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4 Ways to Improve Our Relationship With Our Bodies

Changing how we think about exercise is key.

rawpixel/Pixabay License Free for Commercial Use/No Attribution Required
Source: rawpixel/Pixabay License Free for Commercial Use/No Attribution Required

By Stephanie Roth-Goldberg, LCSW

Our culture’s tyrannizing preference for thin bodies can ruin exercise as a way to feel good mentally and connect positively with our physicality.

For many of us, the focus on transforming the way our bodies look has drained exercise of its pleasure—when we divorce exercise from the goal of weight loss, we can heal our relationships to exercise and to our bodies.

Here are four ways to help connect with and enjoy our bodies:

1. Avoid self-talk that reinforces a problematic relationship between exercise and food.

Mentally separate food from exercise. We should give ourselves permission to enjoy a meal regardless of the calories we may have burned that day. Focusing on calories interferes with listening to our body and reinforces a thin ideal. If we are hungry or craving something, we don’t have to earn it to eat it.

These thoughts tie food to movement in a negative way.

  • I have to work off that snack, even though I am exhausted.
  • I didn’t work out today, so I cannot have that cookie.
  • I will take that exercise class, so I can enjoy my lunch.
  • I ate too much yesterday and need to work it off.

2. Learn to listen to your body.

Our bodies have a natural desire to move. Just look at children before they become self-conscious—they delight in physical activity. If we force ourselves to exercise at times when we know it will be painful, we are reinforcing the idea that exercise is unpleasant.

Giving ourselves permission to take days off and rest is a simple way of demonstrating respect for our bodies. More importantly, ignoring our bodies’ need for rest puts us at risk of injury.

Of course, there are some activities that may require us to push ourselves further than we are used to doing. So, it’s important to differentiate between working hard and punishing ourselves.

3. Focus on gains from exercise other than weight loss.

Here are some examples:

  • I’m feeling stressed; I am going to recharge and relax by taking a walk.
  • I feel empowered using my body to lift weights.
  • I'll take the kids for a bike ride; it'll be a great way to spend time together.
  • I am angry and want to punch a wall, but I’ll take a boxing class instead.

  • I love the music in that dance class; it’s a great way to spend an hour.

If a traditional exercise class or activity is unappealing, consider movement connected to other goals.

One person I work with has a very hard time meditating, but finds that swimming laps in a pool allows his mind to wander. Another uses rock climbing to challenge her mind and body simultaneously. As she strategizes how to climb the wall, she uses her body's strength to do the work. She also enjoys the socialization that happens among fellow climbers.

4. Enjoy yourself!

Several studies indicate we are more likely to consistently engage in activity that is satisfying or enjoyable. We don’t have to go to a gym or even put on workout clothes to get pleasure out of exercising. Something as simple as dancing to our favorite jams at home is great exercise!

Remember: Having an awareness of how our body feels on a given day is essential to enjoying physical activity.

Untangling food and exercise increases our pleasure in both. First and foremost, exercise should be a fun way to expand our lives, not change our bodies to conform to a cultural ideal.

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