intertwined nutrition (read: dieting), exercise and weight loss where the primary motivator of moving our body for many people is to lose weight. This connection tends to lead people to feel frustrated when they don’t see the type of results they want to and can lead to an abandonment of exercise as soon as the diet ends.

Exercise Metabolism

Why is exercising for weight loss so hard?

That’s a great question! First, there is a genetic blueprint for your body. You weren’t created to look like another person – you were created to be you. When we start manipulating our food and exercise to get further from this blueprint our body responds by reducing the metabolism, which I talk about in more detail here. The short version is that when the body is deprived of the energy it needs, the body has to become more efficient at using the fuel it does have; thus lowering the metabolism and leading to potential medical complications.

This is why the calorie-in-calorie-out approach doesn’t work.

The second reason exercising for weight loss is so hard is because it takes energy to exercise. The body has a preferred fuel source for activity: glucose. When we are low on overall energy consumed, glucose is of the utmost importance and is being used for many different body systems. When we combine low caloric intake and low carbohydrate intake, our body has to go through a process to create new glucose (called gluconeogenesis). While our body can do this, it does take more time than digesting carbohydrates to provide our body with glucose. When our energy source isn’t as readily available, it increases the effort needed for that movement and increases the risk for illness and injury.

So, do I just give up on exercise?

You don’t have to. There are so many benefits to exercise that aren’t weight loss.

Exercise, regardless of weight loss, may:

  • Benefit brain health

  • Help with depression and anxiety management

  • Improve cardiovascular fitness

  • Increase muscular strength and endurance

  • Maintain bone health

  • Improve sleep quality

  • Increase heart health by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol

  • Increase insulin sensitivity thus aiding in diabetes prevention and management

When I work with my clients, we discuss the costs and benefits of physical activity. If they decide movement patterns are something they want to incorporate, we talk about nourished and attuned movement.

What does nourished & attuned movement look like?

Nourished and attuned movement is consistent with many of the ideas discussed in the Intuitive Eating principle on exercise. We will focus on the idea of nourished movement first.

Nourished movement feels different than exercising while on a diet. When our body is nourished, we aren’t asking it to do more than it has physical energy for (we will talk about emotional energy next). We are supporting the body systems to power our movement. We are also giving our body the energy it needs to heal from our movement.

Attunement is the name of the game when talking about nutrition and movement. Our body is AMAZING and sends us all these cues for physical and emotional states. As a human, it is our option to override the cues or to respond to them. With attuned exercise we are (more often than not) listening to our body’s cues about: hunger, fullness, rest, emotional states. This information is coordinated to help us decide if we move our body, when to move our body, how to move our body and for how long to move our body.

So, I should give up on all my health goals?

You don’t have to. When we abandon the idea of exercise for weight loss, this can help maintain the relationship with exercise over. Nourished and attuned movement is an approach to exercise that helps maintain the relationship over time and can help someone meet their external health goals. Here are some examples of nourished and attuned movement goals:

“I want to maintain my muscular strength to pick up my kids/grandkids”

“I want to strength train to minimize my bone loss”

“I want to be able to compete in a sport-specific event”

“I want to build my cardiovascular endurance”

“I want to exercise on most days to improve my diabetes”

As you can see, they aren’t weight centric goals, but are still goals that support overall health and wellbeing.

What if I hate exercise?

That’s okay. The decision to move your body or not move your body is your own decision. If you have only ever tried exercise in the context of dieting, try taking a break from movement and healing your relationship with food and your body. Then maybe you may feel ready to explore movement again.

If you do want to explore exercise in your recovery, it can be beneficial to think if you have ever had a positive experience with exercise and explore what about that exercise made it positive. I also encourage people to try something new that they don’t have negative experiences with. This can lead to finding a form of exercise that is joyful or is at least the least hated form of exercise. Both of these are okay.

Ultimately, it may still be that at the end of your exercise exploration you still don’t like exercise and that’s okay too.

In Summary

To move or not to move is a valid question. When movement is tied to dieting, it is often frustrating and unsustainable and negatively impacts a person’s relationship with exercise. Nourished and attuned exercise is an approach to exercise that incorporates the body’s cues to answer the question to move or not to move and can heal a person’s relationship with movement and help them achieve their external health goals.

If you find that you need more help in your eating disorder recovery journey, please contact me for individual nutrition counseling.


Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works

Intuitive Eating Workbook: 10 Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food

Benefits of Exercise. Center for Disease Control, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Ob*sity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

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