To me, exercise might as well be a four letter word, because although I love exercising while I’m actually doing it, I hate the buildup it takes to get there. I hate that it feels like work or another task in my day. I hate that it’s about burning calories. And I don’t want the guilt I feel when I don’t “exercise” for the day.
Because frankly, some days I don’t have time to take a full shower, let alone get myself to the gym for an hour-long workout. I have a family, and I’d rather be spending my non-working hours with them.
So I stopped exercising. Or at least in the way I had been punishing myself for years. I stopped dragging myself to the gym day after day. I stopped relying on the treadmill calorie counter to make me feel healthy.
Instead, I started moving my body. It sounds simple, but it’s a mental change that really worked for me. I still “get exercise” if that’s what you want to call it (I don’t!), but I feel much healthier and happier with moving my body every day. Here’s why.
Exercise has been hammered into our heads as something we “have to” do, so psychologically we want to rebel. If you’ve overcome this mind game and managed to fit exercise into your life on a regular basis, and you feel genuinely happy about it, then rock on. But if you’re like me and it feels like punishment, consider making the switch.
I’m not suggesting not going to the gym. Confused? What I’m suggesting is freeing yourself from the traditional connotation of what being physically fit means. I feel strong when I decide to walk the 12 blocks to the further subway stop, happier when I take the time to bundle the kids up in the stroller for a walk to get some fresh air, and satisfied with my accomplishments when I vacuum and wash the floors and scrub the bathtub clean by hand. All of these things are exercise. But I wouldn’t dare call it that.
The thing is, at least for some people, exercising can have the opposite effect on weight loss goals. You start using that calorie ticker on the treadmill to justify that extra scoop of ice cream, night after night. And then maybe you go on vacation and fall out of your exercise habit, but not your ice cream one.
I hate to break it to you, but unless you’re journaling what you eat, adding up the calories consumed versus calories burned, you’re probably doing a lousy job of mentally tracking those calories. And let’s be honest, do you really want to be doing that for the rest of your life? No thanks.
If you just make a point of moving more everyday – whether going out for a morning run, walking to work, taking the stairs throughout the day, or putting in some time on the elliptical – your body will benefit and your brain won’t play the calorie counting game with you.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever count our calories. In fact, I think we should all take a week every now and then to journal what we’re eating. Because once it’s in black and white, you can’t lie to yourself. It’s reality. You really did eat three, ½-cup servings from the Ben & Jerry’s pint. (That’s like 750 calories!) We all need to recalibrate every now and then. To knock our bad habits and pick up some better ones. (Maybe try a container of Greek yogurt with cinnamon, chocolate chips and peanuts instead of the Ben & Jerry’s).
But once you’re back on track, trust your body and start feeling good about eating well and moving daily. Food tastes good and brings you pleasure. Moving your body gets your blood flowing and releases endorphins that literally make you happy. So stop dieting, and start eating well. Stop exercising, and start moving.