There’s no shortage of benefits when it comes to exercising:
- increases your life span
- increases your quality of life during that longer life
- improves your fitness
- helps maintain a healthy body composition
- increases confidence
- provides a social outlet
- reduces stress/anxiety/depression
- benefits psychological health
- increases bone density
- maintains flexibility and agility
- builds confidence and
- promotes other healthy behaviours (i.e. smoking less, drinking more water, etc.)
- prevents and protects against disease
The list could go on and on and it’s safe to say that from most perspectives, exercise is a win win win. But what’s absent from that list? Anything to do with burning off excess consumed calories and/or punishing yourself, that’s what.
As someone who loves exercise but has also been down the road of using it compulsively (exercising through injury, fixating on the number of calories I needed to burn before I was allowed to eat, etc.), I think this is a really important and bold statement to make: I work out because I love my body, not because I hate it.
When I started to do less cardio and to focus more on yoga and CrossFit, I got nervous: I was using exercise to justify the food I’d eat when I was stressed or anxious and thought that I’d certainly gain weight if I made any changes to that. What I’ve realized is that using exercise to make up for the food we eat is an unhealthy perspective: it makes eating seem like a failure and serves up a short term solution to a bigger issue.
As often as people talk about food as fuel, I think it’s safe to say that food is much more than fuel–and that’s fine. To use food for social purposes or even as a comfort isn’t the end of the world. What is problematic is if food is your only coping mechanism. Whether it’s restricting your eating to give yourself a sense of control over something in a crazy world or overeating as a way to deal with your stress, food and eating should not be the primary ways in which we deal with our emotions and our lives.
Before I go any further, stop. If you are someone who uses food on a regular basis to deal with the things in your life, you might be feeling like you’ve dropped the ball right now. But before you beat yourself up about it, I encourage you to accept it. Say to yourself that in the past, food may have been the best option you knew for taking care of yourself. From here on out, you are ready to take care of yourself in more life affirming ways.
Along that same vein, if you know that you use exercise to “make up” for what you eat or to punish yourself if you feel like you’ve overindulged, I encourage you to shift your mindset and to see exercise as something that builds you up and adds to your life. Ask yourself: are your exercise habits are draining you or sustaining you? are they’re life-affirming or a form of punishment? Take exercise back as something you do for your health.
What do you exercise “for”?
What forms of exercise make you feel the most alive or healthy?