I was inspired to talk about exercise this week, because recently I haven’t been feeling inspired to go to the gym. AT ALL. Since I moved, I haven’t found a gym in my area that I love, but ultimately I do love going to the gym. It’s a nice way for me to get some movement in and get away from a screen while having total control over how long I stay. When it comes to my relationship with exercise, I’m still not totally healed- I’m working on it.

In this episode, I want to talk about exercise and what it means to develop a healthy relationship with it. This is for people who either have a history of over-exercising or a history of treating exercise as punishment. With both comes a really strong aversion to exercise, which is what happened to me.

There’s no question that exercise is good for your health:

  • It’s associated with lower risk of disease
  • It helps improve your biometric markers for health
  • It’s good for your mental health
  • It’s good for your emotional health
  • It’s good for your physical health

You can’t predict the future- you don’t know what your body is going to as you age. Within my own abilities, I know I want to continue moving, have strength, and have stamina as I get older, whatever that looks like. Not setting any expectations or outcomes, but just having it as a priority. That is why it’s so important for you to develop a healthy relationship with exercise if that matters to you too!


5 Tips To Heal Your Relationship With Exercise

1. Be willing to take a break.

When people have just started healing their relationship with food, they know they have to heal their relationship with exercise too. The catch is, they don’t know how.

Short Term Vs. Long Term Mindset

I talk a lot about mindset, especially short-term vs. long-term mindset. Diet mentality instills the short-term mindset of:

  • “I need to fix my body now”
  • “I need to go on a diet tomorrow”
  • “I need to lose weight for X event”

Thinking that you need to ‘fix’ it now creates a lot of panic. This mindset is very short term, all-or-nothing, rooted in instant gratification, and it creates a lot of discouragement. It ultimately sets us up for failure.

One of the hardest parts of transitioning into food freedom and intuitive movement is developing a long-term mindset. You have to move AWAY from the panic/crisis mode thinking that you need to fix yourself right now. Move away from using exercise as punishment and stop pushing yourself to commit to a routine when you have a disordered relationship with exercise.

All of that is SHORT-TERM MENTALITY. If you’re having back and forth, stressed out, panicked dialogue around exercise, you need to:

  • Take time off from whatever it is you do for movement and see how you feel
  • Give yourself some space to be uncomfortable in not having a routine
  • Move INTO experiencing and doing right now, even if it’s uncomfortable

These things will help you eventually build up a new routine that is separate from dieting. Even if these things feel like the opposite of what you want to be doing in the long term, you have to do things that are uncomfortable now in order to benefit yourself and set yourself up for success in the long run.

Even if you gave up exercise after dieting, but during that break you felt constantly guilty about it, I would still encourage you to take a break. But this time, work on the guilt. Take a break while you’re taking a break and focus on not feeling guilty. It’s about giving your body AND your mind rest while allowing yourself to get comfortable with the fact that you’re not exercising because you’re in pursuit of a long-term habit or goal.

P.S. If you’re worried about getting comfortable with not exercising and are thinking you’ll never want to go back, think about the question you just asked. Obviously, exercise is a value to you even if right now your diet brain is convincing you that you don’t want to do it. If it’s important to you, you will want to go back at some point.


2. You can’t heal in the same place you got sick.

This is a quote from Mary’s Cup of Tea and it applies to so many areas of life, including food. When I was healing my relationship with food, I couldn’t cook a lot of the things I made when I was in my obsessive dieting phase because it was triggering. I had a FULL resistance to it, and it’s taken me a long time to enjoy cooking again. That’s okay! The same goes for exercise- it can take a long time. Allow yourself to be a work in progress. It doesn’t have to be all figured out right now.

When you are ready to go back to the exercise, try finding new things! Break from the habits, routines, and locations you had before in order to create a new and healthy relationship.

3. Take it one day at a time and try new things.

I get a lot of questions about exercise that are very diet-y and too focused on making commitments. If you’re working against rigidity and trying to break that habit, you need to practice the exact opposite, which is RADICALLY going with the flow.

Take it one day at a time. Wake up and see how you feel that day.

I want to emphasize this advice is for the beginner stages of healing your relationship with exercise. This will change over time! You can eventually develop routines around exercise that become second nature. In the beginning, I highly recommend taking it one day at a time and trying new things.

When I was doing this, I tried:

  • Aerial yoga
  • Circus classes
  • Rock climbing (which didn’t work with my acrylic nails)
  • Running (don’t ever ask me to do that ever again)

And so many different things to see what I liked! I also had to stop doing things that I did like so that in the long run, I could heal my relationship with exercise.

Once you take a break and really work on the guilt you might be feeling, you can get to a point where you actually miss the activity you were doing before and how your body felt when you were doing it. It’s not until that point where you can go back to it and actually ENJOY how you feel when you do that form of exercise.

4. Question what you count as movement!

Even though I’m as far along as I am in healing my relationship with exercise, I still have days where my brain compartmentalizes things. The minute I hear that diet voice telling me ‘I need to do something,’ I have the tendency to compartmentalize and think that exercise only counts if I go to the gym. Meanwhile, I’m literally breaking a sweat moving boxes and furniture yet somehow thinking that it doesn’t ‘count’ as exercise.

Remind yourself that cleaning your home counts as movement. I like to put on music and dance around the kitchen while I cook- that’s movement!

Stretching is movement too. When I was first healing my relationship with exercise, I would make a point to go to the gym and ONLY STRETCH. That was such a good way for me to heal and develop a routine around exercise- I proved to myself that I could just go for the sake of getting away from screens and stretching my body without feeling guilty for not doing enough. It was really empowering!


5. Resist the ‘obligation voice’

Something that came up this week after not going to the gym for a few days was the voice saying, “you should go.” I don’t like listening to that voice, so I didn’t. I spent the whole day running boxes all over the place and building furniture while moving.

The next day, I went to the gym for literally 10 minutes. I have to laugh at the fact that I can go to the gym for 10 minutes and barely break a sweat, but feel better about myself for that compared to the million things I did around my house that were way more strenuous.

This is such a good example of how your inner diet culture voice can create these arbitrary rules that make NO sense, and yet, if you don’t question them to ask:

  • Where is this coming from?
  • Is this even true?

Then you end up believing them and putting yourself in the position where you feel bad for something you should absolutely not feel bad about anyway!

We need to be doing the EXACT OPPOSITE of what this diet culture voice tells us at first. I am adamant that when I have that obligation voice telling me I ‘have to’ go to the gym or when I’m doing the math on when I last went to the gym, that’s when I know I am not going to the gym. I will NOT feed that voice. Because every time I give it something to work with, it grows a little stronger, and my goal is to weaken it. On those days when I feel like I ‘should’ go, I’m not going. If anything, I’ll do some dancing around the kitchen at home or stretch, but I will purposely ignore that voice and shut it down.

Now that I’m this far along in my own journey, I can tell the difference between the diet culture obligation voice, and the voice that tells me I need to go because I’m going to feel better afterwards. Those are different voices. The diet culture voice comes from a place of:

  • Guilt
  • Obligation
  • Rules
  • Making myself feel bad if I don’t go.

The ‘I’m tired but I know this will help me feel better’ voice has my best interest in mind. It’s the one that’s supporting me and trying to help me out. It took me a LONG TIME to find the difference between those two. It’s okay if you don’t know the difference right now! The only way you’ll be able to develop a long-term mindset is by being okay with not having it all figured out right now and NOT doing everything in your power to fix it.


Remember to allow yourself to take breaks knowing that you have enough trust in yourself that this is all for long-term good. The questioning voice that doesn’t trust you to have your best interest in mind is the one you need to work on.

All these things you’re doing in the short term that go against what the ‘rules’ are, are helping you to heal your relationship with exercise and be better off for the rest of your life.

Those are my 5 tips! I hope this gave you some clarity on your journey to healing your relationship with exercise. 

This post was transcribed and edited by Brittany Allison, Intuitive Eating Counsellor. You can find her on Instagram @thefoodfreedomlife.

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    xo, Whitney