By Caroline Best (student intern) and Alex Raymond, RD,LD.
My fun fact about myself during first week of class icebreakers is that I play on Virginia Tech women’s ultimate frisbee team ( a second fun fact is that I absolutely hate icebreakers). I’m met with a range of responses from “cool” to “is that like the disc golf thing?”. Ultimate is sort of a mix between soccer and football played with a disc. My first semester of college a friend brought me to a practice, the girls seemed cool and I was a nervous freshman who wanted to make friends so I decided to try it. Now here we are four years later.
This brings me to my topic for the post: the way society addresses the role exercise is “supposed” to play in our lives and how screwed up these messages are.
I brought up ultimate to introduce this topic because the idea for this blog popped into my head after my team’s tournament a few weeks ago. The theme of the tournament was building women’s ultimate and it was such a fun weekend. There was lots of team bonding , running around on a beautiful fall day, working on skills, and badass women playing ultimate.Only on the drive home did I realize “I am so sore, I didn’t realize how much work my body did this weekend!
I had been enjoying myself so much I actually forgot I was moving my body differently that I normally do AND THIS IS HOW SOCIETY SHOULD LEARN TO APPROACH EXERCISE.
Exercise is very much portrayed as a necessary chore we must do. A box we must check off if we want to be/ look “healthy” and this message is so counterintuitive to both mental and physical health.Because of this, many of us develop either a certain resentment to exercise OR exercise becomes a compulsion. Neither one of these represents a positive relationship with movement or our bodies.
Think about where you see messages about movement: online, magazine covers, at gyms, and even in schools. You are presented with messages like “hit the gym x times a week” “don’t skip x workout”, and my personal favorite ( read: pet peeve) are the big signs in my gym saying things like “every damn day” or “pain is weakness leaving the body”. 1. Exercise should never, ever be painful. 2. Portraying exercise as something you have to do a certain number of times per week or in a certain way to “do it right” or “be healthy” is inaccurate and frankly, a very damaging message.
The message you should exercising a certain way to help you look a certain way is equally damaging and unfortunately a growing trend with social media and instagram fitness celebrities.
Bodies are wonderfully different and exercise impacts us all differently. And this is okay. Spreading messages like” doing this exercise made my legs look like this and you should do this so your legs look like this too!” is harmful. It is disrespectful to the wonderful and equally beautiful range of shapes and sizes our bodies come in. It also perpetuates the idea that we should exercise for outward appearance as opposed to for the well-being benefits and internal health maintenance.
I’m going to get up on my soapbox about the way exercise is specifically marketed to women for a minute.
I absolutely acknowledge the messages everyone gets about exercise are skewed, but the messages women get are particularly egregious. I like to scan magazine covers when I’m in line at the grocery store ( its how I stay hip) and every single women’s magazine has some sort of subtitle on the cover “ do this workout for 6 weeks and get a cuter butt!” or something cringey like that. And the only messages I ever see encourage women to workout to “look better” . I can’t emphasize how degrading this is. Women are here for so much more than for someone’s viewing pleasure.
Women are strong and talented.
And saying the main reason a woman should exercise is to get closer to society’s narrow and ridiculous version of “attractive” or “fit” perpetuates the unfortunately all too present message that a woman’s main worth is how she looks. This is ridiculous and wrong and needs to change.
Don’t get me wrong. Exercise and movement are wonderful, and can be great for mental and physical wellbeing.
Exercise relieves stress. It can help with improving sleep. Health goals can be framed as a new skill to develop (But, when exercise is excessive or is done in a way to disrespect the body, it can be damaging). Sports teach teamwork, provide a social support network, and I can personally say I’ve met some of my best friends through joining a team. There is no right way to exercise. It should be enjoyable and stress-free.
A few of our suggestions for building a healthy relationship with exercise include….
1) Talk to your treatment team when starting or changing an exercise routine and check in regularly. It’s so important to talk with your treatment team about changes in activity level. ED behaviors can be a slippery slope, so it’s important changes to movement is done in the most recovery focused way possible!
2) Try to take breaks, treat your body with respect (remember exercise should never be painful). Rest days should always be a thing. Your body needs time to chill and reset.
3) Do not exercise when tired or sick. If your tired, your body needs rest, not activity.
4) Journal how/if exercise brings up ED thoughts. It’s important to see how ED thoughts/behaviors and exercise are related. Sometimes this relationship can be quite sneaky and not always obvious. Talk to your treatment team more about this!
You can run, walk, swim, lift, play soccer, play frisbee, jump rope, hike, garden, practice yoga, go to spin class or whatever activity that brings you joy and helps you feel confident and strong.
If you have any questions about developing a healthy and sustainable relationship with movement and exercise email or call us and we would be happy to talk. Alex@empoweredeatingblog.com