Re-framing Exercise

Disclosure: I am often eavesdropping on conversations that I am not a part of. I don’t do this to be rude or because I am nosey. Rather, I work in an area where there is a lot of traffic coming and going. Given that I work in wellness I am always curious when people start talking about health. My office is actually located in an area where people work out so naturally, I hear a lot of these conversations and my ears perk up.

From all my eavesdropping, one thing I know for sure is that everyone wants to lose weight. I am always amazed at how often I hear the exact same words and conversations. It is so common, which is not that surprising given our society’s views on body image.  However, this focus on weight loss, as we know, does not always pave the way to a healthy lifestyle. I am starting to realize just how big of a focus it is for a lot of people. Yet, it is so rare to see people really stick with health and fitness for long periods of time. I am also shocked at how misinformed people are about fitness and diet, and always find it so sad when I hear the words “nothing works for me, I can’t get fit so I give up” or “I will never look like that, I feel awful” or even “I hate exercise but I do it to get skinny”.

I am here to challenge this and ask you to re-frame the way we think about exercise. What if we focused on how good exercise made us feel instead of seeing it as a means to an end. What if we focused on our health, energy levels, well-being and less about the way we looked? I know, crazy thought, but hear me out.

I have been you. I have eaten too few calories, been obsessed with the gym, all with the intention of losing weight and getting my body to look a certain way. I have since learned that my body is not MEANT to look that way, and even if I have achieved it for a short period of time, that’s the extent of it – it’s a short period of time. Even though I looked a certain way, I can assure you, I was not healthy. I deprived myself of enjoyment. I was grumpy. I was hungry. I would reach the end of the day and fight the urge to binge on chocolate and chips. I wasn’t able to enjoy my weekends and felt plaugued with guilt if I followed the lead of those around me and had a glass of wine. I would go to sleep feeling miserable that I had failed myself so terribly if I did give in (see previous post on balance). So why did I even do this? Because there was some pre-conceived notion in my head that happiness=having the body of a bikini model. Even when I nearly had that body, I wasn’t all of the sudden happier. In fact, I was miserable.

The crazy thing is, for even those of us who don’t really have any weight to lose; we still obsess about it and can’t be convinced otherwise no matter what others around us say. Weight is such a deeply personal concept and we are so easily brainwashed into thinking we must look a certain way.

It doesn’t help that we are constantly bombarded with images like this all over social media:

(it also takes depriving yourself of all fun)

(it also takes depriving yourself of all fun)

I am not saying that males don’t have these same insecurities because many do. However, I find in my circle of female friends, weight and body image is something that is always coming up. We work out to get fit and often, that is all we talk about concerning fitness. I recently have had a lot of conversations with my friends about this though and have started challenging that. I encourage them to still put a lot of effort into being active, but change the focus of it and the reasons for doing it. Furthermore, I really try and steer any conversations about health and wellness away from weight. But it doesn’t stop there, by merely having a few chats with my friends about changing their focus on exercise I’m not accomplishing much. So how do we make the conversation in society about something else?

We have fitness instructors urging us on and saying things like “think of your bikini”. I hear it every day. Every day. And frankly, I am sick of it. “Summer is coming, get beach ready” “don’t give up, think of your vacation body”. Why is our motivation to do a healthy behaviour coming from statements that are not healthy? It’s backwards, isn’t it?

Our obsession with the way we look is unhealthy. It causes unrealistic expectations and spins us into a downward spiral of self-loathing and distorted body image. And it truly isn’t our fault. How can you disconnect yourself from these messages when everything that is being portrayed is skinny=happy=healthy. This message is constantly being shoved down our throats from every industry out there trying to capitalize on our insecurities.  What if we were to remove the “skinny” from the equation? What are we left with? Happy=healthy. That doesn’t sound all that bad to me.

What if we stopped focusing on the way we look and started focusing on the way we feel and all the positive ways that living healthy and exercise can help us? What would that look like?

I recently attended a Body pump class with a new instructor (to me). Near the end of the workout (during which she did not once mention weight and looking fit) she said “stop and think right now about how strong and empowered you feel. How clear your mind is. How relaxed you are. Now remember that feeling every time you don’t want to come. Hold on to that and remember why you workout”

That really stuck with me. Why do I work out? It calms my nerves. It clears my mind. It gives me more energy. It protects me against disease. It makes me feel strong. It helps me sleep better. It makes me feel confident. Overall, it makes me feel HAPPY. Those are all a bunch of reasons that have nothing to do with weight. I tell myself those things when I don’t want to be active and it works wonders. The days I don’t want to work out are often the days that I am feeling low or am stressed. Those are the days I need it most, and those are the days where it really hits home that being active is so much more than the way I look.

If you are only working out for the purpose of looking a certain way, I am curious to know if that works well for you. Do you enjoy your workouts? Have you made it a part of your life? If so, I applaud you and I hope that once you reach your physical goals, you will continue to keep it a part of your life for many other reasons. If you don’t like being active, try something new. Find something you not only like but are actually good at too. I can’t stress this enough. It doesn’t always to be in a gym.  It can be as simple as planning a weekend hike twice a month, or riding your bike on a Saturday. It can be so many different things.

So how do we change this focus on weight? I am putting my foot down and saying enough is enough. Next time you hear someone talking about it, stop them and encourage them to think of other reasons to be active. Next time you hear that dialogue in your head, stop it. Replace it with something else. Re-frame it.

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