Intuitive Movement

By Heather Irwin, MS, RD, LDN

You may have heard a lot about intuitive eating, but have you ever considered translating this into the way you think about moving your body and exercise? In our culture, most people have a “no pain, no gain” relationship with exercise. Instead of it being viewed as a pleasurable activity, or at the very least a non-punishing activity, we’re taught to look at exercise as a time to push your body to its max – to break a sweat and push through discomfort in an attempt to burn calories.

Rather than pushing people to be more active, I think this cultural approach to exercise actually makes us less active. It discounts pleasurable activities people are more likely to engage with in a sustainable way. It also encourages people to overlook gentler types of movement or physical activity in shorter durations. Diet culture says these types of movement “don’t count”.

Consider different types of movement that you enjoy and can engage in and come up with your own movement menu. Similar to a restaurant menu, where you have different options for the different kinds of meals you might desire (i.e. appetizers, soups & salad, main dishes, dessert, etc.), with a movement menu you have options for different types of movement you might desire.

Here’s an example of part of a movement menu:

Quick Energy Boost

    1. Run Up and Down the Stairs
    2. Do a few sun salutations
    3. Walk around the block
    4. Dance

Sitting too long

    1. 5 minute yoga video
    2. Briskly tidy up the house
    3. Strength exercises while on a zoom meeting


    1. Restorative yoga video
    2. Stretches
    3. Long leisurely walk listening to relaxing music

Physical Health

    1. Physical therapy exercises
    2. Walk/Jog around the neighborhood
    3. Strength video

Connect with Friends

    1. Hike with friends
    2. Play tennis
    3. Play outside with kids
    4. Go to a new fitness class
    5. Hop in a pool

I meet with a lot of clients who have an “all or nothing” mentality when it comes to exercise. They end up over exercising then burning out and being fairly sedentary (or injured) for periods of time.

In making a movement menu, I think it’s helpful to make sure you have a sprinkling of the following:

  • Movements you can do for 5 minutes
  • Gentle movement
  • Structured movement (if that feels safe for you)
  • Movement as part of life (i.e. walking the dog, gardening, etc.)
  • Social movement

To decide what kind of movement sounds best for you, here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • What sounds enjoyable right now?
  • What do I have time for?
  • Is there a type of movement that might be helpful for me right now?
  • Is there a type of movement I need to prioritize for health reasons, for example physical therapy exercises?

Before making a movement menu, please keep in mind that sometimes the first step to building a healthier relationship with movement is taking a break from it. If reading this feels like too much pressure, that’s OK! This movement menu is designed for people who are ready to bring physical activity back in a more intentional way. If you’re not there yet (or ever) it’s no sweat – literally! If movement is something you want to enjoy, I hope this is a helpful tool for you!


Heather Irwin, MS, RD, LDN
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