There is a popular notion that as long as we work out, we can eat whatever we want. Here’s why we need to steer away from the harsh tug-of-war, and move towards a balanced mind to stay healthier in the long run.


Excessive exercise to prevent weight gain or to lose weight is not an uncommon practice. However, thoughts that revolve around what was eaten and how it can be burned off strongly hint that exercise is being used as a crutch. An unbalanced approach to maintaining or achieving a healthy weight can look different person to person. If any of the following thoughts sound familiar, you may be treating exercise as a crutch:

“I ate pizza last night? I guess I’ll be doing an extra hour of training after spin class today.”

“I most certainly can not have those nachos when I don’t have time for a workout.”

“I ran 20 miles as part of my marathon training this morning. I can totally eat and drink whatever I want today because none of it will count.”

Going to the extremes hardly every works.

At times, using exercise as a crutch can seem easier than learning to be more mindful of food and appreciative of one’s body. It is easier to gravitate towards this polarizing pattern of thought because it seems simple, and seems like it should work. Through the need to be in control around food, this approach is a quick fix.  

But most who operate on some spectrum of the “exercise as a crutch” mentality typically do not reach their goals. They aren’t losing weight and some are even gaining weight.  Despite the lack of results, many will keep doing the same thing at a more extreme measure, in the hope that then they will see results! For those who do see results they may be putting unnecessary stress on their body and their relationship with exercise may not be a healthy one. An injury can throw them into sheer panic because they only know how to rely on exercise.

Finding balance is important.

Using exercise as crutch prevents an individual from seeing food as the delicious fuel that it is, and recognizing exercise as the stress reliever and strength builder that it can be. The focus of health should be distributed between exercise, diet, and state of mind. This fosters a lifestyle that focuses on building relationships and celebrating healthy choices, and puts aside stress over every bite eaten. These tips can help you start on your path towards better balance and happiness:

1. Give yourself a mandatory 1-2 rest days per week.

Instead, have a foam rolling session or do yoga. Pick the days ahead of time. It may not be easy, but this is a sign that you have been relying on exercise in an unhealthy way.

2. Try going for a long walk once per week.

Don’t allow running on this route, and find your time with nature in a calming way so you can realize that walking is exercise. Exercise doesn’t have to be intense; it can be something relaxing, enjoyable, and good for your body and soul.

3. Stop counting!

Calories eaten, calories burned, minutes run – stop it all. Live a “no numbers” life! It may seem impossible at first, but start by breaking up with your calories and activity tracker for 3 days. This is the first step to listening to your body.

4. Start with food.

By learning how food makes your body feel you will realize that you can eat well and maintain your weight without needing to log hours of cardio every week.

If any part of this reminds you of someone you know, please consider sharing these tips to help them implement a more balanced approach to nutrition and exercise. If you are having trouble knowing where to start or feeling like change is impossible, consider seeking professional help from a dietitian who can guide you towards loving and appreciating food,

And yourself, again.

Courtney Ferreira, MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Baltimore, MD with a passion for helping individuals reach their health and wellness through flavorful whole foods and freedom from counting calories, fat, and minutes on a treadmill. For more insightful tips on living your healthiest life from Courtney, visit her at the RealFoodCourt.