5 Things I Say NO to When Working Out

Hi friends! I am so excited to bring you all a guest post today from my sweet friend Alex, who blogs over at How She Does It. Alex is full of grace and truth, and I think you will see that come through in her writing. Hope you enjoy!

Working out is a fantastic way to release stress, boost your mood, enhance positive body image, and improve your overall health. But the sad reality for so many of us is that we view working out not as a joy, but as a punishment. How many times have you forced yourself into a workout in a compensatory or punitive way because you feel like you ate too much or that you’re “so out of shape”? When you work out, do you feel like you’re treating yourself, or are you enslaved to your gym or your exercise routine? When you fall into these negative mindsets, what do you do? Do you push harder? Do you quit altogether out of frustration?

Friends, I’ve been there. For years, I struggled with compensatory exercise. Working out was not a proactive way to beat stress, lift my mood, or make me healthier overall: it was a reaction to feeling out of shape, out of control. Unsurprisingly, these negatively-charged workouts ended up controlling me – not the other way around.

Years later, with much grace and a colossal mindset shift, I now work out from a place of joy rather than stress and enslavement. To facilitate this process, I had to determine not so much what I would do, but what I would NOT do when working out. This became my workout manifesto: exercise so that you can feel better, not so that you can “burn off” what you ate, lose weight, feel superior, or “be better than the person you were yesterday.” While these catchphrases bounce around social media and are plastered to gym walls, they did nothing for me but drain me, stress me out, and make me miserable.

Work out from a place of joy, not stress.

In order to do this, you have to reject the cultural narrative about exercise and its purpose as a slave-driving, cruel, compensatory force.

You have to unfollow Instagram accounts that stress you out.

You have to find a friend who shares a healthy view of exercise – and ask her to support you in your journey.

You have to figure out what you enjoy, and – enthusiastically – pursue those things.

And most importantly, you have to figure out what you will say NO to. A firm, resounding no.

Because for me, friends, that changed everything.

My list of NOs boils down to these five.

Disclaimer: These tips are not intended to help someone who is genuinely struggling with weight loss or walking through the dark night of an eating disorder. I am not a nutritionist or a medical professional, and this blog post will not substitute the advice of a professional who is trained to help you facilitate a healthy lifestyle. 

1. Results. Working out for “results” is like building a house on shifting sands. Working toward some discrete goal may energize you in short bursts, but it is not lasting motivation. For instance, say you want to drop ten pounds for an upcoming wedding. What happens once you’ve achieved that goal? Do you simply work to maintain it? Try to lose ten more? Quit working out altogether since you’ve “arrived”? I’ve found results-oriented working out to be gratifying in the short term, but it has not helped me cultivate long-term healthy habits. For me, the pleasure of working toward, and achieving, a short-term goal is not motivating enough to keep me consistently working to instill healthy habits.

In her book Make It Happen, author Lara Casey recalls her days as a personal trainer. She encountered a man who struggled with weight loss and truly desired to be healthy. When she pressed him on his motivations for working out, he said he wanted to be healthy so he could walk his daughter down the aisle one day. Talk about motivation!

What is your WHY of working out? To have more energy? To cumulatively decrease stress? Think about your overarching goals – those that go beyond “lose weight” or “get rid of flab.” Think about those things that really move you, and when you think about it, simply losing weight for the mere sake of it probably won’t be on the list.

2. Working out as a companion to spartan diets. Any time I’ve ever jumped on a dieting bandwagon, working out became the most miserable activity on the face of the earth. If you aren’t feeding yourself enough, you are not going to have energy to work out. Period.

This is a classic lose-lose situation. Have some grace for yourself, for the love.

3. Scheduling your day around working out. Working out is supposed to enhance your quality of life – not detract from it. Once you find yourself saying no to social plans or getting stressed out if you missed a workout, take it as a warning sign. You aren’t going to gain 45 pounds overnight if you missed a workout one day. So don’t sweat it! (Pun absolutely intended.)

4. Numbers-oriented goals. As with results-oriented working out, the question is: what happens when you hit your goal? You’ll likely stop working out. Make it a lifestyle, not an endpoint. After all, it is about the process, not the end game.

Rather than setting highly intense short-term goals, try to come up with a system that is sustainable in the long term. This means skipped workouts are inevitable. So are cupcakes. So are days when you really don’t feel like running, so you take a walk instead.

Don’t fall into an all-or-nothing trap. And remember, even a 20 minute walk is better than nothing. If that is all you have time for, that’s fine. Do not turn your nose up at certain types of activities (or inactivities!) if they are going to enhance your health in the long-term.

5. Comparison. The journey to physical fitness is not one-size-fits-all. Ever body type is different, and every person’s specific needs are different. I have friends who truly crave a high-intensity workout in order to clear their minds and relieve stress. For me, a long walk around my neighborhood does the trick. You will walk through seasons where you crave intense workouts, and seasons where all you want is beginners yoga and walks. This is fine. All of this is fine.

And you, my friend, are more than fine. You are so, so good, so valuable, so unique and so loved. Don’t get caught up in comparison. Don’t work yourself into exhaustion in the name of some societally-constructed notion of health. Don’t be mean to yourself. Instead, you can walk in the freedom of knowing there is a different way to live – and this starts with fueling your workouts with joy, self-love, and a whole lot of grace.

Alex Davis is a wife, lawyer, coffee lover, and the founder of the collaborative blog How She Does It: The Grace Filled Guide to an Intentional, Inspired, Integrated Life. Outside of work, you can find her exploring her neighborhood’s greenway trails, perusing vintage furniture shops, or sitting on her front porch with her sweet husband.

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