Why Using Movement to Change Your Body Will Never Be Enough
How can I stay consistent with exercise?
What’s the best type of exercise to lose weight?
How do I know if I’m exercising enough?
These are questions I get asked by clients A LOT.
In short, my answer is: “Focus less on exercise, focus more on movement that brings you joy.”
But there’s SO much more to it than that.
Growing up, I never thought about how much movement was enough. I was active. Running around with my sister, my neighbors, and my cousins. Swimming, biking, dancing, and playing.
I was moving because of the joy of exploring and spending time with the people I loved. That was enough.
When I was 11, I joined my first cheerleading team. My dad wasn’t super excited about the idea because all he knew about cheerleading was girls waving pom poms in crop tops at NFL football games. But, I didn’t want to be a cheerleader for the “image”, I didn’t even know what that meant, I was just fascinated by the sport.
I loved that cheerleaders somehow defied gravity with flips. I was amazed at the incredible shapes and acrobatics cheerleaders pulled off with different stunts. The synchronized dances and choreography. I wanted to move like that!
I loved the trust I built with my teammates and stunt group. We were literally putting our lives in each other’s hands as we lifted each other up into all sorts of challenging pyramids.
I loved the physical feat of cheerleading, and the strength and endurance I built at each
When I’d leave cheerleading practice and felt sore I thought: “my soreness means I’m getting stronger and better at this sport!”
I was moving because of the JOY cheerleading brought me. It wasn’t something I felt like I had to do, it was that I wanted to do! That was enough.
I stuck with cheerleading all the way through high school. In the middle school and high school years I realized that not everyone was into cheerleading for the sport like I was. A lot of people wanted the “cheerleader” title for the image it stood for.
As people joined the team with less skill, and more “image”, I started to get insecure that I didn’t fit the image and body-type everyone expected a cheerleader to be.
I’m 5”1, I’m pretty short, so people always assumed that I was a flyer (the person who gets lifted up and tossed in the air) but I wasn’t “light” enough to be a flyer, and I didn’t WANT to be a flyer.
But my weight and size made me feel like I wasn’t as important as the thinner, lighter girls on my team, so I started feeling insecure about my body. I started to feel like I wasn’t enough.
Things changed a little in my senior year of high school. The cheerleading season ended mid-February, I didn’t have 6+ practices/week or competitions anymore. I didn’t have any reason to be active, but I knew I was missing it. So, I signed up for my first gym membership.
It was really fun at first. I’d go to fun aerobic classes with friends and laugh uncontrollably through the whole thing. It was new, challenging, and exciting. I loved it.
I was moving because of the JOY spending time with my friends brought me. It wasn’t something I felt like I had to do, it was what I wanted to do! That was enough.
When I got to college, I started feeling like I wasn’t enough. I started working out for the sole purpose of earning and burning food.
Movement became exercise and exercise wasn’t for joy, it was for punishment.
When you’re punishing yourself, you never never feel like you’re doing enough.
In my mind exercise became the amount of calories I burned at the gym. Exercise was a tool I’d use to punish myself when I ate too much pizza, or drank too many “empty calories”.
All the excitement I used to have around movement got https://www.bewellwithmarissa.com/post/why-you-need-to-stop-exercising-to-earn-food-and-what-to-start-doing-insteadmorphed into this daily grind to earn my food, change my body, and to feel like I burned enough calories, was thin enough, small enough, toned enough. Hint: it was never enough.
During the summer, I would go back to my old gym, and I stopped going to fun workout classes with friends. I started spending as much time as I could on an elliptical or treadmill to reach a certain number of calories to burn.
I truly believed the common phrase “you’ll never regret a workout”, but I wasn’t moving to feel good, or strong, or energized, or less stressed, or anything like that -- I was moving to burn calories, lose weight, make myself smaller, thinner, toned etc.
Going into my senior year of college my sister got engaged. I was her maid of honor, and with the thought that a lot of eyes would be on me- walking down the aisle, photos, making my MOH speech -- I knew I had to commit to an exercise plan that was truly going to make me look ‘good’ (enough) in my dress.
I bought an 8-week exercise DVD program - ready to lose weight. The program was super high intensity, with no emphasis on rest days, which seemed to say, even this intensity wasn’t ENOUGH.
I would workout EVERY SINGLE DAY, in my dorm room, jumping around. My joints were killing me, but I kept pushing through, thinking about how I’d look in the dress.
The program made me SO hungry (because I was burning so many calories), but I ignored my body’s cues because I didn’t want to ‘eat all the calories I burned’. I’d keep my meals super lean, a protein and a veggie - and since this wasn’t enough fuel for my body, I’d still be starving later and binge-eat a box of Wheat Thins.
I went to my final fitting for my dress, excited to see the progress I made with my exercise program. Turns out, I actually gained weight, and my dress didn’t fit anymore. The seamstress’ face was concerned when she said she’d have to “take it out” in order for it to fit!
I was MORTIFIED!
I worked so hard at this program, WHY wasn’t I getting the results? Why wasn’t it enough?!
Even after my sister’s wedding, my college graduation, and into my first years working - exercise was important to me, not for the joy, but for the results I was looking for.
My weight would fluctuate, and I’d constantly weigh myself, analyze my body in the mirror, and even when I lost weight, ‘toned’ up a little more, it never felt good enough.
“Enough” was the driving factor behind exercise.
A 3 mile run was not enough - I pushed myself to do a strength workout after.
An hour-long strength class was not enough - I followed up with sprints on the treadmill.
It takes a lot for me to sweat in a workout, so if I didn’t sweat it was not enough - I had to do more, or push myself harder.
I scoffed at the idea of yoga as movement because that wasn’t enough of a workout - it wouldn’t burn enough calories. It wasn’t enough to change my body.
Exercise wasn’t enough if it was too fun because it wasn’t meant to be enjoyed.
Exercise was not enough if it wasn't painful or if I wasn’t sore after - because it should feel hard to achieve the results I wanted.
Exercise was driven by the pressure to lose weight, get ‘toned’, take up less space, and be ENOUGH.
There’s no joy in that.
Besides the fact that this is a dangerous and disordered way of thinking - it’s actually praised by the rest of the world.
My unhealthy obsession came off as “dedication” to the rest of the world! It became part of my identity. I was the “fit friend” and workout-loving coworker who never took a day off from the gym.
People complimented me, people wanted to be my gym buddy, and told me that they wanted to be just as dedicated as me. What they didn’t realize was the unhappiness behind it and how unhealthy it actually was.
Despite all of the compliments and encouragement, I still didn’t feel enough.
I signed up to do my first half marathon with my two best friends. I was so excited. I didn’t consider myself a runner, but I was committed to the goal and the challenge.
Running started out as a joyful form of movement, I’d go for sunrise runs on the East River and in Central Park and feel calm, as my stress slipped away. As I increased my distance, and improved my times - I felt so proud!
But, that enough-ness started to kick in. Running 2x per week wasn’t enough, so I amped it up to 4-5x per week with a minimum 5 miles + strength workouts after, and longer runs on the weekends.
That felt like enough.
Until I started getting injured. My knees were starting to give in towards the end of my runs, and my hip was in so much pain. I kept running.
I got a massage to try to help with the pain and I asked the masseuse what I could do about my hip so I could run more.
Her response: “rest”.
This kicked up so much anger and anxiety for me. Didn’t she realize I was training for a race and if I took time to rest it wouldn’t be ENOUGH?!
“Your body can’t support you if you don’t support your body”
I sat with that for a while after my massage. I started to realize that the joy of signing up for the race had slipped away.
Two months away from the half marathon, I took a few weeks off from running. This was the LONGEST I’d ever gone without exercise - and it was uncomfortable and difficult, but it was worth it. I did a lot more stretching and recovery. I reset my mindset around running, and around movement.
When my hip felt better, and I let my body heal, I decided to ease back into my training.
When I ran and the thought of: “is this enough?” came up - I reminded myself WHY I was running and moving. I was moving because of the joy of running this race with my friends, and for how running made me feel: energized, strong, motivated, and stress-free.
That was enough!
I finished my first half marathon feeling so filled with joy.
Today, I don’t move to change or shrink my body.
I don’t move to lose weight.
I don’t move to feel enough.
I move in ways that support my body, so it can support me back.
I move to feel those positive benefits.
I move because I AM enough.
You are enough, too.
I don’t call it exercise anymore, because exercise meant punishment - movement is joy.
Breaking up with this unhealthy exercise habit also helped heal my relationship with my body. I no longer stare at myself in the mirror fixating on things I need to change. My weight doesn’t fluctuate drastically anymore, and I don’t stress about fitting into special occasion dresses. I no longer rely on the scale to tell me that I’m enough, because I know that I’m enough regardless of my size and the number on the scale.
I want you to find movement that brings you joy and movement that makes you feel good, strong, energized, motivated, stress-free, etc.
When the focus of movement is to feel like you’re enough (thin enough, toned enough, etc.) it will never be enough.
This is what I love supporting my clients with. I help my clients shift their mindset from exercise being difficult/punishment to using movement for joy. When my clients realize they are enough, movement is easy. They clearly understand the reason WHY they move, which
ironically helps them want to do it, and use it as a tool to enhance their already-enough selves, and reap those incredible movement benefits, like feeling good and loving their bodies again.
If movement is hard for you to stay consistent with - think about WHY you want to move, and how that will bring you joy.
If exercise is something you use to feel enough - think about a time when movement was fun, and enjoyable, instead of a punishment.
I know it’s hard to do on your own, but I KNOW movement can be joyful for you, and I want to help you get there!
I’m offering a free 30-minute food & body freedom assessment call. Together we’ll figure out simple steps to make movement joyful for you so you can stop stressing over fitting into the dress, stop getting injured, and start feeling ENOUGH: amazing and confident in your body! Sign up for your free call here!
Let’s normalize using movement for more than losing weight, shrinking ourselves, and feeling good enough! You’re already enough.