Even though I’m a dietitian and food is my favorite topic, it would be nearly impossible to avoid talking about exercise with my coaching clients. Almost everyone who comes to me is interested in health improvement in some form and I approach each situation using a whole person approach. I can also appreciate how important things like stress level, sleep hygiene, movement and social connection factor into the equation.
One thing I notice repeatedly is that most people (at least my experience) tend to view exercise as:
Solely a weight management tool
A way to “earn” food, specifically indulgent food and alcohol
This is such a disservice to all of its amazing benefits. When working together, we do a lot work around why this type of thinking tends to be an ineffective strategy for reaching health goals. Today I thought it would be helpful to dive into this topic a bit further.
Why Your Exercise Mindset Matters
Have you ever been in a group fitness class where the instructor keeps yelling out things like, “you gotta earn that wine” or “work hard now so you can enjoy that Halloween candy”.
This is one of my biggest peeves. I get it, these instructors don’t mean any harm and are trying to be motivating. But this just isn’t how things work. Our energy needs vary from day to day and there is room for fun stuff (within reason of course). Additionally, elevating treats on a pedestal can make them way more alluring and “scandalous” (how exciting that you “earned” a peanut butter cup, right?).
In short, you don’t need to exercise to earn your food, and here’s why this mindset can be problematic.
It becomes tempting to restrict on your sedentary days.
We all have days that are lower in movement than others. It might be because we’re not feeling well, are on vacation, or are stuck inside because of a snowstorm. Rest days are an important part of muscle recovery and actually help us perform better overall. Regardless, we still need a substantial amount of food to fuel our organs and body systems properly, especially if we’ve been working out hard in the days previous.
You’ll start to associate workouts with indulgent food and/or alcohol.
Viewing exercise this way can lead to overeating and binge drinking, often followed by a vicious cycle of overdoing it then restricting. Using exercise as a tool to overeat and drink doesn’t teach you how to become a competent eater. Instead it reinforces the idea that “calories in = calories out so we’re all good”, and we know there’s more to it.
As an example, I could skip meals all day to “save up” for overdoing it at happy hour, but that wouldn’t be doing any favors for my health.
This creates a negative association with exercise.
Finally, if you view movement as something you have to do to compensate for a fun meal out with friends the night before, you probably won’t find it very enjoyable. Remember that enjoyable movement usually leads to consistent movement.
Practical Tips for Shifting Your Mindset
If you have a love/hate relationship with exercise, what can you do to make it more positive?
First, try several different types of exercise until you find something you actually enjoy. There are so many options these days, surely there is something for everyone. If motivation hinders you, make it social and connect with friends. If getting out of the house is a barrier for you, find something you can do at home! If time is an issue, try starting with 15 minutes. Depending on what your current routine looks like, making exercise less structured might be a good thing too.
Next, make a list of all of the reasons why you enjoy said workout. Here are some reasons why I love my favorite class:
It gives me a chance to take time for myself
Gives me a nice “wake up” and gets me laser-focused first thing in the morning
Improves my confidence that I can do challenging things and push through uncomfortable moments to achieve something awesome
I leave feeling strong and empowered
Great sense of community at the studio
I want to close by reiterating how important it is to be cognizant of the language you use around movement. If you start talking about it in a positive way instead of “omg I need to work off all of that pizza and beer” way, I wonder if you’ll notice a difference in consistency?
Interested in working 1:1 to work on your relationship with food and exercise? Schedule a free 15-minute intro call to see what that might look like for you.
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