If you want to focus on feeling better in your body but you don’t want to focus on weight loss...where should you start?
This can be a tricky question, especially if you have been a dieter in the past. Since you won’t be tracking calories, macros or following rigid “health rules” it is easy to feel like you are adrift.
image via The Wellfull
The reality is that you don’t need to follow those old routines in order to improve your health and well being! There are lots of different metrics when it comes to improving your relationship with yourself, your body, food, exercise and yes- even your definition of health.
The following simple steps are a great place to start! I’ve also included resources below to help you continue your journey.
...Remember- this is a process that will have many layers and can take time. Take a deep breath, recognize yourself for getting started and enjoy the ride!
Before we begin...What is Diet Culture? Diet Culture affirms the belief that smaller is better, you need to look a certain way to be healthy or fit, and that large bodies can’t be healthy or acceptable. Diet Culture also encourages the idea that dieting/deprivation/restriction/food rules is a valid way to lose weight. (Want to dig into this subject more? Check out my “Diet Data” page here)
Lily Fontas, Ed.M holds a master’s degree from Boston University and is a certified personal trainer and health coach. Her goal is to help others reach their health and wellness goals without blame, shame or dieting. She works with clients globally as a virtual coach and trains clients in-person in Oakland, CA.
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Last week after a particularly rigorous workout I started to feel fatigued and not just physically. As I wrapped up my stretching I could sense tears beginning to form and quickly caught myself- what was going on?
I had just completed a successful lifting session and felt great, but at the same time I was experiencing a feeling of vulnerability and overwhelming heightening of emotional awareness.
Turns out, I am not alone. There is a strong tie between exercise and emotional release and this phenomena is supported by anecdotal evidence and clinical trials held by mental health professionals. At the root of these occurrences are how intricately related human beings mind/body connections are. This may seem far-fetched in a society of people who tend to be disconnected from their physical forms for whatever reason, but as you connect with your body through exercise emotions are awakened in new, and sometimes powerful ways:
The body holds on to feelings, even if it seems the mind has dealt with them. So if a person has the opportunity to relax that area, whatever has been held there can come to the surface. The body wants to complete the emotional experience.
-Karol Ward, therapist
Exercise causes tension to release and endorphins to flow throughout your body so you might feel elated but also emotional at the end of your workout. Whether you are exercising alone or with a group many practices ask you to turn inward and reflect on your present feelings and experiences. These meditative exercises can stir up emotional vulnerability that can also cause you to have intense mental reactions to exercising.
In addition to exercise causing emotional release it also fosters positive trends across many demographics (varied by sex, age, race, socioeconomic status), as discussed in Current Opinion in Psychology:
…Exercise and physical activity are associated with better quality of life and health outcomes. Therefore, assessment and promotion of exercise and physical activity may be beneficial in achieving desired benefits across several populations.
Older adults responded particularly well to 24 week resistance training programs and women also reported a high level of increased emotional satisfaction after increasing their activity levels. These positive effects are not limited to weight training or ‘traditional’ workouts either: mental health benefits were also observed in groups that participated in activities such as hatha yoga and dance classes.
So- the next time you workout or exercise take some time before and after to reflect on your mental state. Review your day, what might be stressing you out (family, friends, work, etc.) and recognize that these issues, no matter how big or small, are within you. You don’t have to search for an answer, or know how to fix them, but simply acknowledging them can be enough to keep your body and mind healthy.
…and remember, you are making a positive change by exercising, no matter how often you do it, so celebrate that choice!
Sources (links to articles within titles)
Bennett, J. (2014, October 20) Why So Many Women are Crying at the Gym.Time.
Stenson, J. (2007, October 2) Moved to tears: workouts and waterworks.MSNBC Online.
(2007, October 4) Another Reason to Exercise: Release Pent-Up Emotions. Pop Sugar.
Penado, F, Dahn J. (March 2005 Issue) Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current Opinion in Psychiatry.
About the Author
Lily lives in the Bay Area of California with her husband. She loves to lift heavy, watch vintage movies and cheer on her fellow warrior queens!