Exercise is NOT Punishment for Eating

Raise your hand if you’ve ever uttered a version of this at some point: “I’m gonna have to spend all day on the treadmill to burn off that cheesecake!” (Raises hand. Yup, me too.) It’s become second nature to link our exercise to our food choices. We say it partially in jest, but underneath, we’re kind of serious. The fact that countless “You ate it, now negate it” memes abound on social media just speaks to how deeply this concept has penetrated our collective minds. But it’s incredibly important to remember (or perhaps hear for the first time): Exercise is NOT a punishment for eating!

Stop using exercise as punishment

Who cares how many calories are in a Twix bar or Reese’s cup? Who cares how many jumping jacks it takes to burn off the calories in yesterday’s brownie? We need to stop thinking about our food as something we need to burn off or punish ourselves for.

I know this idea of negating our eating with exercise seems to come from a place that makes sense. To avoid weight gain, calories in has to equal calories out. To lose weight, calories in has to be LESS than calories out. And if we eat more calories than usual, we start to devise ways to bolster the “calories out” side of the equation so that we avoid gaining weight.

Yes, it seems to make sense. But it’s making us crazy. 

Just stop with the "ate it now negate it" memes! Exercise is not a punishment for eating!

Please, just stop with this stuff already!

This idea only serves to keep us equating food with guilt. A brownie is suddenly no longer just a delicious piece of chocolaty goodness. It becomes something we’re supposed to feel bad about enjoying. Something that we were “bad” for allowing to pass our lips, and now we must pay the price – either by accepting inevitable weight gain, or punishing ourselves for our transgression by increasing our exercise.

And since we’re all trying to avoid weight gain at all costs, we figure we MUST go all out at the gym the next day.

Not so. If you’re viewing exercise only as a way to negate calories, then you’re missing the point entirely.

Fitness and exercise do not exist for the sole purpose of undoing the eating of delicious things. 

Exercise, in all its various forms, is something to be enjoyed. Yes, that includes “just” walking. It includes playing with your kids. It includes going on a bike ride.

Things that we see as a punishment are not things we also enjoy willingly. If you’re viewing exercise as a punishment for how you’re eating, I encourage you to shift your frame of reference.

Don’t think of it as exercise, think of it as movement.

For some reason, that little word change makes the same exact thing feel more positive, and less attached to our eating.

Maybe that’s because we are ALL capable of moving, even if we don’t consider ourselves it be “exercisers” or “fitness fanatics.” It feels more approachable, more realistic. It comes across as being less reserved for “those people who are already healthier than me” or people already into fitness. It’s something ANYONE can do. And it doesn’t sound anything like punishment.

Movement IS exercise. It just feels more doable!

Look to movement for the benefits it gives you (and don’t include “preventing weight gain” or “losing weight” in those benefits!).

It keeps your heart healthy.
It’s fun.
It allows you to feel strong, and able to do the things in life that are important to you.
It keeps you from getting out of breath doing normal everyday things.
It gives you energy and makes you feel happy.
It helps you sleep better.
It improves cognitive function.
It’s a way to learn new things.
It begets more movement. (Moving more helps you to move better!)
It can reduce general aches and pains.

None of these benefits have anything to do with how your body looks or how many calories it burns.

In our private coaching group, we actually have an ongoing thread on what’s been termed “Joyful Movement.” It’s where we talk about the various forms of activity we’ve been enjoying lately. There is no pressure. There is no tying that activity to our eating. There is just movement. And joy!Exercise is not punishment for eating. Find joy in exercise and movement, and you'll be more likely to do it! Movement isn't JUST for fitness :)

The next time you’re tempted to run to the gym to “work off” something you ate, please remember that that isn’t the real purpose of exercise or movement. Move more for general health. Move more for joy. Move more for the ability to do the things you want to do. Just don’t view exercise or movement as a punishment for eating.

The more we can disconnect our activity level from our guilt over our eating, the better off we will be. Yes, it helps to tackle the other side of this too – by working on addressing that feeling of guilt in the first place. But for the purposes of this post, let’s simply start by not using movement or exercise as a tool to alleviate any food guilt we do experience.

Go forth and have some fun!

Find an activity that brings you joy, something that you look forward to doing. Then go out and ENJOY that thing, with absolutely no thought as to how it relates to your eating. Love movement for the sake of loving movement! Have fun with it.

Once you start pursuing movement outside of the shadow of how many calories you think it burns, you’ll find it becomes much more fun, and you’re more likely to WANT to go do it!

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to comment on this post with YOUR favorite form of movement. Then share this post with your friends so they can start to view movement and exercise in a more positive and empowering light too. (And maybe we can all stop sharing those “Ate it now negate it” memes too ;-))

I’ll go first: My favorite form of movement is dancing!

Your turn. Comment below. I’d LOVE to hear what things you’re in to!

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