As a long time fat positive movement coach, I have seen firsthand the transformative impact of embracing body positivity and fat acceptance. A crucial part of this journey is reexamining our relationship to exercise, and understanding how we can shift our mindset to not only feel more confident, but to genuinely enjoy physical activity. In this blog post, I will explore the ways in which the language we use to describe our movement and movement habits can impact our confidence and enjoyment, and offer practical tips for changing your inner dialogue to support growth and empowerment.
It can be easy to fall into negative self-talk when it comes to exercise. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you don’t have the coordination or stamina for certain activities, or perhaps you have internalized societal messaging that tells you that your body is not ‘good enough’ for fitness. Whatever the source of this negativity, the impact can be profound. These negative beliefs can not only sap your motivation to move, but they can also deprive you of the joy and sense of accomplishment that comes with physical activity.
One way to start to shift this mindset is to think more proactively about the language you use when describing your movement. Instead of saying something like “I’m so out of shape” or “I could never do that”, try setting positive and achievable goals for yourself. Maybe you aim to take a brisk 5-minute walk around your neighborhood every day, or work on your flexibility with some gentle yoga or stretching. By setting goals that feel doable, you build up a sense of momentum and accomplishment that can be a powerful antidote to feelings of discouragement.
Another strategy for shifting your inner dialogue is to focus on the inherent value of movement in and of itself, rather than viewing it as a means to an end (such as weight loss). When you start to see physical activity as a way to celebrate and care for your body, rather than as a way to ‘fix’ it, you may discover a newfound sense of joy and pride in your movement. Dr. Nate Zinsser, a sports psychologist, emphasizes this approach with his athletes, emphasizing the importance of setting
goals around improving mental and physical performance, rather than just changing the look of their bodies. His book is AMAZING, btw. (The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide to Unshakeable Performance)
Finally, it’s important to remember that body positivity and self-acceptance are intrinsically linked to joy and empowerment in movement. When we focus too much on external markers of ‘success’ such as weight loss or toning, we may inadvertently create a mental barrier that prevents us from engaging fully in physical activity. In contrast, when we celebrate the incredible capabilities of our bodies as they are, we open ourselves up to an entirely new world of physical possibility.
One study that explores this concept is by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer. She decided to look at whether the perception of how much exercise we are getting has any effect on how our bodies actually look. To do this, she studied hotel maids. As any casual observer of the hospitality industry knows, hotel maids spend the majority of their days lugging heavy equipment around endless hallways. Basically, almost every moment of their working lives is spent engaged in some kind of physical activity. But Langer found that most of these women don't see themselves as physically active. She did a survey and found that 67 percent reported they didn't exercise. More than one-third of those reported they didn't get any exercise at all. "Given that they are exercising all day long," Langer says, "that seemed to be bizarre." Essentially, what Langer is talking about is a placebo effect. She says that if you believe you are exercising, your body may respond as if it is. It's the same as if you believe you are getting medication when you are actually getting a sugar pill — your body can sometimes respond as if a placebo is actually working.
At the end of the day, embracing fat positive movement and cultivating a joyful relationship with exercise is a deeply personal journey that looks different for everyone. However, by taking time to examine our internal dialogue around movement and reframing our goals and motivations, we can all move towards a more positive and empowering relationship with our bodies and physical capability. So take a deep breath, banish those negative thoughts, and start celebrating all the incredible things your body can do - the joy and confidence that follow are sure to be contagious!