Exercise is Not a Punishment

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How many times have you heard yourself say something like, “Wow – I ate too much! Guess I’m going to have to punish myself in the gym tomorrow!” I know I’ve said it many times in the past. For a long time, exercise was a form of self-abuse for me. It was something I did it because I couldn’t say “no” to yesterday’s chocolate cake, and a penance had to be paid. I believed eating “bad” food was some kind of “sin.” Today, I say “no more.” I refuse to view exercise as some form of torture. Exercise is not a punishment. It is a celebration.

I hear you all in the back, snickering. “How are profuse sweating and muscle aches a celebration?” I get it. Exercise can definitely be difficult, particularly when you’re trying to incorporate it regularly into your life. If you have chronic pain, or another health condition that inhibits your movement, just getting your sneakers on might be a huge challenge. But we have to re-frame our thinking around exercise. Saying it’s a punishment for bad behavior isn’t helping us.

You deserve to exercise and eat healthfully

Repeat after me: extra weight is a signal to treat yourself better, not worse. Tattoo that statement on your hearts, my loves. I know that getting on a scale is problematic for many people. So much so that I actually think most of us should avoid it altogether. We all know when we’ve gained extra weight – we don’t need a machine to tell us and make us feel bad about it. If you realize you’ve put on a few extra pounds, what if, instead of sneering at yourself in the mirror and feeling ashamed, you chose love for yourself instead? How much easier would it be to think “My jeans are a bit tight. Maybe I should be kind to myself by paying closer attention to what’s causing this.” I mean, of course almost no one literally thinks that way! But you get the idea – being mean to yourself isn’t helpful.

I know some people will tout “tough love” and say I’m being too soft. Sure – there are times when we all need to hold ourselves accountable for our actions. But that’s very different than being cruel to yourself. There’s a difference between telling yourself, “Hey fatty! Stop eating all those cookies! You’re such a failure!” and “Hey! You already had two cookies – is there more going on here?” The second one can help you stop certain behavior by highlighting what might be causing it, instead of hurting yourself for being a human being.

Grateful for every step

Awhile back, I had a good friend die from cancer. The day after I heard the news, I went outside for my usual jog and realized how lucky I was just to be alive. I knew my friend well enough to know that he’d love to have the chance to still be here, seeing the world I was seeing and feeling his body move freely. I was struck by how lovely the trees looked. The sky at that time of morning was particularly inviting. My workout was tinged with sadness, but also a heavy amount of gratitude. Every step felt like a blessing. My increased breathing was confirmation of the gift of life itself. Why does it always take something tragic for us to stop and realize how fortunate we are?

I could have easily slipped into beating myself up, but instead I chose thankfulness. Being able to exercise is a privilege that many can’t enjoy for several reasons. Calling it a punishment is actually a sort of insult to those folks. However, I still don’t want you to get down on yourself – be careful of falling into the “I’m such a bad person because I’m not grateful enough” trap! Just have your gratitude and let it propel you forward.

It’s about long-term habits

I used to stress over missing just ONE workout. I thought I was a slacker, and that I’d have to find ways to “make up” for the exercise I missed. The thing is, if you’re consistently exercising, one missed workout isn’t going to break you. We all know that doing only one workout doesn’t magically make us healthy – why do we think missing one will make us unhealthy? I used to worry about exercising while on vacation or visiting family. And sure, there are ways in those situations to get in a little sweat time, but if it’s causing you to feel bad about yourself or if you’re missing other enjoyable activities because you HAVE to get to the gym, what kind of life is that? That’s making exercise into an enemy of fun.

You want to make working out as easy on yourself as possible. If you think of exercise in negative terms, it’s easy to see why you aren’t motivated to work out. Who wants to make daily time for “punishment?” Not me! Exercise is a gift, not a punishment. And you are worth the effort.

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