Exercise is a strange thing in our society, and it’s even stranger when you realize that most people don’t enjoy it. I often hear women (and men, but mostly women) make comments about “burning off that big burrito” or “good for you for going to the gym.”
Listen, I get it. We are brainwashed by diet culture to feel that we are only worthy if our bodies are small and thin. We therefore spend hours thinking, trying, and working towards the “perfect” body. Sounds pretty exhausting (and disordered).
Nine times out of ten when I see someone running, I wonder “are you doing that because you like it or are you doing that because you *have* to?”
I put the asterisks around the word *have* because nobody *HAS* to do anything. If you feel like you *have* to work out, or you *have* to eat healthy, what you’re experiencing is either societal pressure about what is *healthy* or disordered thoughts, or–most likely–both.
A lot of people experience over exercising as a part of their eating disorder or disordered relationship with food/body. Diet culture makes us convince ourselves that we *enjoy* exercising, when in reality, it just quiets the disordered thoughts so many people have.
For the last three years of my recovery I would go through phases where I was a regular at the gym, and then a few months where I didn’t step foot inside of one. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the subconscious dilemma inside of me that was struggling with giving in to disordered thoughts/diet culture to be *healthy* and *active* and the diet rebel inside of me that actually hates the gym.
Don’t get me wrong, staying active in a FUN way that you enjoy is great! Our bodies crave movement and staying active is absolutely a way to keep ourselves truly healthy. But how healthy can we be if we are doing something because we’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t? Sure, it might be physically healthy to go to the gym, but if you’re going as a punishment because you “ate *badly* this week,” that’s not mentally healthy. Also–a lot of people push themselves far too hard. We live in a society that promotes working until exhaustion and over exerting ourselves. Part of a healthy life is taking time for rest and recovery!
While many people think that working out is healthy, it can actually do more harm than good. If you’re working out and you haven’t eaten enough, or maybe you’re exhausted from a long day at school or work–you’re actually going to do more damage by forcing your body to exert energy it doesn’t have!
I personally think that the gym is a breeding ground for diet culture, so my goal for this summer was to find ways to be active that I actually enjoyed, so I could avoid going to the gym at all costs. For me, this was playing soccer (who knew I am actually decent), biking, hiking, and walking. Living in a city makes the walking easy, but the biking and hiking can be tricky.
Morning bike rides by the river have been fun for me, and it feels good to know that I’m engaging in movement for the way it makes me feel–I’m simply moving my body because it feels good and I enjoy it.
The point of the matter is that being active feels ten times better when it’s enjoyable, not just a chore. I also understand that some people truly do enjoy going to the gym and using the equipment there. If you’re one of those people, great! I just urge gym-going folk to reflect a little bit on why they’re going and how they feel before and after.
I often hear people say they dread going to the gym and then they feel good about it after. You shouldn’t dread being active! If you dread going to the gym, you’re giving in to that disordered mindset and societal notion that we all need to be gym rats. Finding a way to enjoy being active is possible, and I personally think it’s much more fun than going to the gym anyway!
I’m not trying to sound too preachy, and I understand that all of this might not apply to people who don’t have an eating disorder or any type of disordered thoughts, but I still think it’s good for people to check their own mindsets about the fitness frenzy in our culture.
It can be super hard for people to let go of the fitness ideals we have and to realize that we shouldn’t go to the gym if we don’t like it. It often incites some fear in the eating disorder about “what will happen if I don’t go to the gym?!”
The answer is simple: you’ll live.
As for me, I’m definitely satisfied with biking and walking and playing soccer. When the winter months come, things will change, and I’m not sure how I’ll stay active in a fun way, but I’ll promise you it won’t be a treadmill.