Updated: Aug 25, 2021
I used to feel that I needed to punish myself with hard, intense workouts for the things I ate. I used to believe that if I looked a certain way, other people would love and value me. I used to think that the only reason to work out was to prevent myself from being overweight--because I thought that I was unlovable if I was overweight. These were all unhealthy survival skills I learned growing up while trying to get my basic emotional needs met.
It wasn’t until I started to love myself that I realized I had an unhealthy relationship with working out. Not to the degree that I was addicted to fitness, but to the degree that I was abusing fitness as a means to an end--an end of my shitty feelings about how I truly felt about myself. But no amount of fitness could free me from the pain that I felt.
Everyone wants to feel loved, accepted, and valued, but it’s not other people’s jobs to do that. It’s my responsibility to fulfill these needs for myself. One way that I’ve been able to show self-love is by exercising with the intention to create a better, healthier version of myself.
Fitness can make us stronger, feel better, be healthier, and so much more. But it’s up to us to be sure that we use fitness as a catalyst for becoming into more loving, caring, and gentle versions of ourselves.
It’s when our intentions are misguided, like mine used to be, that we begin to develop an unhealthy relationship with ourselves and fitness.
Here are three reasons you shouldn't work out.
1. To punish yourself for what you ate.
I’m sure you’ve had a day/weekend/week/month of not making the best nutritional choices for your overall health. That’s okay. We all have moments when we struggle and have to learn how to have a better relationship with food.
You’re not a bad person for eating a whole pizza, a pint of ice cream, six fruit snacks, and whatever else I find in your home. This isn't okay every single day, but sometimes you get a case of the “fuck-its” and it’s hard to pull yourself out of those feelings and thoughts.
Fuck-its: Choices made based on our impulses, knowing that later there may be consequences
What isn’t okay is beating yourself up with guilt and shame about what you ate, then using exercise as a means to punish yourself for what you ate. This is EXTEREMELY unhealthy and harmful, not only to your physical health, but your mental health as well.
Feeling guilt and shame is not a good reason to workout. In fact, it’s the opposite. It'll only cause you more pain.
Instead, try accepting that you’re human and that we all have moments in our lives when we get a case of the fuck-its. You’re ALWAYS one step away from making a better choice; it’s up to you. Be gentle and kind to yourself, and do your best to make choices designed to build yourself up.
2. Because you want to feel or become “skinny”
Let me begin by saying there is nothing wrong with being underweight (or overweight); our bodies are made up of a shit ton of different genetic codes. We have no control over things that we were born with--such as our height, hair color, eye color, etc. There’s no sense in hating who we naturally are because we don’t get a say in how we are made. What we do control is how we live and how we respond to life.
You’re perfect the way you are right now and you’re absolutely lovable the way you are.
And when you start using fitness as a means of abusing yourself to meet the goal of "skinny," you begin to become unhealthy.
When you begin to say you want or need to be skinny, what you might be communicating is that you don’t feel accepted or that you don’t love yourself. You’re placing your value and self-worth in your physical appearance, which isn’t healthy. Your value as a person is based on your actions and how you treat yourself and others.
"Skinny" should never be the goal. Being strong and healthy should be the goal. When you think of the word skinny and wanting to become that, take into consideration what being skinny would actually mean. When I think of people wanting to be skinny (for those who struggle with being underweight, I'm not talking about you!) I think of how unhealthy that sounds--because to me, when I think of skinny, I don’t think healthy; I think of a stray dog that is malnourished, weak, and frail. I feel bad for that dog and want to give it love and food so that it can grow to be strong and healthy.
The next time you think of wanting to be skinny, think about how unhealthy that would be, replace the word skinny with healthy/strong.
3. You fear becoming overweight, so you use workouts as means to prevent that rather than to promote a healthier life.
People have been taught that we're less lovable, valuable, worthy, and acceptable if we're overweight. This is fucked and should never be used as a means of determining your own self-worth or someone else’s worth.
I have always struggled with my weight--at least until I started to view fitness differently. Growing up, I struggled with my weight and was the “fat kid” for a long time. I felt insecure, inadequate, sad, unloved, not accepted, and a bunch of other shitty feelings. I used fitness at an early age to help me get rid of my shame and to become someone else that I thought people would love and accept.
My battle with my weight would follow me throughout my life. I was still overweight, but I was always working out and doing fitness stuff. I used to think that the more I worked out the better I would look and that people would then love me. This survival skill no longer serves me as an adult, but it wasn’t until I realized that my weight/body didn't determine my self-worth that I started to see changes.
Now I use fitness as a means to a healthier life that allows me to feel strong, feel better physically and mentally, and appreciate what my body does for me. The workouts that I do help improve the quality of my life by providing me the strength I need to do the things I want without limitations. Once I started viewing work-outs this way, I also started making more appropriate choices with my food because I started setting boundaries for myself regarding the things I would over-indulge in.
Remember: love yourself more; be gentle with yourself; and don't punish or guilt yourself for being human.