I was very active as a child. Running, cycling, rollerblading, volleyball… Every day brought endless opportunities to run around somewhere with my friends and move my body. I didn’t care about how I looked, how red my face became and how my messy my hair got. All that exercise was so much fun. I loved it.
But, when I hit puberty, something changed. Exercise became a chore. Something I had to do to slim my fat thighs and waist and get rid of the cellulite that had quickly become to take over my body. Something I had to do alone, because I was ashamed to let other people see how awful I looked all huffed and puffed.
I went through days when I would really push myself. No pain, no gain, right? My body wasn’t tired, just lazy, right? I could do an extra mile of running, or ten more push-ups, right? And so I did. And, afterwards, I would feel so awful. Both physically and mentally drained.
And so, next time I would do a bit less. My body took it better, but my mind didn’t. That nagging, nasty voice in my head mad me feel like a loser for finding excuses to take it easier. Before I knew it, all this emotional turmoil had me reaching for the Nutella jar. I would drown my sorrows in its chocolatey depths, all thoughts of exercise vanished from my mind.
It would be months before I exercised again. And then the cycle began again. Body hate. Too much exercise. Body and mind break down. Comfort food. No more work out for months. Weight gain. Body hate. Too much exercise. And so on and on and on.
It took me years to realise I should have listened to the media and ads less, and to my body more. When I started to tune into its needs, my relationship with exercise changed. Now, I am more active than I have been since I was a child, and really enjoying it. It’s not a chore anymore. Exercise is fun again. And so energizing.
Here’s how you too can check in with yourself and create a positive relationship with exercise:
Does It Energize Or Drain You?
Unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going.
Don’t quit. You’re already in pain. You’re already hurt. Get a reward from it.
Don’t stop when you’re tired. Stop when you’re done.
These are just a few of the fitness “pearls of wisdom” plastered all over social media and fitness websites these days. They make you believe that it is ok to push yourself to the limit, and exercise even when you are feeling exhausted or are so sore from your workout the day before.
But these are lies. Our bodies are not machines. They are made of flesh and bones. And they break down if you push them too hard. You may sprain an ankle, faint, or find yourself plunged into a vortex of shame, disgust and self-hate for not being able to put up with a routine that would be challenging to all bar maybe professional athletes.
It’s not worth it. And it’s not what your body needs. Yes, your body needs to exercise and move. But at its own pace. If your body feels so tired that taking another step hurts all over, stop. Actually, stop before you reach that point. Your body will tell when it has had enough. Listen to it.
Listen to its hunger too. Exercising on an empty stomach will only make you sick. Refusing to eat after working out will harm your health too. Tune into your body’s needs and, when you realise it is hungry, fill it up with the nourishing foods it crave.
Taking it slow is not what quitters do. It’s what smart people do. Exercise is meant to energize you. If it completely drains all your physical and mental energies, you’re doing it wrong.
Does It Empower Or Disempower You?
Moving your body should feel good. Exercise can improve your mood, raise your confidence, put you in touch with your body, and make you realise all the awesome things it can do. That’s so empowering!
But when you exercise because you hate your body, and you want it to conform to the ever-narrower standards of beauty we are fed every day, exercise becomes a form of self-torture. One that never ends, and only makes us hate our bodies more for not being able to keep up with intensive workouts and refusing to quickly slim down as we’ve been promised it would.
And so, you either quit or become obsessed, focusing only on working out as much as possible and hardly find the time for everything else. Far from empowered, you are a now a slave to it. Don’t let that happen to you. If working out doesn’t feel good, ask yourself why you’re doing it.
Losing weight quickly or looking like Jennifer Lopez are not good reasons. Becoming healthier and stronger, and feeling more connected with your body and what it can do are.
Do You Love It Or Hate It?
I’ve always hated running. Going to the gym is torture for me. But I was told those were the proper ways to exercise. So, I forced myself to do them. For a little while. Then, one day I would be too tired/busy, skip it, and never go back to it. But I kept hating myself for being such a lazy bugger.
It took me a long time to realise I wasn’t lazy. It just wasn’t worth it to do something that I didn’t enjoy at all. It was self-inflicted agony, and my body (and mind) had had enough of it. They needed the exercise, but they wanted me to do something I loved.
That’s walking. Long, brisk walks energize me. So does rollerblading or playing team sports like volleyball. When I do all these things, I get to move my body, and give it all the exercise it needs, but it never feels like I’m working out. It feels like fun.
And that’s why I do it. Not to lose weight. No, I do it because it is fun and makes me feel good. Now, I can’t wait to go for my daily walk, and I am the fittest and healthiest, both physically and mentally, I have ever been.
Stop listening to “experts” and what they think is the best way to exercise. Just find a way to move your body that you truly enjoy. Then do that.
How To Exercise The Right Way
Doing exercise the right way is not about doing a certain routine or sport, or making the right movements (although that’s important too to avoid injuries). It’s about moving your body in a way that you love for the right reasons. Health. Self-love. Self-respect. Self-kindness. Once you learn to do that, you’ll be able to keep at it for good, and be much healthier and happier.
Are you exercising the wrong way?