Many people in the fitness community fall into one of two categories. The first category is filled with those that view their time at the gym as a necessity. These people feel energized, refueled, and fulfilled by their trips to the gym. A missed session would make for an incomplete day. The second category dreads every workout. The trip to the gym is a box to check off on the “to-do” list, and the workout is anticipated to be long, painful, and unpleasant. These categories are not necessarily distinct from each other. Rather, these categories fall on opposite sides of a spectrum. Regardless of which side of the spectrum you feel you typically fall, it may benefit your fitness journey to consider the following.
Why is it that there can be such dramatic differences in perspectives on exercise? There’s no denying that people are diverse in past experiences and preferences. Further, different physical baselines can make certain ways of being active more or less enjoyable. But what if there was something even more fundamental impacting your enjoyment, or lack thereof, of exercise? What if I told you your diet is killing your exercise joy?
This may be something of an understatement, but weight loss is a common goal among gym-goers. The saying “eat less, move more” is the paramount mantra of the weight-loss industry. Eating in a caloric deficit is touted as the only way to achieve the “ideal” body. But in actuality, how does “eat less, move more” make you feel? Lethargic? Weak? Irritable? This shouldn’t be surprising, as the body doesn’t function properly under circumstances of self-induced starvation.
If you have only ever used exercise as a means to lose weight or prevent weight-gain, you have likely experienced most workouts while in a caloric deficit. In other words, most of your workouts have been spent demanding your body to work harder while being provided less fuel. A workout without enough calories for energy is bound to feel like torture. In this state, it is no wonder workouts would be something to dread.
If you have always associated workouts with dieting, exercise has always been associated with feeling tired and weak. Exercise has always been a means for aiding weight loss and nothing more. Further, the exercise stops when the diet stops. And because diets are not sustainable, they always stop, eventually. Sometimes the break from the diet lasts a week, sometimes a month, and sometimes years. Regardless, the exercise often doesn’t resume until the diet does. If you’ve found that you fall into some iteration of this cycle, you may have not given yourself the permission nor opportunity to find a love for fitness. On the other hand, phases of “bulking and cutting” may be to blame for dips in motivation for the frequent gym-goers. Feel like your drive to be active is less than ideal? Consider the state of your nutrition.
If you forced yourself to go to the movie theaters starving and sit through a movie you don’t care for, you might find that going to the movies is an unpleasant experience. Why would the gym be any different than this? You may find that your time in the gym is much more enjoyable when you have the energy to run, jump, and row. Further, freeing yourself of the weight-loss goal may allow you to find methods of exercise you actually like. Feeding your body the calories it needs and giving yourself permission to do activities that sound exciting, instead of those that “burn the most calories”, might actually spark joy for movement. If you don’t dread the gym, or exercise in general, you won’t find yourself constantly digging deep for every morsel of motivation. When going to the gym is no longer a chore, but instead something to be excited for, you won’t need to dig for any motivation. You’ll no longer need to worry about “falling off the wagon” because you never got on the “wagon”. Instead, your purpose for exercise becomes enjoying the process of moving and feeling better.
At this point, I’m afraid I might have lost you. Whenever the suggestion of “eating more calories” comes out, most people shut down. These blasphemous words go against every tenant of the weight-loss and dieting culture we live in. The truth is, eating more calories may not be the fastest way to lose weight. Despite this, choosing not to starve yourself may give you the energy to explore new ways to enjoy exercise. Choosing to be active while giving your body what it needs may at least provide the motivation to be consistent with a workout routine. Consistency in a fitness routine is much easier to achieve when you aren’t scraping the bottom of your “willpower barrel” for every workout. With enough energy to enjoy every workout, you’re much more likely to stick to your fitness journey and reach your goals.