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You’ve Heard of Intuitive Eating, But What About Intuitive Exercise?

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Sometimes, you just know that you need a day, or three, off. That's intuitive exercise! Credit: Perfecto Insecto

Over the last 10 years I’ve gone from regimented eater to intuitive-eating devotee. I’ve written about it before, but without consciously realizing it, I’ve also become an intuitive exerciser.

Back in my pre-FBG days (oh, what a confusing, insecure time for me!), I’d eat when I wasn’t hungry, not eat when I was and work out NO MATTER WHAT. Getting over all that and “seeing the light,” was what led me to the content that you’re seeing on FBG today: that life is about more than counting calories, pounds lost and gained and punishing yourself with workouts you hate because you ate a stinkin’ donut.

With that said, it wasn’t until the last year or so that I really started to trust my body completely when it came to working out. Of course I’d stop if there was pain and I’d take one to two rest days a week, but I still felt a twinge of guilt when I’d unexpectedly have to miss a workout. And, honestly, sometimes it’s hard to know if it’s your brain or your body that needs a day off from exercise.

What I’ve learned though? Sometimes they both need a day off—or three. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s totally what you should do. If you can sink down below the mental chatter that plays a ping-pong game of “yes, you should work out” and “no, I don’t want to work out” in your head and ask yourself: Self, what is best for me today? Not what you should do or need to do but, but what your self would benefit most from. The answer might surprise you. Like it did me this past week.

After confessing my undying love for this place, I got a little too gung-ho and admittedly pushed it too hard for too many weeks. A twinge here and an ache there isn’t that big of a deal, unless you just keep pushing right through them, addicted to the confidence high of doing more and doing better—until all of sudden you aren’t feeling good and doing better. It was a lesson I’d learned before, but apparently needed a refresher on.

So last Monday, feeling tired, crabby and generally lackluster after a workout, I made a point to reconnect with the part of me that really knows what I need. I embraced my inner intuitive exerciser. And in doing so, I traded my usual workout routine for sleeping in, doing easy yoga and going for leisurely walks with my dog. By last Friday? I felt as good as new again. Excited to push it hard and physically ready to work out, I had fun at my next workout. No aches or a dragging fit bottom—I was back.

So what did this all teach me? That my true self has never lead me astray, so I should listen to that broad. She’s smart. Also? Intuitive exercise is the way to go. Totally the way to go.

Would you call yourself an intuitive exerciser? Would you try it? Struggled with it? Tell me! —Jenn

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8 Comments
  1. Kristen says:

    It’s so perfect that I’m reading this post this morning! Normally at this time I would be filling my water bottle and getting the kids out the door on our way to school and the gym. But they are on Spring Break this week and I am running on empty. So instead I’m sitting in front of the laptop with a huge cup of coffee. And I refuse to feel guilty about it! Hooray for intuitive exercising!

  2. Noah says:

    I totally agree that listening to our intuition can really be a life saver when it comes not only to exercising, but to life in general. Thanks for putting something that I’ve been thinking about into words 🙂

  3. Sandy says:

    Love. This. I’m always telling clients and friends to “listen to your body,” and that breaks really are necessary for healthy fitness regimes. But you’re right, often it’s difficult to discern between a brain break and a legit body break! That’s where willpower comes in…

  4. Helen says:

    Jenn, I still have the emails I sent you about trying to get motivated and yes only the intuitive exercising works! I have been travelling two times a week because of classes in my university in a town 2,5 hours away from mine so my schedule became incredibly difficult to control… So for about a month I was doing yoga only one time a week and the other days I was trying to find the courage to get my butt off my couch. FINALLY my body was craving for exercise so now I get up again at 7am and do yoga or some aerobic workouts and I feel great!

    1. Jenn says:

      So glad to hear that, Helen! 🙂

      –FBG Jenn

  5. Courtney says:

    I’m so glad I found this post (and FitBottomedGirls in general!) today. I’m currently working toward intuitive eating as a lifestyle and breaking away from the “you must eat this and must eat it now, you must run and you must run this far/long – to stay healthy” mindset. I had not considered intuitive exercise as a way of life before now.

    The pride and personal power associated with having a controlled and regimented lifestyle can be comforting, but extremely daunting and intimidating when things (you know, like real life) interrupt your routine. I’m heading out on vacation for a week and missing that time for half-marathon training. Am I nervous? Yes. But I also know that my body needs the break (which will be full of walking and bike riding – at a leisurely and comfortable pace). This might not be the best time to start working toward an intuitive exercise lifestyle, but maybe the break my body will be getting will allow me to reconnect with what I REALLY need to be healthy?

    In short, or rather, what I meant to say: thanks for this. And thanks for the website.

  6. I love the idea about intuitive exercise, Jenn. I’m just afraid that I will never be able to distinguish between my intuition telling me to take a break from exercise today and my resistance to exercise telling me the same thing! How do I delve beneath that endless mind chatter to really “hear” my intuition?

    1. Jenn says:

      GREAT question, Christine! It’s not easy, but I think stopping what you’re doing, taking five minutes to just breathe and listen to your body (not just your head — deeper down than that) is the first step. Getting quiet is essential for tapping into your intuition, but it takes practice and time to develop. And when in doubt? Do something that feels good to you like going for an easy walk or doing some light stretching/yoga. 🙂

      –FBG Jenn