What does it mean to have a “healthy relationship” with the way you exercise? For some people, this is not really a struggle, and they are able to intuitively exercise and listen to their body from the start.
However, with so many different sources telling us what the “best” way to work out is, it can all feel confusing and convoluted! A healthy relationship with exercise is something that can take time. Your view of working out can be a huge indication of your overall mindset, especially if you are constantly worried about changing the way your body looks.
I have grappled with a self-damaging view of exercise and movement in the past— only viewing it as a counterpart to my caloric intake.
For example, I would view my workouts as compensation for eating, or view my meals as a “reward” for the fact that I had worked out. This is a very toxic way to look at food vs. exercise, yet so many of us think of it in this way.
So, how do you heal your relationship with exercise? Here are 4 steps towards healing your relationship with exercise:
1. Challenge unhealthy language
Something that helped me immensely in being more flexible with my exercise “regimen” was to challenge my own toxic thoughts.
So, instead of saying, “I worked out, so I deserve ____” or “I didn’t go to the gym today, so I can’t eat ____”, I have tried to stop viewing food and exercise as a “transaction.” Many people in my life use language like this, because it is a thought process that is imbedded in our culture. So, I make a point to gently remind them (and myself): viewing movement as a way to absolve food choices can lead to some disordered thoughts and behaviors. Rather, we should focus on actually listening to our bodies.
2. Listen to your body
Due to the permeation of diet culture and a tendency to compare our own bodies, food, and workouts to others, we often stop listening to what our own bodies are telling us. Although it is not easy to do at first, I saw a world of difference when I stopped overcomplicating things and honored my personal cravings, as well as my hunger and fullness cues.
3. Stop comparing the way you exercise to others
A huge step in the right direction is to accept that any form of movement is good movement. What is most important is that you do what you enjoy and what you can stay consistent with. Your exercise should not feel like punishment, nor should it be something you dread. I personally love weight lifting, spin class, and going for hikes, just to name a few. But just because someone else “swears by” a certain workout, or has had “amazing results” from the newest plan they’re following does not mean that it will be the right thing for you— only you know your body.
4. Focus on the non-appearance related benefits that exercise provides
While it can be amazing to see your body grow, change, and shape itself due to your workouts, I think there is too much emphasis on this “benefit.” Perhaps the most important step towards healing your relationship with exercise is to disentangle it from how you want it to make you look.
In addition to appearance changes, regular exercise does incredible things for our well-being.
Some of these include:
- Improved stress management
- Having more energy throughout the day
- Better sleep quality
- Increased productivity (breaking up your workday with some movement can do wonders!)
- Improved mood (thanks to endorphins!)
- Greater lung capacity
- Stronger muscles and bones
By thinking of exercise as so much more than a means to change my outward appearance, my entire view of working out has been reformed.
A Healthy Relationship with Exercise
Some days, my “workout” is just dancing around my house, spontaneously going for a walk with a friend, or skateboarding. When I finally accepted that not all beneficial movement has to be a formal workout, I simply began to appreciate my body and everything it does for me.
I hope these four steps help you move towards a healthy relationship with exercise! I encourage you to start reforming your mind when it comes to exercise. Recognize the ways moving your body makes you feel good— reasons that have nothing to do with your appearance. Take time off to rest and recover, and most importantly, find joy in contributing to your personal health!
For more resources about a healthy relationship on food and exercise read this blog God’s Divine Design for EveryBODY or listen to this MercyTalk episode on Eating Disorder Awareness. If you are a young woman who is struggling with a life-controlling issue, check out our free-of-charge residential counseling program to learn how Mercy can help you.