Mindset Shift: Exercise is not a punishment for what you ate

This mindset has got to go, here’s how to shift your mindset around food and exercise.

As a Personal Trainer, these are some common things that I hear from clients: “I have to run because I ate [insert feared/demonized food].” OR “I need to workout before I get take-out for dinner.” OR “I had a few too many drinks over the weekend, so I have to burn off the extra calories.” OR “I’ve eaten so much over the past couple of days, I need to exercise it off.” Do any of these examples sound like you?

My job is to help support you through your journey, to empower you, and to help you enjoy moving your body, challenging yourself both mentally and physically, and to also help you find comfort in rest and recovery. If you’ve come to me, you might be wondering why you seem to start an exercise routine for 1 month and then can’t seem to find the motivation to stick with it OR you feel like you need to be held accountable in order to show up for your workouts OR you believe that you need to track your movement on a fitness tracker or else it “didn’t count”. Well, like I said, I’m here to support you on your journey and to encourage you to:

Move your body because you want to, because you can, because it feels good, because it helps you to clear your mind, because it helps you to feel more confidence in your abilities. Move your body to promote your long-term health and mobility, to learn a new skill, and to socialize with others. You will not enjoy exercise long-term if you’re using it as a means of punishment – as humans, we do respond to punishment, though it’s not always a lasting behaviour change. For example: If you get a speeding ticket, you’re likely to monitor your speed for the rest of that day, who knows – maybe even the rest of the week. BUT, does that stop you from ever speeding again? Probably not. That’s because the ticket acts as a punishment but it doesn’t solve your problem of needing to get somewhere quickly and it doesn’t necessarily teach you a new and alternative behaviour unlike if the ticket was paired with a lesson about the benefits of driving the speed limit, the risk factors of driving above the speed limit, and perhaps a tutorial or a suggestion about how to use cruise control on your vehicle and when to use or not use cruise control.

The same is true for when you use exercise as a punishment or a consequence, or just simply making exercise contingent on you ‘not doing something’ or ‘doing something’. When you use exercise to make up for your behaviour – this simply reinforces a vicious cycle. Like in the speeding ticket example, if you feel like you over ate or had some treats/feared foods, using exercise might look like saying “I’m going to do a 60-minute intense cardio workout to work off those goodies.” Maybe this will work for you 1 time, maybe it’ll work for you next time. But what happens when your body and mind start to realize that you won’t allow it to have those treats without following up with exercise? What happen at Christmas when you want to enjoy a glass of wine and some hors d’oeuvres and you feel like you need to exercise afterward instead of relaxing with your family? What happens when you’re on an all-inclusive vacation and you can’t go relax on a chaise lounge at the beach because you first have to ‘burn off’ the drinks from the night before? What happens when you start to hate exercise because it’s become boring (you do the same thing over and over again), because you’re not learning a new skill, because you’re not working toward a new and exciting goal, because you’re exercising when ill or injured, because it’s taking your time away from family and friends, because your body is actually tired and could use more sleep but you wake up early to exercise despite this. What happens then when the punishment runs it’s course? Like the speeding ticket, it’s not sustainable.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help break the vicious “earn and burn” cycle:

  1. Do I want to workout today?
  2. If so- what type of movement? AND if no- can I respect my needs & know that I’m worthy of rest?
  3. If I want to move my body, why? – Is it because I think that I SHOULD or because I WANT to?
  4. What is a healthy compromise for me today? Example: I ate 4 slices of pizza last night so I think I ‘should’ go for a 10k run but I don’t feel like doing that- it might be more harmful to my health because I have a long day and need some energy for work- SO a healthy compromise might be doing a quick 20 minute circuit instead to boost your mood and to clear your mind & help to get you into your daily routine. Be mindful, is this 20-min circuit still in relation to ‘burning off’ the pizza? If so, challenge yourself, do some gentle yoga or take a walk- or even a rest day! These are the steps to learning body trust. Your body knows what to do- you do not have to punish yourself over and over again. You deserve food, you deserve fuel. You deserve movement, you deserve rest.

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