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How To Better Your Relationship With Exercise

Nov 10, 2022

How To Better Your Relationship with Exercise


Do you know when we use exercise as a form of punishment? As a way to burn calories, burn fat, and just burn food? If you can relate to that, this is definitely for you.


What My Exercise Relationship Looked Like


Just looking back at my own journey with exercise, it started really healthy all throughout school up until probably when I went to university. I loved sports; I loved team games like field hockey, netball, cross-country tennis, and swimming. I was really sporty and it was always a form of fun, play, and I just love the way it made me feel, both mentally and physically.


It was all super healthy, but when I went to university and stopped playing all those team games, it got harder. It was probably just this fear of entering a new unknown social group, and deep down, fear of not being accepted.


I was finding it very uncomfortable but I was not facing that. I had started to gain weight already towards the end of high school and I wasn't feeling like the person I used to be; that sporty, athletic girl.


I think a part of me felt like I wasn't going to fit in as one of these sporty girls anymore and it was really sad for me because that was actually a big part of who I felt I was growing up. A few months into university, I hadn't joined any team sports, and I wasn't really doing much exercise. I was trying to force myself to go to the gym, which I did not find fun at all and because of that, I went very, very rarely. I started to get desperate in terms of weight loss and joined a boot camp, which was at a horrible time in the morning and in the freezing cold in a park in London with all these other people probably feeling the exact same way. It was just like burpees, pushups, and stuff like that, which even to this day, I don't enjoy.


Back then, I was trying to force myself to start losing weight because between the age of 16 and 18, I had gained about 10 kilos which felt very uncomfortable to me. 


Once I got to university, I was just freaking out because I thought I needed to figure out a way to burn this. I had never had to burn fat before, burn calories. It wasn't something that was on my mind and I certainly never had to think about how to lose weight.


Weight was not an issue for me growing up. It wasn't something on my mind at all. Now, exercise turned into this horrible thing where it was all about counting calories. I was Googling ‘how many calories do you burn in a mile of running’ or I was just watching the numbers go up at the gym on the treadmill or the elliptical and writing that down; tracking it and doing those calculations.


Can you relate? 


This type of relationship that I had with exercise and food went on for years, and it actually got a lot worse. There was a period of time when I was going to the gym two to three hours a day, doing all sorts of exercise classes and I did have fun in some of the dance classes and Zumba, but underneath it all, it was just about burning calories and trying to lose weight.


And then there was a period of time when I was trying to convince myself I was really into long-distance running. I was doing half marathons. I was trying to train for marathons. I even thought that once I hit the marathon mark, I'm going to start doing ultra-running and 50K races, but underneath it all, of course, what was really going on in my mind was “After this, I can eat whatever I want and the weight is going to fall off me, just like that.”


Essentially, it was a lot of punishment, and I even remember one day after I had eaten an entire jar of Nutella and I thought to myself “Okay, I've got to run at least 15 kilometers right now” and so, I went and ran that 15K during which all I could think of was “How many calories is this? How much more do I still have to burn off? So what do I need not eat tomorrow? Maybe I can skip this meal, maybe I can just have green juice for lunch.”


It was just this mindset for years.


How do I get to recovery?


My recovery started when my relationship with exercise completely shifted.


I want you to take a moment right now, pause your reading, and think about what your exercise and food relationship looks like. Ask yourself these questions:


  1.   Is your relationship to food and exercise linked?
  2.   Do you exercise so you can eat a bit more?
  3.   Do you exercise because you binged the night before?
  4.   When you do exercise, what does it look and feel like?
  5.   Is your exercise done with dread?
  6.   Does it last much longer than you would really want to exercise for? 


Take the time to find out where you're at in this moment; become aware of what you think about exercise and how it makes you feel inside when you do it.


 What we want is to get to a place where exercise is done out of love and not punishment. It's something that you truly, genuinely enjoy and it just makes you feel good. It should no longer be a way for you to burn calories or allow yourself to eat. We don't want it to be this exchange system of ‘I can eat this because I've exercised or I have to exercise so I can burn off this food’. Our bodies deserve better than that.


4 tips to help you separate food from exercise.


I've got a ton of tips here that are going to help you separate food from exercise and stop it from being this exchange system where one allows the other. If you want to know what they are, just keep reading:


1. Take a break from exercise.


If you feel like your food-exercise relationship is similar to what I've described so far, taking a break would be a great start. I did this. It doesn't have to be months on end, it could definitely be a couple of weeks even, but the idea is, we want to break the link between exercise and food being intertwined. Taking a break means that you do have to continue eating, but without the crutch; the reliance on exercise to make you feel not guilty to eat. This break could also lead to you having a craving for exercise in a genuine way; you'll want to move your body after a certain amount of weeks or whether a month or whatever it is for you, you might actually be itching to work up a sweat. Which is okay, and completely normal! Just make sure to ease yourself back into it when you start up again. Go easy. If you do notice yourself becoming more obsessive again or compulsive, pause, reevaluate, be honest with yourself, and take a break again. Let yourself do this as many times as you need to.


2. Enjoy your exercise.


When you do start to ease yourself back into exercise, start with something that you truly enjoy; things like walking, hiking, yoga, dance, gardening, or whatever may be. Often, it's something that you did when you were a kid. When you're a kid, you do not think of exercise as a means to burn fat. That could possibly mean a team sport for you, (maybe a sport you played back when you were a kid) and it was just about fun and playing with people. 


During the start of my recovery, I completely dropped running out of my exercise routine and I moved into weightlifting. I decided that I just want to get strong. I just want to feel badass. I started doing weightlifting three times a week, and these sessions were short, lasting about 20 minutes. It sounds easy and I didn't even work up a sweat. I didn't see it as exercise, I didn't even think about calories because I was thinking “I'm not even sweating. This doesn't even feel that hard. It's probably not even burning that many calories.”  The focus shifted, I just wanted to feel strong. I wanted to be able to lift as much weight as I could. I wanted to do a pull-up. (Actually, pull-ups are a big thing for me, I just thought it’d be so cool to be able to do a pull-up, still not there yet.)


Make sure you find something that you truly and genuinely do not link to calories.


I took a break from cardio, especially extended periods of cardio because I was doing that long-distance running for a long time. When I finally did ease myself back into cardio, I did it knowing it was good for my heart. I took it really easy. I was just doing like 6-10 minutes on the treadmill, just wanting to feel strong and see how powerful I can be.


3. Find something that has nothing to do with burning calories.


This tip is entirely subjective. Find teachers, classes, or anything else that has nothing to do with burning calories. Something just for you! I just go for teachers who are all about strength, mind-body connection, having fun, team atmosphere kind of thing


4. Reword your thoughts.


Rewording certain language in your brain that you use around food, can lead to a better relationship you have with food and exercise. This could look like calling ‘exercise’ ‘training’ or you could call it ‘movement’. You could call it something that seems really pure to you instead of something that you hold negative connotations to. This applies to other phrases as well, like instead of ‘I'm going to burn 600 calories’ you could try ‘I'm just going to work up a sweat today’ or ‘I'm just going to stretch my muscles today’ or ‘I want to feel stronger.’


5. Your first step is to focus on how you feel.


Instead of thinking, calculating, and tracking, just go back to basics:


  1.   How does it feel to exercise?
  2.   How does it feel to do a certain type of exercise versus another?
  3.   How does it feel for me when I don't exercise?
  4.   Am I tired?
  5.   Are my muscles sore?
  6.   Do I need rest?
  7.   Do I feel a bit groggy or low energy?
  8.   Could I do something that could make me feel more energized?


Feeling instead of thinking as much and just knowing that you never have to exercise. It's only when you want to; when your body is craving it; when you want to feel stronger; when you want to feel more energized.


6. Your next step would be to go back to your inner child.


Access that inner child version of you, that little kid who just loved playing tag, stuck in the mud, or hide and seek. All those things were really active, but also fun and just playful. As an adult, it might be hard to find people to play ‘stuck in the mud’, but it doesn’t have to look the exact same way.


Your playful activity could look like dancing, maybe going to a dance class or dancing with your boyfriend.


It could also be doing some gymnastics, trying to do a handstand or a cartwheel. When was the last time you did a cartwheel?


It could look like those teen sports you played as a kid: football, kicking the ball around, playing catch, playing netball, playing basketball, just going back to things that are fun and easy and 0% about earning food.


7. Detangle exercise and food being an exchange


Detangle this notion that exercise and food are completely linked. There is no exchange system between food and exercise. The only real connection you would ever want to have between them is:


  1.   Have I waited enough time for this food to digest so I can go run?
  2.   Is it going to feel good for me to have all that food in my belly?
  3.   Have I actually eaten enough to do this strenuous exercise I'm about to do?


8. Lastly, no tracking.


When it comes to exercise, my final tip would be to move away from tracking calories at all or using any of these metrics, numbers, and any data that we use to measure how hard we've worked and how much food we can eat off the back of it. That could look like deleting MyFitnessPal. Stop entering the exercise you've done in a day into MyFitnessPal. Just go on a run without tracking anything, and go straight back to basics.


I know if you're really into sports performance, tracking your heart rate and the distance does make sense, and yes you can definitely move towards that, if you want, remember, it’s your journey, but just to start this recovery journey, strip everything away that's linked to calorie counting and go back to basics.


Let’s recap:

  1. Take a break from exercise. Just take a break for a few weeks and wait till you're truly craving it to start with exercise. 
  2. Find an exercise you enjoy.  Something you genuinely enjoy, so that when you’re doing it, you’re completely focused on the activity and you don't link it with burning calories. 
  3.  Find teachers and classes who focus on strength, fun, and movement, and not weight loss. 
  4.  Reword a certain language in your brain. You can say movement instead of workout or ‘I just want to feel strong’ instead of ‘I'm going to burn off six hundred calories’
  5. Instead of thinking, calculating, and tracking, just go back to feeling how you feel. 
  6. Access your inner child - inspire them with the fun and playful exercise that you do. 
  7. Detangle food from exercise. The only link you want between the two is “Have I eaten enough to do this exercise? Have I taken a break between eating and exercising?”
  8. Drop anything that tracks calories and metrics like my fitness pal, heart rate monitors, Fitbit, and step counters. 


Remember that this is not a quick fix but with consistency and commitment - change will happen. For more in-depth help with transforming your inner world and therefore your food and body relationship too - take a look at the 30 Day Reboot.


With Love,



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