Does exercise bring you joy or stress? Open up the dialogue with yourself and reassess what your true relationship with exercise is.


Much like our relationship with food, we also have a relationship with exercise. We know it can improve our mood, decrease stress and improve our overall health. But for some of us, we may end up in a place where exercise is not healthy. Whether we’re using it as a way to control our body size or to punish ourselves for eating some forbidden food, the activity becomes a stress on both the body and mind, and is no longer beneficial.

The ultimate goal with movement is to have it come from a place of internal motivation, free from external pressures.

You do it for the inherent satisfaction of the activity, as it aligns with your core values.  What does this mean? We pursue movement that makes us feel good and is something we enjoy, without worrying about the end result. We prioritize physical activity and incorporate it into our routine because it gives us pleasure. We’re not worried about how it will affect the scale, we just enjoy moving so we continue to do it.

If that’s not how you view movement, it may be time to reevaluate and heal your relationship with exercise.

But before you can begin the work of healing, you must first be honest with yourself about your intentions. Here are a some questions to consider:

1. When exercising, am I typically trying disassociate myself from the present moment and movement?
2. Am I going to work out because I feel guilty for eating or spending money on a gym membership?
3. Am I exercising only to distract myself from uncomfortable emotions?
4. Does movement “count” if it’s only for a short time, or if you don’t break a sweat?
5. Would I still continue doing this activity if it had no effect on my body’s shape or size?

Depending on how you answer these questions, it may be an indication that you may need to take a break from exercising to address some of your underlying thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and a preoccupation with weight may also be an indicator that disordered eating, an eating disorder, or body dysmorphia is present, so it’s best to work with a health professional if you have concerns.

If exercise is only tolerable when you’re distracting yourself from your body, then it’s likely not the kind of activity that provides enough internal rewards to be sustainable or beneficial. Similarly, when exercise is motivated from a place of guilt, then it’s probably not the best choice right now. A black-and-white, all-or-nothing mindset won’t help your situation, so if you feel that you need to work out for a specific amount of time, it may mean it’s time to take a break.

Discovering the motivations for exercise works in tandem with the process of removing your mindset from diet culture. When we work on to unlearn the rigid rules we’ve been taught in our image-obsessed society, we can achieve a healthier relationship with movement. We can’t really do one without addressing the other.  Consider walking or gentle yoga, and work towards bringing awareness to your body and how it feels during movement.

After all, exercise is meant to be viewed from the lens of self-care and enjoyment, without ulterior motives.

Adapted from the original article.

Hannah Griffith, RDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is passionate about helping both men and women discover real health, by learning to nourish themselves and cultivate a better a better relationship with food and their bodies. Read more from Hannah at All In Good Health.

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