“Ugh, I had too many cookies. I will have to go to the gym for hours later.”
“I ran three miles, so I can have this ice cream.”
“I worked out a lot this week, I can eat whatever I want.”
“I cheated on my diet yesterday. I have to go work it all off today.”
“I would love to have some of that dessert, but I didn’t work out today.”
Do any of those phrases sound familiar?
If one or more does, I am so sorry. I’ve been there. I know how horrible the constant guilt, work-out, repeat cycle truly is.
Exercise mindsets centered around food and dieting and working off what was eaten are unhealthy. They are dangerous and cyclic and a recipe for disaster.
But they are also the norm. They are promoted by society and normalized by peers.
You can find references to “magic” workouts on magazines. Exercise fads are almost as insidious as diet trends! They are discussed almost constantly.
Seriously, I dare you to go a day without hearing (or mentioning) working out, dieting, food or guilt around something you ate.
But, would you like to know a secret?
Exercise. Is. Not. A. Punishment.
Exercise isn’t something you do because you think you had one too many cookies.
It isn’t something you do because you want to eat a certain way later.
It isn’t something that gives you permission to “let loose.”
Our society treats exercise like the end-all-be-all of what you can and cannot eat. It is the magic permission slip for dessert. It is the go-to for guilty thoughts and fixing that cheat meal.
(Oh, and those cheat meals… those are bullshit, too.)
Food is not good or bad or healthy or unhealthy. (It’s all about that moderation!)
Food is not something you earn.
Food is not something you compensate for with hours on hours of time at the gym.
Let me tell you something. I used to think that food was all of the above. I logged hundreds and hundreds of miles running. I worked out all the time.
I was miserable. I had an eating disorder that constantly told me food was bad. And I punished myself with exercise.
And now, years later, in recovery from my eating disorder and months and months away from compulsive exercise, I look around me and I see the same unhealthy relationship with exercise everywhere.
I hear it in conversations I pass on the street or floating around the air in cafes. I watch it in the monotonous strain of those who attend the college gym with a pained, dead look in their eyes.
It’s not healthy.
But, as I have started to add exercise back into my life, I have redefined my relationship with it.
Exercise. Is. Not. A. Punishment.
Exercise is something you do because you have lots of energy and you want to move.
Exercise is something you do to relieve stress…and not the stress that comes from feeling like you ate something you “shouldn’t have.” (Shouldn’t have really doesn’t exist, unless, for example, you are lactose intolerant and had a lot of ice cream…)
Exercise is something you do to appreciate all that your body is capable of achieving.
Exercise is something you do because you feel strong and powerful and fierce.
Exercise is something you do to enjoy the outdoors and the fresh air.
Exercise is something you do only when you can enjoy it.
Exercise is something you do because you enjoy it.
Let me say it again… Exercise. Is. Not. Punishment.
Trust me, I have used it as one. The other, enjoyable, self-fulfilling, side of the exercise spectrum is a lot more fun.
This article was originally written for and posted on The Odyssey Online in Aspiring Journalism Professionals.