I spent the majority of my 20s learning to eat and exercise intuitively, largely with the help of a therapist and the book Intuitive Eating. Before reading it, I'd developed rigid food and exercise habits. I followed a routine and rarely asked myself what I'd enjoy eating or doing for exercise each day.
Throughout my 20s, I learned to break free from this lifestyle. I used to run 3 to 5 miles every day, not because it was necessarily what I wanted to do, but because it was what I was "supposed to do." I'd been running that mileage since middle school. I was a runner. How could it not be what I did? It was part of who I was.
Years later, I see clearly that it was not part of who I was, but instead merely something I did. We are not our outputs.
I still exercise most days, but now I ask myself what I'd enjoy doing. It might be yoga, weight training, spinning, swimming, rock climbing or anything in between. Some days it's running, yes. But through the practice of asking myself what really sounds good on any given day, I've learned that running doesn't always sound as amazing as I once thought it did.
When I began shifting my exercise model, I had a ton of anxiety. I called my friend, Katie, who used to run with me almost daily (we did middle school and high school cross country together, and ran the Chicago marathon together in college. We'd logged a lot of miles as a duo.). She was ahead of me - she'd switched from running to mostly yoga after college. I told her how worried I was about changing my ways. Was I going to gain weight? Would I lose all my running skills? I liked being someone who could run further and faster than most other people. Would I ever be able to get that back if I missed it?
She encouraged me to try making the switch, reminding me that I wasn't quitting exercising altogether, but instead trying new things. She also reminded me that my worth as a person was not in being a long distance runner. It wasn't what made me Whitney. It was just something I did.
Through the process of intuitive exercising, I learned to trust myself more. I learned that my body would tell me if it needed a rest day, or a long bike ride in the sun, as opposed to a heavy lifting day in the gym. I learned that some mornings, an extra hour of sleep is more important than a workout. Or that sharing a cup of coffee with Chris would feed my soul more than a solo run would.
I also learned that my hunger cues would align with my exercise. A hot vinyasa class will leave my starving all day, while an incline walk might not produce quite as much hunger. When I ate within a rigid routine, there was no room to listen to my hunger cues. Now though? If I just ate lunch but am coming up hungry, I know to trust that my body needs a little more food.
The body is really brilliant. It tells us what it needs, but we often override it with the mind - allowing anxiety, society and routine tell us what we need to do. My journey through intuitive eating taught me that I can trust my body. It was designed to survive and thrive long before the world started telling women how we should eat, look or exercise.
In learning to trust what it tells me, I've found great freedom. I've learned that there is room in my life for both structure and playfulness. Life is always a balance.
I've learned to love exercise again, not because it's what I should do, but because it's a joy and privilege to move my body each day. I've learned that I love carbs and cheese and ice cream, but that my body won't tell me to overdo it. I've learned to love rest days just as much as I love a hard spin class.