Reclaiming Movement: A Celebration of Your Whole Self

She earned her Master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from Arizona State University. In her early career, she worked as a clinical dietitian in an intensive care unit.

In 2017, Abby co-founded EVOLVE Flagstaff, an integrative practice that offers weight-inclusive services including physical therapy, injury prevention, nutrition counseling, training, and meal preparation. Her nutrition practice mainly focuses on working with athletes and individuals with eating disorders. She helps her clients to re-establish their relationship with food and movement and unlearn behaviors that negatively impact their relationship with their bodies and food.

Apart from her work with clients, Abby is an aerialist and dancer, and director of a non-profit performing arts company, Dark Sky Aerial. She enjoys cooking, coaching strength and conditioning, and teaching yoga. Depending on the season you will find her outdoors biking, skiing, or reading in the sun with her dogs.

Reclaiming Movement: A Celebration of Your Whole Self

The fitness industry is dominated by diet-centric narratives that focus almost exclusively on morphing and changing our bodies for aesthetic reasons. Embarking on a path that radically shifts our relationship with exercise and movement towards a place of authenticity and joyful movement can be empowering, healing, and necessary for our overall health. Come along as we shed light on the negative messaging perpetuated by the fitness industry, and learn what we can do to reclaim movement for ourselves so that we can experience liberation, peace, and joy in our bodies.

Let’s begin by investigating the harm created by the diet and fitness industry.

Lady falling over on her exercise bike, burned out from too much dieting and diet failure, needing joyful movement

Unrealistic Beauty Standards:

The diet and fitness industry is constantly peddling unrealistic body and beauty standards and perpetuating a culture that values appearance over holistic well-being. We see this everywhere, from airbrushed magazine covers to social media influencers promoting unattainable body ideals. Being constantly exposed to these images in the media makes us feel like we are the only ones struggling to obtain the “ideal”. Which is so far from the truth. The lack of representation of diverse body shapes, sizes, and colors in media entrenches the belief that we need to homogenize our bodies to be accepted. This leads to higher rates of body dissatisfaction and a distorted self-image.

Destructive Dieting Practices:

Many diets, cleanses, or even “wellness” challenges encourage restrictive eating habits, consequently leading to cycles of yo-yo dieting. The emphasis on quick fixes and extreme calorie reduction compromises our overall health. Moreover, rigid and restrictive food and exercise practices trigger physical and psychological distress. Although these practices may seem benign at first, in the long run, they damage our relationship with food and our bodies, and compromise our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Significantly, it has been shown that frequent dieting is highly correlated to developing disordered eating or even the development of a clinical eating disorder (1).

Exercise as Punishment:

Traditional fitness rhetoric often frames exercise as a means of punishment for indulgence. The idea that you have to “earn your food” is deeply harmful and leads to feelings of guilt and shame (more on this here). This punitive mindset can turn physical activity into a chore, another “to-do”, or a way to “burn” off calories. This creates negative associations with movement, and food, and perpetuates the cycle of guilt and shame.

Overemphasis on Weight Loss:

The relentless focus on weight loss as the primary measure of health ignores the diverse factors that contribute to well-being. This narrow perspective can lead to unhealthy weight loss practices and overlooks the importance of mental health, self-acceptance, body diversity, and overall life satisfaction.

Now that you have a better understanding of the harms of diet and fitness culture, let’s dive into how you can heal our relationship with movement and our bodies.

Reclaiming Personal Agency:

The first step in liberating ourselves from the harmful diet and fitness industry is to reclaim personal agency over our bodies. Instead of basing exercise and movement on external cues (weight, body change, time spent in movement), begin by shifting your focus to internal cues and the innate wisdom of your body. This may look like focusing on how your body feels in movement. Noticing how it feels when your feet land on the pavement during a walk or run, or noticing where your hips are in space when you do a squat or yoga pose. Embarking on a movement practice with flexibility as opposed to rigidity can be a great place to start.

Helpful Tip: Reflect on your motivations for movement. Are they driven by external expectations (body change, how much you can lift) or a genuine desire for well-being? Knowing when your body needs rest, movement, or is experiencing discomfort can be things to notice when trying to reclaim your relationship with movement.

Mindful Movement as Self-Care:

Mindful movement serves as an antidote to the punitive nature of traditional exercise. Consequently, by infusing mindfulness into your movement routine, you transform it into an act of self-care. This involves being present in the moment, appreciating the sensations, and cultivating a positive relationship with your body. However, it is important to note that not every type of movement is going to be joyful. For instance, let’s take rehabilitating an ankle injury; it may not be joyful to do calf raises or balance exercises, but these may be necessary things to do so that you can get back to the things you enjoy without pain.

Helpful Tip: Begin your movement practice with a few minutes of mindfulness. This can include breathing during a warm-up, or noticing how your feet are connecting with the ground underneath you. Tune into your breath, and bodily sensations, and set an intention to move with kindness and self-compassion.

Rejecting Dieting Dogma:

Challenge the dieting dogma promoted by the industry and reject the idea that your worth is determined by your body size or shape. Embracing the concept of Health at Every Size (HAES), which emphasizes health as a holistic and individualized pursuit rather than a number on a scale. Remember that your body is deserving of food and nourishment no matter how you move your body and food is a basic human need that doesn’t need to be “earned”.

Helpful Tip: Surround yourself with body-positive or neutral influences, including social media accounts, books, and communities that celebrate diversity and challenge harmful beauty standards. It can also be helpful to stop counting calories or tracking your exercise. These practices are more likely to create more rules and rigidity around food and movement.

Choosing Joy:

Shift the focus away from using exercise as a way to control your body weight control and go towards a mindset of movement as a way to experience and celebrate your body. Joyful movement invites a sense of play and spontaneity into your routine.

Helpful Tip: Make a list of activities you love or have been interested in trying. Experiment with different forms of movement until you find some that bring you more joy. If you feel at a loss with this, notice what things add joy to other parts of your life, and then incorporate movement with them. This may look like:

  • “I love spending time with friends”: Try asking a friend to go on a walk or join in an activity with you.
  • “I love music”: Great! Dancing to your favorite song in the kitchen, or going out dancing with friends can be a great way to incorporate your love of music while reclaiming movement. 
  • “I enjoy the outdoors”: Spending time outside walking, hiking, or biking can be a great way to get outside and explore.
  • “I love being challenged”: Trying something new like lifting weights, a self-defense class, or kayaking may be a fun way to challenge yourself. 

Cultivating Mindful Eating Practices:

A joyful and authentic movement practice extends beyond physical activity. Moving away from restrictive diets and listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues is a great way to notice your body’s needs. Nourishing yourself with a variety of foods without rigid rules will bring more satisfaction and nourishment.

Helpful Tip: Bringing more awareness when you are eating can make you feel more satisfied. Begin by savoring the food on your plate and bring attention to the flavors, textures, and smells. This also allows you to slow down and to check in with your body’s hunger and fullness signals. The Way app can also help you with listening to your body.

Bottom Line:

Reclaiming movement and liberating ourselves from the harmful narratives perpetuated by the diet and fitness industry is a radical act of self-love and empowerment. By rejecting unrealistic beauty standards, dieting dogma, and punitive exercise practices, you open yourself up to the transformative power of authentic and joyful movement. This journey allows you to reclaim your agency, embrace movement as a form of self-care and allows you to cultivate a more positive relationship with your body.

As you navigate this path, you not only free yourself from the harmful effects of industry pressures but also recognize that health is prioritizing our whole Self.