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Thoughts on Exercise Guilt

Thoughts on Exercise Guilt

I read two spot on posts this past Thanksgiving:

1.) “Happy Thanksgiving! Today I’m thankful for family, friends, food, football, and fdeadlifts. I always do a hard workout Thanksgiving morning to make myself feel better about pigging out later, even though I obviously know that exercise can’t offset a bad diet. On Thanksgiving I convince myself that is does though, and I tell myself that if I do deadlifts, all the food I eat will magically turn to muscle and I’ll wake up jacked the next day. I also end the workout with like 30 seconds of cardio and convince myself that it will make it so I don’t gain any weight. I also wore sweats because it feels like you burn more calories and fat that way, even though that’s obviously not true either.”

A. Hilarious B. Accurate

2.) “I (don’t like) the culture around ‘earning’ your food..or, maybe worse, excessive exercise to punish yourself for indulging over the weekend. This isn’t how food works. And this mentality will lead to a poor relationship with food. Regardless if you exercise or not, the body needs calories to function. Some unpopular advice; PLAN for indulgence over the coming weeks and you won’t be setting yourself up for failure…..So please do that for yourself this weekend. Practice balance in your life. Then get back to the gym on Monday - not because you ate too much, but because the consistency of your routine is what’s going to get you to your goals much faster than harping on yourself about that extra slice of pie.” 

Also accurate.

What I like about these posts is they address the other side of exercise/consumption: your mentality (which, to me, is half the battle). Below is my personal list of ideal and non-ideal reasons to exercise in no particular order:


  • physical expression
  • to feel and move better
  • to destress
  • to improve autonomy and self-confidence 
  • to improve physicality and function (strength, endurance, etc.)
  • because we are meant to move
  • because it’s enjoyable
  • social engagement 
  • time away from devices 
  • time to be with yourself and your body
  • to improve sleep, appetite, metabolism, and overall quality of life
  • to energize yourself
  • to live a long, healthy, active, and engaging life

Not ideal:

  • to burn off what you ate the night before (it will probably only burn off one of the four cookies anyways)
  • to brag about it
  • because you think you have to
  • because other people made your feel guilty about not doing it
  • to look like people on Instagram 
  • to exhaust yourself 
  • to check it off your list of things to do

Food for thought. Next time you go exercise, take a moment to think about the why behind it. If it lies within the second list, do what you can to shift your mindset into the first.

Stephanie Spoto, CSCS

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