Intuitive Exercise Tips to Heal Your Relationship with Exercise and Movement and Fitness

Intuitive Exercise Tips

Intuitive exercise takes you from feeling forced to workout for weight loss to genuinely wanting to exercise for enjoyment. It may feel like a huge leap to go from worrying about the calorie burn to working out for joy. But keep reading to learn my top intuitive exercise tips to bring joyful movement into your life.

Think about exercising for a moment.

Do you automatically think about exercise as something you have to do or that you’re supposed to do? Is burning a certain number of calories or exercising for a specific length of time necessary for it “to count”? Are you reluctantly following a workout regimen because it will (allegedly) lead to faster fat loss? Do you get angry if you get 75% through your workout only to discover you forgot to turn on your Apple Watch or FitBit? Will you eat less if you didn’t get a workout in? Or let yourself have a “treat” because you did workout?

If you can relate to any of the questions above, you will greatly benefit from intuitive exercise! Also called intuitive movement, shifting to this approach will help heal your relationship with fitness.

What is Intuitive Exercise?

Intuitive exercise takes the same philosophy as intuitive eating and applies it to movement. It is the practice of looking inward to what type of movement would feel best in your body at this moment. It also takes into consideration duration, intensity and environment. So instead of looking at exercise as a means to lose weight or change your body through miserable workouts you don’t even like. Intuitive exercise helps you to look at movement as a way to honor your body and feel good.

Why Does Type, Duration, Intensity & Environment Matter in Intuitive Exercise?

Everyday is different. I think this is a simple fact completely overlooked by diet culture when it comes to both exercise and diet. The meal plans and exercise plans written suggest we’re robots with the exact same needs every day. But obviously that can’t be true! This is why intuitive movement is so vital to having a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. Because if it’s not enjoyable, it won’t be sustainable long-term.

Type of Exercise

What are you in the mood to do today? Once you’re able to fully separate yourself from the influence of diet culture, you quickly realize what type of exercise you genuinely enjoy doing. Many times it goes back to movement you enjoyed doing as a child. For me, that’s dancing. Which is why I love barre and Zumba so much! For you, it might be basketball, soccer, swimming or hiking. While this is a great place to start, it doesn’t need to limit you. Try a wide variety, especially at first, to narrow down what types of movement you enjoy the most.

Duration of Exercise

How long do you feel like moving today? One of the diet culture lessons I had to unlearn was that I do not need to do a 60 minute workout in order for it “to count.” Most days, 20-30 minutes is perfect for me. I also love the concept of duration in intuitive exercise because it also gives you permission to stop mid-workout if you want to. Previously if I started a workout, I felt I had to finish it. Even if I was miserable. Now I know to do the length of time that serves my body. Stopping (even if it’s before the instructor says it’s over!) because it’s more important to honor my body’s needs.

Intensity of Exercise

How much energy do you have to give today? Some days I’m all about HIIT and other days a leisurely walk with my dog feels best in my body. Back when I was carb cycling, I would pair my workouts to specific days. So for example, I “had” to do HIIT or sprints on Mondays and Tuesdays during low carb days to “deplete my glycogen stores.” <Insert BIG eye roll>. All this actually accomplished was making me think I hated HIIT! Turns out, I just hate HIIT when I’m hungry, need carbs and feel forced to do it. Now I honor my body by choosing the level of intensity based on my intuition in that moment.

Environment of Exercise

What vibe do you want to feel while moving today? This is a key question I never see asked in others’ blog posts about intuitive exercise. It’s such a great question to ask yourself though! It not only helps you decipher if you’re in the mood to be outside, at home, in a group fitness class, or somewhere else. But it also causes you to ask what type of influence and energy you want from your workout space and instructor.

For instance, do you want to take a large, in-person cycling class with a high-energy instructor where you’ll have an opportunity to laugh and chat with classmates after? Do you want to pop in your ear buds, hide under a hat, and be incognito during an off-hour cardio session at the gym? Or do you want to stream an inclusive strength training workout on Apple Fitness+ in the comfort of your own home?

Considering the type, duration, intensity and environment will help you decipher precisely how you feel like moving your body today. Which is why it’s so empowering and freeing to be an intuitive exerciser! Quite the opposite from being force-fed workouts by a weight loss program or personal trainer who focuses on appearance!

Joyful Movement Means More Options

If you’re someone who works out only to lose weight and gain muscle, there’s a high chance you overlook movement that can’t promise weight loss results. It could be in those styles that your true passion lives though! What if ballroom dancing, skiing, roller-skating, hiking, pickleball, synchronized swimming, or horseback riding turns out to be your favorite?! You won’t know if you only look to movement as a means to change your body. I truly believe there is so much more freedom in intuitive exercise. Because you open yourself up to the experience and positive emotions. This creates much more likelihood for sustainability and consistency with your exercising. Plus a wider variety of movement often means more opportunity to evenly build up your balance, flexibility, strength and stamina. Instead of just focusing on strength and stamina like most “weight loss” programs do.

Wouldn’t you rather enjoy movement frequently and consistently, instead of alternating between seasons of all-or-nothing workouts you hate?

My journey with intuitive exercise

When I hit the rock bottom of dieting, I was involved in a diet program that included intermittent fasting, macro tracking, carb cycling and exercise cycling. As mentioned above, I would pair my eating to my workouts. This created a pattern where I had no flexibility or freedom of choice. If I didn’t do the prescribed workout, I would feel guilty. Or like I had failed and delayed my progress. It hurt my mental health so much! While my disordered eating was the bigger red flag that made me realize I needed to heal. I quickly realized my relationship with exercise was damaged and in need of repair too.

For an extended period of time I didn’t workout. Or at least not in an organized or consistent way. I slowly learned to listen to my body through the following methods:

  • Not wearing my Apple Watch for 6 weeks
  • Reintroducing my Apple Watch for only 5-6 days/week for several months
  • Taking walks with my dog while repeating “this is enough. This is enough.”
  • Working out without tracking (purposely taking off my Watch so it wouldn’t track)
  • Taking mid-workout dance breaks to keep it fun
  • Wearing baggy clothes to help dissociate appearance from exercise
  • Working out in my basement without a mirror (body checking was a big issue for me)
  • Trying different styles multiple times to figure out what movement I truly enjoy (including styles I previously had written off!)

Now that I only practice intuitive exercise, I happily engage in movement that helps me feel my best! Since Apple Fitness+ released in December, I enjoy mixing up the type, duration and intensity of my movement. I also play around with my environment by switching up if I’m at home, outside or at my gym. Additionally, I realize the level of influence instructors and circumstances have. For example, I really thought I hated HIIT. Turns out, I love it! I just need to consistently eat carbs everyday for energy, eat prior to my HIIT workout, and do it with instructors who aren’t promoting diet culture. Dissociating HIIT without the negative influences of my previous fat loss program helped me to evaluate my true thoughts on it.

Reasons to move that have nothing to do with weight loss

We were born to move! Before diet culture turned exercise into a way to lose weight, humans were natural movers. There are so many reasons for daily movement to be a part of your life. And when you take away the stress and shaming that happens on a weight loss program, you’ll likely find yourself more motivated to do it. Here are some healthy reasons to exercise:

  • Improve mobility in your joints
  • Better balance to help prevent falls
  • Stronger core center to alleviate back pain
  • Greater flexibility
  • Easier to complete activities of daily living (ADL)
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Strength building
  • Increase stamina and cardio fitness
  • Improve sleep patterns
  • Stress reduction
  • Social interactions in a supportive group setting
  • Time to yourself
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Improve memory and brain function
  • Have fun!
  • Pain reduction and pain management
  • …and so much more that have NOTHING to do with your appearance!

Ready to heal your relationship to exercise?

I am an anti-diet nutritionist who helps you heal from years of dieting and grueling exercising. By prioritizing your mental health and how you feel (versus how you look), you can reclaim self-trust and confidence through diet-free living. Intuitive Eating AND Intuitive Exercise is absolutely possible for you, friend! Click the button below if you want to learn how you can start healing today.

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Do you workout only for weight loss? If so, you might benefit from intuitive exercise. Using the same philosophy as intuitive eating, it's looking inward to determine what type of movement would be most enjoyable in this moment.

Meridith Oram is an anti-diet nutritionist at Love Yourself Towards Healthy where she helps chronic dieters heal their relationship with food, fitness and body image by ditching diet culture and finding freedom in their God-given intuition. Focusing on behavioral change and Intuitive Eating, Meridith helps her clients unlearn diet culture, stop negative self-talk and set wellness goals---not appearance goals. Follow Meridith at @loveyourself2healthy on all social channels.
  • Laura

    Thank you so much for bringing some sense into me regarding intuitive exercise. The guilt of not working out enough or not burning enough calories is defintely a mindset I have to change. I really want to honor my body’s needs, so what is your advice for dealing with those days low in energy prior menstruation, during menstruation, and during ovulation? I’m still not at the point of exercising for joy, I force myself to workout everyday, but those hormonal chaging days are the hardest for me to workout.

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