If you’re one of those people who dreads walking into the gym, picking up weights, or starting that workout DVD, the last thing you want to hear is someone who loves exercise go on about how awesome it is. In truth, I am one of those people who loves exercise to an annoying degree. I love getting my heart rate up, challenging myself, and seeing how much more my body can do each day. I’m sure some of you think it’s a condition—a sickness, that I could actually enjoy movement so much. But it’s actually an easily developed skill.
As nutritionist, I recommend exercise as a first step to creating a healthy relationship with food, and it has nothing to do with burning calories or “toning.”
The reasons I recommend incorporating exercise into your life before making food and nutrition changes might surprise you:
Exercise is the most important step for nutrition change:
I work with people who are ready to create a healthy relationship with food and who desire a fit body without extreme diets, starvation, and all of those other quick fixes that don’t work. That means that in our work together we have to go a bit deeper than “Here’s what to eat, here’s what not to eat.”
We have to learn to love ourselves unconditionally.
We have to learn to manage our emotions without food.
We have to learn to eat in a way that we love.
And these crucial mindset shifts are the foundational difference between a “DIE-t” and the Youtriton lifestyle, and why movement is so central to what we do.
Movement—or exercise—can help you love your body unconditionally. When we make the switch from focusing on what our bodies look like to what our bodies can do, we gain a new level of respect for ourselves. We can feel proud of our physical accomplishments, and it becomes so much easier to have a healthy relationship with our bodies and food.
Movement helps us end the battle of constantly fighting for less—less fat, less weight, less size, and gives us the ability to become more—more strong, more able, more fit.
As you start building more confidence in yourself and your physical abilities, you’ll see it translate to other areas of your life. You’ll know you can get through a tough day at work because you made it through that tough workout. You know you can get better at something you’re struggling with because you know you keep getting better at lifting weights, running, swimming . . . whatever you chose.
And all this leads to a healthier relationship with food because it becomes so much easier to nourish our bodies well. You want to eat well because it makes you feel even better. It makes your workout stronger, and it helps you recover better. You want to eat in a way that supports your activities and provides you with the natural high that comes from exercising and moving, and which also helps combat stress and emotional eating. And all of this has the awesome side effect of getting you leaner and fitter.
However, to do this successfully requires a much different mindset than what most people think of when they think of exercise. And in truth, it’s the past mindset of trying to get in shape or burn calories that leads to much of the reason we hate exercise in the first place:
Here’s why you dread going to the gym:
Here are some of the biggest obstacles that keep us from seeing the true benefits of exercise:
- We think it has to be extreme. From watching shows like The Biggest Loser and following Instagram celebrities who spend two hours a day in the gym, we imagine that’s what we have to do to make progress. In reality, doing more than you’re doing now, even by a little bit, will help you become more successful in the long run.
- We limit our options for exercising. Just like assuming we have to dedicate 10 hours a week to exercising, we think that we have to do an hour of weight training and an hour of cardio on some stationary machine. Truthfully, for most people, one of those two hours is BORRRING!
- We see exercise as a form of punishment. We’ve been trained by the media and self-proclaimed fitness gurus that exercise is what we do when we’re unhappy with our bodies or when we feel guilty about what we’ve eaten. This negative association with movement and exercise leads us to not want to do it, because even unconsciously, we don’t want to do things associated with those negative feelings.
So how do we break through this barrier of trading sanity for calories on the treadmill and finally create a healthy, fun, and enjoyable exercise habit?
How to LOVE exercise once and for all:
Step 1: Just get started –
Much of the dread of exercise actually happens before any exercise begins. We think about hitting the gym and a knot forms in our stomach. We don’t want to face those buff gym people. We don’t want to get in the car and go. We don’t want to stop what we’re already doing. We don’t want to change into gym clothes. (Just do what I do and live in gym clothes.)
When those thoughts come up, here’s what you need to know: science confirms that you are going to enjoy your workout much more than you think you will.
A 2011 Healthy Psychology research study showed that people severely underestimated how much they would enjoy exercise because of a phenomenon called “forecasting myopia,” which means we judge the entire event based on the first few minutes. Because—let’s be honest—the first few minutes of the workout are the toughest. Getting out of the house, getting to the gym, and getting started is so much harder than actually doing your workout.
Here are some real-life examples of people who were able to just get started and make movement a part of their lives:
What’s really cool about what Valerie does here is that she recognizes how the exercise will make here feel, and that helps her get going. Plus, she makes the hard part more pleasant by adding something enjoyable: a podcast. Music is another good option too!
Here’s another great example from Emily. Her story shows so powerfully how if you get started (and keep at it) you will eventually want to keep doing it
When you’re in that “should I stay or should I go” phase, do yourself a favor and . . . Just. Get. Started. Once you do, you’ll enjoy it much more than you expected.
Step 2: Find your people –
Every morning at 9:30 am I meet with my people to exercise. My people are my colleagues, my mentor, and my friends. I show up because they show up. They show up because I show up. And together we all enjoy movement more than if we were working out alone in isolation.
If you want to enjoy your exercise more (and get better results) an important key is to find your community. Even if your preference is going it alone, there are huge benefits to being part of a group.
A 2011 study by David Renjilian and colleagues revealed a shocking discovery: they found 75 participants who had a strong preference for either group weight loss therapy or individual weight loss therapy, then divided them equally among individual and group therapies. Half of the participants who wanted individual got group therapy and half who wanted group therapy got individual.
What they found was that across the board, those who participated in group therapy had better results, losing an average of 5 more pounds over 6 months than those who participated in individual therapy, regardless of what their preference was.
Finding a community may be super easy for extremely outgoing extroverted types, but for more shy or introverted people, it may be even more dreaded than exercise itself for a couple of reasons.
#1. Introverts need alone time – I’m an introvert, so I totally get it. However, I value my time with my community because of what it gives me that exercising alone doesn’t. The key is to realize you don’t have to socialize. You don’t have to make small talk. The key to having a group isn’t to have a party, but to feel you belong.
#2. Finding a community is difficult – And it can be, for both introverts and extroverts. However, it’s entirely possible to create a community or find one that fits your goals.
Here are four ways to find your workout buddies:
- Join an existing community. This is, by far, the easiest option. You start showing up somewhere regularly, and at some point, you feel at home. There are a variety of communities from mommy boot camps, to Meetup groups, to gym classes. The trick is to research and visit a few and find one that seems like the best fit for now. I say that because nothing is going to feel natural at first. Even in my incredibly welcoming and fun community, I was there for at least six months before I felt like I was part of the group. If you’re in the Salt Lake area, you’re welcome to join my , you’re welcome to join my Saturday morning group!
- Rally your supporters to become your community. This is another easy option, provided your friends and family are on board to start some type of exercise. There are likely a lot more people than you know who are interested in getting fit, but they struggle with motivation, time, and commitment. You organizing a group may be just what they need to feel more comfortable getting moving. The downside to this: being the group leader means more responsibility, more planning, and more dedication.
- Start a group from scratch. This is the hardest of all four options. You can start a group of complete strangers, getting together and doing something you have in common. I’m going to stop there because I really don’t recommend this strategy. It’s a lot of work. If you do it successfully, please let me know.
- Join an online community. Sometimes, it just isn’t possible to join an in-person community. So, the next best option is an online group that helps you stay consistent, roots for you, and helps you feel like you’re part of something. Examples include free fit sisterhood group, my fit sisterhood group or my premium coaching groups — these are places you can go to get virtual support when in-person support isn’t possible. Whenever possible, however, meeting people in person is best.
Step 3: Keep getting better –
There’s a common myth that if we love something, we’ll continue to work at it, and we’ll eventually get better. The truth is almost the opposite: the more we do something, the better we get, and in turn, the more we love it. Cal Newport talks about this in his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You. In talking about careers and jobs, he talks about how following your passion is overrated, and that getting better and becoming skilled is what leads to happiness and enjoyment.
The same can be said about exercise and movement, too. If you wait until you find that right way to exercise that you absolutely love, you might never get started. But if you start, stick to it, and work on getting better, you’ll find yourself automatically enjoying it more.
Getting better isn’t just about doing more every time, it’s about putting some key things in place so that you see the incremental improvements you’re making.
Stop comparing yourself to anyone else or where you think you should be – if you want to instantly lose motivation, think about how someone is better than you, or that you’re not where you should be. That will destroy all of the awesome motivation that comes from actually getting better because all of the sudden, your “better” isn’t good enough. Learn to recognize what you’re doing well, and when the thoughts of “I wish I were as good as so and so” or “I should be better than I am” come up, let those thoughts go. They aren’t serving you or helping you improve.
- Stop comparing yourself to anyone else or where you think you should be. If you want to instantly lose motivation, think about how someone is better than you, or that you’re not where you should be. That will destroy all of the awesome motivation that comes from actually getting better, because all of a sudden, your “better” isn’t good enough. Learn to recognize what you’re doing well, and when the thoughts of “I wish I were as good as so and so” or “I should be better than I am” come up, let those thoughts go. They aren’t serving you or helping you improve.
- Show up consistently. There are a lot of people out there selling shortcuts on how to get better at in all areas of life, and a lot of people who are interested in “getting better” fall for them, leading them to forget what really leads to improvement: consistency. Getting better comes from showing up day in and day out, not from some weird trick, supplement, or meal timing pattern. Show up, do the work, and you will see improvement, and that improvement is what will help you keep going.
- Keep track of your progress. Getting better only helps you love what you’re doing more if you actually recognize the progress you’re making. Using a workout journal or log to keep track of how you’re improving, how much weight you’re lifting, or how fast you can run will help you see the improvements you’re making and help you want to keep seeing improvement.
Of course, it’s much easier to see improvement if you’re doing something that’s easy to track, like lifting weights. However, if your form of movement cannot be measured quantitatively, like yoga or hiking, you can still track your progress qualitatively, by spending a minute writing down what you did better this time than in the past.
As you keep tracking your progress, you’ll notice that it’s not always linear. You won’t see a consistent increase in your abilities from day to day week to week, but if you keep consistent, you’ll see a general pattern of getting better when you look at the months and years.
They say that marriage is work and love is a verb. But as cliché as it might sound, after seven years of being happily married, I agree 100 percent. The hormones at work when we first meet someone aren’t love; instead, those raging hormones are infatuation. Love is what develops after time, consistency, and sacrifice.
Falling in love with exercise and movement is the same—it’s doing the work that leads to the love of it.
The three keys to enjoying exercise:
- Recognize the future benefit of exercise and how it will help you feel.
- Find a fitness community to join.
- Focus on improving your skills and strength.
These three things increase enjoyment and help you fall in love with exercise.
The sneaky truth of those of us who love exercise: It’s not a disease. It’s not a psychological condition. It’s that we show up, and we do it. We participate in a community, and we keep getting better. And by the doing that, we truly learn to love it.