How to stop using exercise to burn off or earn your food
Why do you exercise? Before you automatically answer, “For my mental and physical health,” ask yourself again. Why do you really exercise? If the answer is something like, “So I can eat a certain food,” or “To burn off something I ate,” or even “To feel better about how my body looks and prevent it from changing or gaining weight,” you’re not alone… But this is not why you should be moving your body.
If you’ve been thinking this way for a long time, it can be challenging to reframe your intentions behind exercise to be more positive, empowering, liberating. But if you do find yourself exercising with these motivations driving you, it’s time to shift this mentality once and for all.
1. Reframe your motivation for exercise.
There are so many reasons to exercise; to appreciate your body and all it can do, to tune into your body, to feel strong, to feel empowered, to relieve stress, to feel great, to enjoy the health benefits, to enjoy movement.
But there are also many reasons not to exercise; to lose weight, prevent weight gain, earn your food, burn off food you’ve eaten.
It’s time to shift your reason for exercising from being something you do to punish your body, towards something you do to celebrate your body! Exercise should be something you participate in with joy and pleasure. It should leave you feeling empowered, free, and grateful.
It should never be something you do because you feel you have to. If you feel deflated, shattered, burnt-out or unhappy after a workout, it’s time to flip the script. Stop what you’re doing in the gym, and ask yourself the following:
– Is there another style of movement you could do which you’d enjoy more?
– Could you lower the intensity of your workouts? Are you pushing yourself to do super high-intensity workouts, or sweat as much as possible, because you feel like you have to?
– How long are you spending working out each day? Exercise doesn’t need to take a long time – a quick, 30-minute session is enough!
– Do you find yourself thinking lower intensity movement like yoga or walking doesn’t “count”? If so, what are you hoping your workouts “count” towards?
– How do you feel when you walk out of your session? Empowered and liberated, or exhausted and deflated?
– Are you able to take a rest day without punishing your body, or needing to compensate with your food choices? If not, why?
2. Take time away from the gym.
If the above questions were confronting for you to answer, it might be time to take a “gym holiday”. Taking some time away from your workouts not only gives your body the chance to rest, recover and repair (which it’s probably desperately craving!), but it also gives you the space to redefine your relationship with exercise.
Take the opportunity to develop healthier coping strategies for when you’re dealing with difficult emotions, rather than resorting to working out to numb any pain or discomfort. Take the time to challenge your “why” for exercising, and rethink what styles and intensities of movement you’re opting for.
And most of all, embrace the discomfort that may come with stepping away from the gym. Know that you will survive taking some time off – and when you’ve done it once, you know you can do it again! It’s a great challenge to prove to yourself that nothing bad happens when you take some time away, and to allow your body the rest it so desperately needs!
3. Ditch the numbers!
If you’re forever thinking in numbers – obsessing over the calories you’re burning in your workouts, versus the calories you’re consuming in your food – it’s time to step away from the numbers.
Remove any counting devices you use, whether it’s food (or body) scales, FitBits and Apple Watches, heart rate monitors. It’s time to stop judging your workouts based on a quantitative scale. It shouldn’t matter how many calories you’re burning in a workout if you’re moving your body with positive intentions.
By removing the numbers side of the equation, you’re giving yourself the chance to move in a way that feels good for your body. You’re not obsessing over whether a workout was hard enough or intense enough to “count”. You’re better able to check in with YOU and your body, rather than the numbers you use normally to avoid listening to your body.
4. Rethink your self-worth.
If you’re only able to enjoy your food knowing you’ve earned it with a workout, or you’ll be burning it off later, it’s time to examine your relationship with yourself.
Why don’t you believe you deserve to find pleasure and joy in food? To eat anything purely because you want to? Most others are able to – why don’t you deserve the same?!
Cultivating true self-worth is challenging, but so essential and rewarding. It’s time to recognise you are worthy of eating any and all foods – not because you did a workout, but because you’re YOU. And because of this, you’re inherently worthy.
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, without guilt or needing to compensate with a workout or future food choices. You don’t need to earn your food using exercise – you’ve earned it because you exist.
It’s time to separate your sense of self-worth from the food and exercise choices you make. You don’t need to eat a perfect diet or follow a perfect workout plan to be worthy. You’re worthy exactly as you are in this very moment.
If you’re struggling with your self-worth, ask yourself this: why do the people in your life love and appreciate you? Why do they value and respect you? We’re willing to bet the answer isn’t “Because I’m this clothing size, or I live in a small body.” The people who love you do so because you’re you. So reflect on all that you have to offer this world, and the people you love in it, and start distancing your identity and sense of self-worth from your food and fitness habits.
5. Remove the “should”s when it comes to exercise.
There’s no “should” when it comes to exercise. You don’t need to be reaching a certain level of intensity, sweatiness, and duration for a workout to “count”. You don’t need to be doing a certain style of training.
Instead, move your body in ways you enjoy, in ways that feel great. Ditch the expectations and the pressure you put on yourself to move in a way which allows you to earn or burn off food. That style of thinking is banished!
Time to tune back into your body and what it needs and craves. If that’s rest, then rest! If that’s a gentle yoga flow instead of a HIIT session, then listen! There is no “right” way to move or exercise. So stop putting pressure on yourself to achieve the unachievable.
Redefining your relationship with exercise and shifting away from the “earn or burn” mentality is so critical when it comes to recovery. Even if you’re making food choices which align with your recovery goals, you can only achieve full recovery when you accept responsibility and take action in all areas of recovery. Exercise is a key piece of the puzzle – after all, it’s a huge stress on your body, and it can either perpetuate this restrictive mentality you’ve been stuck in for so long, or it can be something you do to feel free and empowered. The choice is up to you… We know which option we’d rather!
Ready To Improve Your Relationship with Food and Get Your Period Back?
Sarah King is an Exercise Physiologist and Health Coach specialising in helping women reconnect with their bodies and improve their relationship with food and exercise.
Through her 1:1 Health Coaching Sessions clients learn to nourish their bodies without guilt, move for joy, improve body image and self worth, plus recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and get their period pack if it’s gone missing.
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Hi future friends, I’m Sarah King, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and health coach.
Science, not trends is the foundation of my approach. By nourishing the body and mind with scientific facts we can build foundations for a life of realness, not just wellness.