I’ve seen an unhealthy relationship with fitness time and time again. At the gym, on the interwebz, and even with friends and family. Truth is, most people suffer from an unhealthy relationship with fitness. And the worst part? Their progress suffers too.
The problem isn’t fitness, it’s our relationship with it.
Odds are, you’ve had first-hand experience with fitness as an emotionally and physically abusive partner. The guilt and shame that “being fit” can make people feel are detrimental to our health. So here’s a public service announcement…
You don’t have to exercise every single day
You don’t have to “earn” the foods you enjoy.
You don’t have to feel bad every time you deviate from your plan.
In fact, you really shouldn’t do any of that. It’s okay to rest, to eat, and to give yourself some wiggle room.
If we were in a romantic relationship with someone that treated us the way the fitness world often does, we wouldn’t merely walk away—we’d run.
It’s time to end your unhealthy relationship with fitness. A clean break. Slap it—backhand—in the face. Throw it out of the house. And slam the door as it leaves.
I’m about to show you exactly how to finally end this unhealthy relationship. But first, some context.
Visiting Family: Good Food, Better Company
Yesterday, I got home from visiting my family. It was great. The whole family was in town. My parents, my sisters, my brother, his wife, their two kids (both under the age of two), and the dog. It was a packed house. And even though I shared a room with my very vocal niece, it was a great time.
For me, vacations are all about good food and better company. My trip was full of both.
Honestly, I ate a ton and it was delicious. We ordered in, ate out, and even whipped up incredible recipes at home. My visit was full of sweets, treats, feasts, and no less than three breakfast burritos from my favorite spot right next to the high school.
(Real talk: if you’re ever in Santa Clarita, California, go to Jimmy Dean’s and get a breakfast burrito with a side of ranch. It’ll change your life. Seriously.)
Basically, I ate whatever I wanted. Zero guilt. In fact, I didn’t even consider that someone would feel guilty for such a trip. Well, not until my drive back home to Utah.
Why Most People Have an Unhealthy Relationship with Fitness
Driving from Los Angeles back to my apartment in Provo is 9–10 hours of nothing but desert and Joshua Trees. It’s long. It’s boring. And podcasts are my saving grace.
This time, one was particularly thought-provoking. It was the Art of Charm, episode 576 with Darya Rose.
At 21:44 in the podcast, Darya explains how the moral component to food (and even working out) actually hurts progress. This moralization of food and exercise helps to create the unhealthy relationship with fitness I’m talking about.
Here’s what she says:
“There’s this idea that some foods are innately good and some foods are innately bad. People do this with whole categories of foods. Like carbs, right? Or fat. Or meat. Or whatever. And when you moralize your food choices, basically it makes it so that you’re always using willpower. Because you’re preventing yourself from being bad.”
“And so, then what inevitably happens? You, eventually, let yourself have it. And you feel sick. And for some people, on top of that, they feel guilty. And they’ll binge the whole next day and maybe for a week or two.”
She Slapped Me in the Feels
As I listened, I realized I used to be that guy.
Several years ago, when I started working on my own fitness, everything had a label. There were good and bad foods, good and bad exercises, good and bad supplements. And how I felt about myself—good or bad—had everything to do with these things that received arbitrarily labels.
My entire day could be ruined by something like missing my workout or having too many carbs. Put simply, I had an unhealthy relationship with fitness.
Yesterday, as I sat in my car cruising I-15 in Utah just north of Cedar City, I chuckled at how much I’ve changed. I pigged out while I visited home and ate all kinds of “bad” foods. Years ago, I would have felt awfully about my trip. But yesterday, I felt zero guilt. At all. If anything, I was jubilant because I freaking love food.
That’s when it hit me.
I realized how I made the change. How I went from an unhealthy relationship with fitness and mediocre results to a healthy relationship with fitness (literally) and amazing results. Now, I’m going to show you exactly how I did it.
Fixing an Unhealthy Relationship with Fitness
It’s a simple paradigm shift, really. If the problem is a moralization of food and fitness, the fix is changing that frame of mind. Unfortunately, that can be much easier said than done. But here’s the simple realization that, for me, changed the game:
There’s a time and a place for everything.
Like, seriously. Every. Single. Thing. Missing a workout or eating a cookie doesn’t make you a failure. And it definitely doesn’t make you a bad person. Even though an unhealthy relationship with fitness might try to tell you otherwise, it’s wrong. Trust me, I’m a professional.
As we learn to accept the fact that there’s a time and a place for everything, the awful feelings of guilt and shame that come from an unhealthy relationship with fitness begin to fade. Over time, they’ll disappear altogether.
That’s when the magic happens—amazing results without the pain and inevitable failure of an overly restrictive plan.
I don’t care what your favorite exercises are, everything can be part of a well-designed program.
There’s a time and a place for rolling into the gym and setting new personal records. There’s also time and a place for skipping your workout to snag some overdue rest and recovery.
There’s a time and a place for powerlifting. For Zumba. For Bosu Balls. For jogging. For bodybuilding. For machines. For free weights. And yes, haters, there’s even a time and a place for CrossFit.
Sometimes, you feel like a million bucks. Other times, you feel like fifty cents. You may love dancing, jogging, or bodybuilding. You could be recovering from an injury, brand new to the gym, or a seasoned veteran. Factors like these should affect your training. Not some asinine list of what’s supposedly good and bad.
It works with food, too.
There’s a time and a place for nailing your nutrition plan and eating piles of veggies. There’s also a time and a place for going full fat kid and enjoying your favorite foods.
Sometimes, you’re craving that salad, roasted veggies, and lean protein. Other times, you just want a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Or cheesecake. You may love tracking your foods, eating intuitively, or being a vegan. You could be sensitive to gluten, enjoy bread, or want fried comfort food. It’s all okay. In fact, it’s normal.
These are the types of things that should affect your eating. Not some ridiculous list that tells you which foods are good and bad. Because…
There’s a time and place for anything and everything.
When it comes to fitness, it doesn’t boil down to good and bad, do and don’t, should and shouldn’t. If you ever feel guilty about training or nutrition, it’s probably because of an unhealthy relationship with fitness.
Lucky for you, there’s a time and a place for everything. For your favorite exercises. For your favorite foods. And even for skipping a workout to curl up on the couch with Netflix and ice cream.
When I realized this one simple truth, it all clicked. There aren’t inherently good or bad foods and exercises. Instead, everything can be part of a fit life. Understanding this not only leads to results, but those results are more sustainable. Plus, you get to ditch the misery of guilt and shame along the way.
During my recent trip home, my sister wanted to make onion rings from scratch. Obviously, I helped. Because yum.
It came time to start frying and my mom said she had olive oil. For frying onion rings? No thanks. For one, I wanted them to taste like onion rings, not olive rings. Also, olive oil has a relatively low smoking point. Translation: it’s not great for high heat or frying.
Then we found shortening—the golden child of deep frying.
The only problem is that shortening’s full of trans fats, which can have devastating effects on cardiovascular health. Usually, I don’t have trans fats or hydrogenated oils.
But I was a vacation. I was making good food with better company. And I leaped at the chance to fry up our onion rings in shortening. That night, it was the right time and the right place.
I enjoyed every delicious bite.