The idea that food is bad and the body needs to be punished for consuming it by exercising excessively is rampant. In fact, diet culture phenomenon is crazy and I’m over it, which is why I’ve started treading my body with more kindness. These days, I work out for fun and self-care and it’s so much better.
I used to punish myself. Exercise was a way to “burn off my dinner” and to “earn a snack.” I used it to punish myself for eating and for existing in a body that had fat on it. It was a rough way to be and it just left me feeling terrible about myself. I used to do things I hated like running on a treadmill. I don’t even like running, so why did I force myself to do it? Because I thought I deserved to be hard on myself.
I’ve had various eating disorders. I’ve struggled with eating disorders and all of them have affected exercise in some way. They all forced me to exercise when I didn’t want to and perhaps when I shouldn’t have. They forced me to push my body to extremes, exercising far more than one should. Eating disorders are deadly and exercising like this only fed into the madness.
I thought something was fundamentally wrong with me. I imagine it had to do with having eating disorders but I feel like a lot of people, particularly women, feel this way. I felt like there was something inherently wrong with me. I felt broken with no chance of being repaired. This meant that I saw myself as deserving to be punished and as being a piece of crap who failed over and over again.
This trend of punishment is cultural. I’m not the only one who ran to burn off food or fat. No, this is a culture-wide phenomenon that affects just about everybody. People punish themselves for eating a cupcake by vowing to spend extra time on the elliptical to make up for it. It’s really damn sad to see this happening.
It’s a radical act to drop the punishing. What happens if I decide that I am in fact good enough, that I don’t have to beat myself up? What if I didn’t have to be perfect and instead I just lived my life? These are wild ideas. It’s a radical act to have a different kind of relationship with your body, one with kindness. We live in a society that is constantly pushing us to shrink our bodies, to make ourselves as small as possible. What if that’s no longer my objective?
Instead, I exercise for fun and self-care. I play hockey and it’s a ton of fun. My team and I run around and get those endorphins going. I play to enjoy the game and to move my body. I don’t care about how many calories I burn because my exercise is purely for fun and self-care. This makes the whole process a lot more enjoyable and I can do exercises that I actually want to be doing. What a revelation.
This approach has changed everything. Most importantly, this approach has changed the relationship that I have with myself. As a result of changing my motivation for exercise, I’m a lot gentler with myself. I treat myself like a human being who’s worthy of love and respect. I no longer feel the need to look any other way. I exist in this body that I’m in with pleasure.
I’ve healed my relationship with food too. Food and exercise go hand in hand. When someone has an issue with one, they usually also have an issue with the other. I used to punish myself when it came to food too. I’d restrict and binge and hate myself all along the way. Lately, however, my relationship with food has been much nicer. I never use punishment as a tool to control food. In fact, I don’t control food at all. I’ve let go of that and instead opted for intuitive eating.
Studies have shown longevity with this approach. I’m more likely to stick with exercise if I’m doing it for my own fun and care rather than as a punishment. A meta-analysis of 24 studies published between 2006 and 2015 found that people were actually more motivated to exercise when the drive wasn’t from shame and guilt and instead focused on enjoyment.
It makes me want to keep coming back to exercise. Not many people are thrilled about working out. In fact, they usually let out a sigh when the topic is broached. I generally like moving my body, though. I keep coming back for more because it’s no longer a shame-filled act.
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