Imagine. You go to the gym, and despite that constant pain in your leg, you push yourself because missing a workout causes so much anxiety and fear. This scenario is a constant reality for those with an unhealthy relationship with exercise. While the media and society consistently shove diet culture down our throats, many people struggle with compulsive exercise, and their mental and physical health suffers. If you’re using exercise as punishment and a scale to determine your self-worth, learn how to heal your relationship with exercise and move from a place of love and joy.
7 Signs You Need to Heal Your Relationship with Exercise
Not sure if you have an unhealthy relationship with exercise? Here are a few red flags;
- You feel guilty for skipping a workout and may work out harder to make up for it
- You exercise even when you’re in physical pain, sick or know it’s not good for you
- Your workouts are more about burning calories than to feel healthy
- You believe your value is dependent on the amount you exercise
- If you eat something “unhealthy”, you use exercise to punish yourself
- You’re hyper-focused on changing certain body parts
- You frequently change or cancel social plans to exercise
9 Tips to Help You Heal Your Relationship with Exercise
1. Ask yourself why?
First, ask yourself why you work out. Do you exercise because it makes you happy? Or do you do it because you feel guilty and pressured for skipping a workout when you can’t muster the energy or life gets in the way? Establishing your why or intention is key to discovering your underlying relationship with exercise. When you reflect on your current mindset, you will have more information to improve it.
2. Practice intuitive exercise
Intuitive exercise involves listening to what your body needs rather than following a strict exercise routine because you feel like you should. Instead of feeling guilty for missing a gym day, when you listen to your body, you prioritize your exercise based on completing movement that brings you joy and resting when you need a day off. Sometimes gentler forms of exercise like walking, stretching, and rest days provide more benefits to your body than pushing yourself.
3. Focus on the present moment
When you have an unhealthy relationship with exercise, you may worry about how many calories you’re burning during and after. This stress can prevent you from connecting to yourself and focusing on the present moment. So, instead of wondering if you’ve burned off that cookie you ate, try to exercise because it makes you feel good at the moment and for pure enjoyment. This tip also involves engaging in types of movement that matter to you, not what you think will get you the quickest results. For example, if you love swimming, make more time to get in the water instead of going to CrossFit.
4. Drop the one-size-fits-all mindset
We all want a solution that gives us the energy, strength, and dream body we envision. But unfortunately, not every fitness regimen will work for you. And if you try to force a weight loss secret or routine that a fitness influencer swears by, you may end up with more self-criticism rather than your desired results. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Our genetics are all unique. And it’s exceedingly important to find a form of movement that brings you joy. Your mindset plays a more significant role than you might expect.
5. Exercise with self-love
Often, negative body image goes hand in hand with an unhealthy relationship with exercise. You may find yourself criticizing every flaw and using exercise as your motive to feel and look better. But this motive comes from a place of hate or shame instead of self-love. Try to spend time in the mirror finding one body part you love about yourself. For example, perhaps you love your hands because you can hug a loved one, write a message, or because they gift you the sense of touch. When you shift to a place of love, you move your body because you love yourself – and this is the best motive we can have. It may also help to learn about body neutrality, which teaches you how to value the non-physical traits about yourself.
6. Our bodies are constantly evolving
If you notice your body isn’t as limber or quick as it once was, you may be a bit harder on yourself. Perhaps you notice you can’t lift as much as you did, or it takes you longer to recover after a strenuous workout. If this is the case, remember that our bodies are constantly evolving. With age, and other factors, you may notice little changes, but it’s better to adjust your routine based on what your body needs rather than your expectations for what it should do. To show your body a little more love, try repeating affirmations like “The amount I exercise does not define my self-worth” or “I deserve to nourish my body with food and rest days because I love myself“. Changing your internal dialogue will slowly help you heal your relationship with exercise.
7. Reflect on external influences
In our society, we are constantly bombarded with the message that our appearance equates to our self-worth. From fitness influencers touting their weight loss secrets to filters that conceal our imperfections, we are told how we look is not enough. While improving your relationship with exercise, ask yourself how you feel when you scroll. Do you feel guilty or shameful afterward and more tempted to work out? If so, you may need to limit your time on social media or unfollow certain influencers that don’t serve your best interest.
8. Focus on small victories
If you make your appearance the goal of your workout, you may enter a vicious cycle of using food as either punishment or reward. Instead, refocus your energy on the small victories your exercise brings. For example, perhaps you have more energy, you’re stronger, or you’re sleeping better. There are several benefits of exercising that don’t require weight loss, tighter abs, or a smaller waist as the goal.
9. Patience is key
Improving your relationship with exercise is not an overnight fix – it can be a long and challenging journey. Therefore, practice self-forgiveness as you take steps towards healing and be patient with your progress. And most importantly, pay attention to what makes you feel good. Whether it’s swimming, dancing, hiking, or boxing, enjoy the journey and yourself along the way.
When to Seek Help
If your relationship with exercise is affecting your ability to function in your daily life (relationships, work, etc.), and if it is affecting your overall health, it is important to speak with a mental health professional. With consistent access to support and treatment, you can heal your relationship with exercise and learn to love and value the person you are.
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