In the years before I learned about Health at Every Size®, I exercised at a gym two to three times a week, cardio and weights. I mostly dreaded it and it wasn’t at all fun, but it was something felt I had to do to keep my weight down. Living in San Francisco with no car, I walked everywhere as well, which was something I actually liked to do, but even that I thought of as Exercise with a capital E: something I did to control my weight.
When the revelation hit me that what I was doing with both my eating and my exercising was not first and foremost fun or pleasurable, I had to take pause. Because I am a fun person. Ask anyone, you want me at your party! And our time on this great blue marble is limited, so why, then, was I taking what little free time I had and spending it on not-fun activities?
Right about the time I decided to stop dieting restrictively, I also decided to quit Exercise (with a capital E) cold turkey. Reevaluating the choices I was making in my life, I realized that the pleasure I had once got from weight loss was long usurped by the misery of trying to maintain it. Quitting Exercise seemed extreme but it would help me to take a step back and decide what I really wanted to do for movement, or frankly, if I even wanted to do anything at all.
Taking a break from all that gym drudgery was heaven at first, but also a little alarming. I’d been a regular gym-goer for at least 10 years. What was I supposed to do now?? Of course I still walked around the city; I have always loved walking and didn’t want to give that up. But did I want to do something beyond walking?
Turns out, yes. After many months of being gym-free, I realized that I actually did enjoy going to a gym – when I wanted to. There was the key: going because I felt I had to was pure awfulness, but going just because I felt like getting sweaty felt like a luxury. No schedule. No strict regimen of so many minutes of cardio followed by so many reps and sets of weights. I got to do whatever I felt like: maybe a Zumba class, maybe yoga, or maybe still be that hamster on its wheel on the elliptical machine. That’s when going to the gym became a treat and not a chore. Since then, I’ve maintained a gym membership wherever I’ve lived but without the need to commit to X many nights a week. Ironically, that freedom has allowed me to attend even more than I thought I would. Movement makes me feel great and I think that is the best reason to do it.
Last year I challenged myself to find new and fun things to do outside of my regular activity. That led me first to a hula hooping class, where I learned a bunch of cool tricks that I continue to be able to do badly. Then, having been a pretty lousy swimmer most of my life, I decided to take swimming lessons. After that I spent the summer at the beach in the ocean. I rode a bike by the seaside for the first time in 15 years. Occasionally I hike in the beautiful hills surrounding LA. Frequently, I dance vigorously in my living room which feels best of all.
I also learned what I don’t want to do: Running of any sort. Belly dancing. Lifting super-heavy weights. Spinning or any kind of stationary bike. As I experiment, I’m sure this list will continue to grow too.
I’ll continue this trend of trying new (and old) things in 2015 with two rules: it has to make me feel good and I have to enjoy it.
It doesn’t have to be a gym or structured classes or anything that costs money. It doesn’t even need to be an activity anyone has ever heard of before. What matters — the thing that will make it wonderful and worth doing — is that you do it because it makes you feel amazing in that moment.
We could call it Intuitive Exercising. It reminds me how we move as children. No kid ever played hide and seek and then wondered after how many calories she burned. Let’s take a lesson from the kids we were and stop Exercising with a capital E and start moving for fun.