How many times have you heard someone say, “I worked out earlier, so I don’t feel bad eating this” or “I can’t believe I ate (insert food they feel “bad” about eating), I definitely need to go to the gym tomorrow.” I’ve literally seen a gym advertisement that said “Pizza tonight. Gym tomorrow.” I cringe when I hear these statements. Exercise does burn calories and is good for your health; I have no problem with that. In fact, exercise is extremely beneficial for your physical and mental health. It gives you energy, relieves stress and anxiety, boosts your mood, improves sleep, strengthens your immune system and reduces your risk for many preventable diseases. If exercise does so many of these amazing things, why don’t we focus more on these benefits and less on the negative relationship between exercise and food?
My issue with clumping exercise and food together is that, in most cases, we turn exercise into punishment for eating (insert low nutritional quality food). Rather than focusing on all of the amazing things that exercise does for our bodies, we are focusing on how we are going to use exercise to burn off some food we feel bad about consuming. This in turn creates a negative relationship with exercise, when instead we could be thinking, “I’m really stressed right now. Exercise would make me feel better.”
This issue delves deeper into extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation for exercise. If we solely focus on extrinsic motivators, like body composition, we are much more likely to lose our desire to regularly engage in exercise. If we don’t see the results we want in the amount of time we think we should, it’s really easy to lose motivation. However, when we link exercise to how we feel or something within us, we can reflect on that intrinsic motivator every time we move our bodies. For example, I like being strong, because it is relates to my desire to be independent. If I need something moved or lifted, I enjoy knowing I can do it myself instead of waiting for someone to do it for me. Sure, I enjoy the muscle definition that being strong provides, but feeling competent and physically able makes we want to sustain a consistent exercise schedule for the rest of my life.
I do think that food and exercise are very interrelated, but I think it is essential view this relationship with a positive light. Food fits into two categories for me: fuel and pleasure. Most of the time, I see food as fuel to make me stronger, help me perform better in workouts and focus at work. Our bodies rely on us to fuel them with the food they need to get us through the day and handle the many demands that life throws at us. From years of listening to my body, I know what fuel my body needs to perform at its best. I know that I can’t eat much before exercising, but I do need a large breakfast full of veggies, fruit, protein and fats after working out to keep me satisfied all morning. On the flipside, I know that consuming a lot of sugar makes my head foggy, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop eating sugar all together.
Sometimes I eat food simply for the pleasure of eating it, despite knowing that it won’t do anything beneficial for my body. Sugar usually falls into this category. I don’t focus on this too much though, because I know that it’s not my body’s main source of fuel. When an opportunity arises that involves a food that gives me pleasure, I try to focus on the experience not how I’m going to “burn” it off later. For example, I don’t frequently get the opportunity to share a donut with my nephew on a Sunday morning. We recently had a sleepover with him, so better bet that I sat there soaking up the moment and the donut! Did my body feel awesome after? Not exactly, but I really enjoyed the moment instead of thinking about how I was going to “work” it off.
Is it always easy to avoid turning exercise into punishment for food consumed? No. It’s extremely hard, because of the messages that society and the media have ingrained into our culture. I find my mind frequently letting those thoughts sneak into my head. Now that I am aware of the negative impacts these messages have on my overall outlook on health, I can quiet these thoughts and reframe them in a positive light. So, I challenge you to try the same strategy. Next time you are eating something that might not have the most nutritional value or isn’t something you regularly eat, just simply enjoy it. Don’t think about exercise at this time.Think about how the food tastes, smells and the memories it brings to your mind. Then when you’re thinking about exercise, think about all the positive ways it will benefit your health. Think about how you are going to feel after you exercise and how your body 20 years from now will thank you for investing in its health. When someone around you makes a negative comment about exercise and food, take this moment as an opportunity to educate them. We have the power to change the conversation and create more positive spaces around us and our community.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this! Comment below 🙂