In our diet and exercise obsessed culture, you’ll hear a lot of people say “the only workout you’ll regret is the one you don’t do.”
As far as I’m concerned, that’s false. And it’s also inherently tied in diet culture because if you’re mad at yourself for not working out, that sounds like you’ve got some disordered thoughts going on.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you should be moving your body because it feels good, not because you’re afraid of what will happen if you don’t.
But I’m not afraid, Meagan!
Well, blog reader, let’s run through some questions.
1. Do you work out to ‘stay fit?’
If the answer is yes: what does ‘staying fit’ mean to you? Does it mean maintaining a certain weight? If staying fit means “keeping your body healthy,” okay, go ahead. If ‘staying fit’ ties AT ALL to looks/weight/shape…you’re walking a thin line. While it’s hard to live in our culture and *not* care about our looks, working out to purposely control our body shape/weight can lead to disordered behaviors and a lot of disordered thoughts. You should be moving your body because it’s fun and feels good. While there are certain health benefits to being active (lower risk of heart disease, etc.), changing your body weight/shape should NOT be one of them.
2. Do you work out to make sure you can eat “whatever” you want?
If the answer is yes: While moving your body is good for you, it’s not necessary in order to make room for the food you eat. The majority of your calories burned are used by your brain: thinking, feeling, talking, and just living your every day life. The calories we burn by a regular (and not excessive) workout are pretty negligible. I know I’ve said it so many times that you guys probably want to smack me over the head when I say it again: but our bodies are smart enough to make sense of the calories we eat. We don’t need to supervise them. They can figure out what to do with them all on their own and we don’t need to exercise in order to eat. We do, however, need to eat in order to live.
3. Do you work out because it’s a good stress reliever?
If the answer is yes: This is much, MUCH, more of a “gray area” question. Exercising can be GREAT for stress relief, however it’s best to have a few other options as well. While taking a walk, going for a run, or playing some soccer can be a great way to burn off some steam, what happens when it’s rainy, or snowy, or too cold to be outside and you’re too far from a gym? You can’t abandon yourself with no coping skills! You’ve got to have some other options!
Some people may feel that they’re truly able to exercise in a healthy way in recovery, and that’s great! Exercise can be great for so many reasons, but it can also be really dangerous to someone’s recovery.
I try to be SUPER careful about exercising, because I know how easy it can be to give into some of the disordered thoughts about it. Over the summer, I vowed to stop going to the gym because all it did was make me feel bad about my body. Exercise should be fun and enjoyable, and we should be celebrating how our body can move, not angry at our bodies or ourselves while doing it.
Right now I’m in this interesting phase in my recovery where the only way I feel comfortable exercising is outside. I walk a lot because I live in a city, and I’ll play soccer or basketball or bike ride, but I’m not comfortable being a gym.
My exercise routine has been a lot less lately, however, because it’s winter and it’s hard to exercise outside when there’s snow on the ground. Luckily, I haven’t felt guilt about it, because I know that as the weather starts to get warmer I’ll be able to be outside more, and trust me, I’ve been craving it.
I spoke with a friend the other night who’s also in recovery about her love for running. She explained that she’s always loved running, and before her ED, it was a really healthy coping skill for her. However, now running can be triggering for her because it can fuel her ED thoughts.
What I’m trying to get at here is that it’s really important for people in recovery (or just people, tbh) to pay attention to the thoughts they have around exercising. We live in a society where exercising is RIDICULOUSLY important to some people, and this can be hard to deal with when you’re in recovery.
I used to think I would always want to work out, but I don’t. I definitely don’t regret the workouts I haven’t done, because instead of going to the gym and obsessing over my body, I’m going out with friends and doing fun things.
I’d rather drink some margs and trust that when I need to move my body it will tell me than “regret a work out.” But that’s just me.
For those who do enjoy exercising and want to healthily engage in it while in recovery, I’d recommend talking with your treatment team to make sure it’s physically and emotionally healthy for you at this point in recovery!
The truth is that exercise can be great, but it’s soaked in diet culture and those messages can be hard to avoid. If you can exercise without buying into those mindsets, keep kicking ass. For those who don’t feel ready yet: give it time. I’m glad that I’ve found ways to stay active that DON’T trigger my ED. In fact, I enjoy doing things I never thought I’d enjoy.
Being active should be enjoyable. It should feel good. It shouldn’t make you hate yourself more.