Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Exercise is healthy, right?

Oh, if I could count the number of times I say the phrase,

"Yes, exercise is good for you. Until it's an eating disorder symptom, and then it's bad for you." 


"Yes, exercise is a good way to reduce anxiety, until it's an eating disorder symptom, and then it only serves to increase anxiety."

Exercise is the "socially acceptable way of purging." Really, using exercise to "get rid of food" is no different than any other form of purging. But, wow, we sure do give people a lot of attention for exercise, seemingly irregardless of situations where it is clear someone's exercise is not healthy, or they are not healthy. Of course, often exercise is a really good thing. But not always. And it shouldn't ever be about appearance.

Although our society is incredibly confused on this point, the intent of exercise is not to control weight or change appearance! If you really look at it physiologically, it's pretty simple. Exercise does NOT make you lose weight. Physiologically, exercise.....makes you hungrier! So, yes, you can lose weight by exercising. But, you also will have to not eat enough to support the exercise, for this to happen. If you follow hunger and fullness cues, exercise will just make you eat more.

So, it frustrates me that our society ruins exercise by making it all about weight loss. There are so many other purposes for exercise. Why do you exercise? (Please, no "to lose weight"s or "to change my appearance"s.)

And, please, rather than complimenting someone who exercises on their appearance, find something else to compliment. Let's try to override society's skewed view of exercise!


  1. Honestly, (trusting that we are actually being honest here) why would someone exercise if not to change their appearance? Whether it be to tone or even for men to gain bigger muscles. I would be very skeptical of anyone who did it for any other reason.

  2. I exercise because it gives me energy to keep up with my 18 month old son. It also makes me less anxious, gives me some time to myself, and makes me feel like I am taking care of myself. So, nothing to do with how I look, and all about how I feel :)


  3. When I am in the right frame of mind, exercise is a great stress reliever for me and a break from my kids. I feel like it clears my brain from the stresses of the day.

    I would love to read a blog on your thoughts about the focus of the media and government on childhood obesity. I am an elementary school teacher and next year our school is doing a big focus on "Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds." I've been to several trainings, where we have learned ways to implement quick physical activities into the curriculum and helping kids make in the trainer's words "healthy food choices." While most of what we have learned I feel is good, I can't help but feel like the way we are teaching our kids about "good and bad" or "healthy and unhealthy" foods is just wrong. The trainers even taught us one activity where students were to compare different food labels. I was appalled! I don't know if that is because I have a history with an eating disorder and I'm being ultra sensitive to what might be good for most. I just feel like society in general is going about fixing the obesity problem all wrong.

  4. Krista, give me a bit to research the specifics re: the government stance on childhood obesity. I could definitely share some thoughts now, but want to be able to relate it as best I can to the actual stated agenda.

    Anon #1: I guess all I can really speak to is my own attitude toward exercise. I have the experience of unhealthy exercise, and then healthy exercise. For me, unhealthy exercise was focused almost solely on changing my appearance or weight, and the thought process was all about those topics. Now, as a healthy exerciser, I can say:
    I do weight training because I am pretty short, and don't want to be seen as weak. If I need to move furniture at home or the office, I don't want to feel that feeling of not being strong enough to help.
    I do yoga because I am the most inflexible human on the face of the earth. I really think I might be. And yoga helps correct some of the "damage" that comes from running...ie, misalignment, tight muscles.
    I run, and this is the one where I can most tell a difference between healthy and unhealthy, because of the feeling of freedom. Okay, so maybe this is a bit weird for a therapist to say, but I run because, for that time, nobody can talk to me! It is my time to be by myself and spin through whatever thoughts I need to process. I love being outside, and will now only run in the canyon by where I live because that is really the only place I enjoy; I hate running city streets. Finally, I run because it helps correct a couple medical issues, and that is a big piece of what has kept me hooked.
    I hope these answers help address your question, and come across as honest as they are!

  5. Ah this is SO old but.. I've done a LOT of healthy exercise, and some not so healthy. I still can't really go into a gym, b/c it's., well, not healthy.. the elliptical trainer serves as a bad bad memory.

    Anon 1: I've always been an athlete (well, for most of my life). I was a gymnast for a long time. It was about competing, it was my LIFE as a child, it was about improving.. etc. It was not about changing my appearrance.

    Now, I run. Seriously, only outside, the treadmill still gives me nightmares.. I will run in snow and rain instead of a treadmill. I love it. I tune out. It's MY time. I train for marathons. Trust me, not every ED professional was thrilled about this. But it's proven to be healthy for me. I set goals. I train for them. I accomplish them. It's helpful for me to have a race to train for, b/c that's just how I work. I run those races to improve, for the atmosphere, etc. Honestly, I havne't lost weight or anything during marathon training. Ny body's changed a little from when I was a gymnast, but that has more to do with the nature of the sport (anoroebic v. aerobic). I don't run to change my apperrance.. I adjust my diet to keep up with the amount, and I love the whole process.

    I do yoga to relax, build core strength to help stress fractures in my back (from gymnastics) and because I like the relaxing time.

    1. Thanks for this Katie. I am glad you have been able to distinguish ED exercise from healthy exercise. I think it is sometimes as subtle as treadmill versus road. I actually work a lot to get people to go outside for exercise because so much ED exercise does happen on a machine. It certainly happens outside also; not denying that.