At a doctor’s appointment in my early 20s, I asked what a healthy weight goal would be because I was once again in the midst of trying to lose weight. The doctor said, “Anywhere is better than where you are right now.” I remember it so vividly because it angered me, yet simultaneously validated my desire to be smaller. I weighed 175-180ish pounds at the time and was a size 12/14. He added, “You could get to 140. You’d be pretty thin.” At 5’10”, I had weighed anywhere from 160 to 190 since my teens…140 wasn’t a weight I had seen in many years. I don't think that doctor had my health in mind when he mentioned that number.
Time and energy may be the most commonly cited reasons for not exercising consistently but based on some recent conversations with women I know, emotions and attitudes about exercise play a big role as well. Discussions involving exercise, working out, or fitness have the potential to bring up all sorts of negative emotions including dread, shame, and guilt. Starting in the teen years, many of us viewed exercise as a means to shrink ourselves, to burn calories, or to “undo” what we ate and drank last weekend. Exercise was merely a way to change our bodies into a more preferred size or shape. It was not done out of self-love or self-acceptance so it didn’t often feel very good. For some, these views persist well into adulthood and the struggle with exercise continues. Even when the negative views slowly fall away and we wave the white flag in the body battle, the guilt tends to stick around. Exercise guilt can occur in one of two ways: guilt associated with not exercising enough or guilt for exercising because it takes away from other priorities such as care-taking, earning money, etc.
In the first type of exercise guilt, exercise is equated with being good.
“I was good. I made it to the gym today." "I was bad. I didn't exercise at all last week." Sound familiar? We all know that exercising is associated with a lot of positive outcomes. However, if you are too focused on those outcomes, it can become a source of stress and guilt. You know you "should" but you aren't so you feel badly. Maybe you can relate to feeling guilty about:
I was good. I exercised today.
In the second type of exercise guilt, taking time to exercise is thought of as neglecting other responsibilities. This guilt stems from feeling selfish because exercise requires time and energy that could be used elsewhere. Maybe you can relate to feeling guilty for:
Many of us will experience exercise guilt of some variety at some point in our lives. Whether you can relate to the first type of exercise guilt or the second (or possibly both), the negative feelings can hold you back from achieving wellness goals or simply feeling your best. How do you let them go?