A few months ago, a friend invited me to take a spin class with her. I went and I fell in love. I have been going almost daily since then. This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten into the rhythm of an exercise routine, but it is the first time that I have actually enjoyed it. Previously, when I exercised, I was hyper-focused on the results – the calories burned, the pounds lost. This attitude, paired with a low-calorie diet, always fizzled out in a binge of endless eating and gym abandonment. I thought I wasn’t disciplined enough. I thought I was a failure.
What’s revolutionary about picking up an exercise routine that you actually enjoy is that it becomes less about the calorie burn and more about the serotonin rush. Those earth-shattering 45 minutes in darkness, surrounded by loud music and the voice of a compelling spin instructor, have become the highlight of my day, setting me up for a great and productive mindset during the day. 3 months ago, I never would have guessed that I’d want to get up at 5 a.m. for a morning spin class.
Exercise isn’t what it used to be for me. It isn’t a calorie furnace that enables “bad” eating habits. Now, it’s a way for me to center myself, move my body, and improve my fitness. So why am I still tempted to abuse food in the same way I abused exercise? I want to cut my calories, cut out “dirty” foods, and lose weight. But now I know that food and exercise are not just fuel and punishment; if exercise can be enjoyable and rewarding (for reasons other than weight loss), food can be too.
With this in mind, I started looking into the non-diet community by way of Paige Smathers’ podcast “Nutrition Matters.” In this podcast, she discusses the benefits of Intuitive Eating and its tenants. Most basically, this means “giving yourself unconditional permission to eat.” For me, so far, this has meant actively fighting against the guilty thoughts I have associated with the food choices I make, especially when I’m at school and have limited access to a kitchen. I can eat what I want. I am allowed to eat, and that’s nonnegotiable.
Along with several other tenants that require you to get to know your body and your hunger, I think that the final tenant, “gentle nutrition,” has the potential to be extremely supportive of my new exercise habit. While I love to order a hefty Chipotle bowl with plenty of sour cream, I have noticed myself feeling sluggish in spin class the following morning. With this tenant in mind, I have been more drawn to lighter, whole foods with high nutritional impact. However, I am still a college student surrounded by food options, many of which are oily and heavy. With Intuitive Eating in my tool belt, I give myself permission to enjoy all kinds of foods, knowing the consequences and effects on my body. With gentle nutrition, I can analyze my food choices beyond satisfaction in the moment but also satisfaction and productivities in my freshly active lifestyle.
I no longer want to be controlled by the terms “healthy” and “unhealthy.” I want to pay attention to what my body wants and what my body needs and leave the restrictive diets in the past. So, I begin my journey with Intuitive Eating here, as I finish reading the official book on the subject with an intention to continue enjoying spin class and to enjoy my food in the way that I want to. Intuitive Eating gives me the freedom to do that.