As most people know, I love to move and people often assume that I do like 17 hours of exercise a day. And while this might have been true at some points in my life (maybe not 17 but hey…) it couldn´t be further from the truth today.
But before we get to today, let´s go back to a time when I was over ten years younger and running up to 40miles a week and going to the gym 6 times a week. I was on a constant mission to “burn calories” and I thought the more I burnt, the better I would feel & the more I could justify eating whatever I wanted.
I would keep count of the amount of calories I was eating and then go to the gym to “burn off” the same amount, or more, in the hope it would make me lose weight, which it didn´t. I was constantly sore, hungry & tired and I was unhappy with the way I looked and felt. I was a “calorie burning” queen yet I was heavier than ever and I could see no solution to the problem.
The problem wasn´t the problem. The problem was my attitude with the problem. My sole measure and guide for exercise was calorie burning yet now I know that this is a deeply flawed concept. There are so many other factors that affect the way we look & feel than just calories in/calories out.
First and foremost, no amount of exercise will outdo a mediocre diet and the quality of the calories we ingest is far more important than their quantity. I would say 80% of the way we feel & look is down to the quality of what we eat & our mindset. Only 20% or less is down to exercise. Yet a lot of us assume it´s the other way around and use exercise to make up for the questionable qualities of our diets.
Whether this is something you can relate to or not, I encourage you to reassess your relationship with food & exercise by asking yourself the following questions:
· What is your motivation for exercise? Is it to look a certain way? If so, try flipping that idea into feeling a certain way instead… Not only will it help you reach your goal sooner but it will also change your mindset towards exercise and make it more of a positive one. For example, turn “I need to exercise to burn calories to lose weight” into “I exercise because it makes my body feel good!”
· Reassess your long-term goals. If your reason for exercising is to maintain good health and enjoy the things you love when you get older, pounding the pavement to mindlessly burn calories may not be your best option. When I was clocking up the miles in my early 20´s, my boyfriend at the time asked me if I wanted to be able to ski when I got older. Of course I did. This stuck with me because it made me realize that if I was feeling pain in my joints in my 20´s chances were, I´d be in a lot more trouble in my 50´s if I kept doing what I was doing.
· Don´t let yourself get bullied into thinking that exercise needs to be hard and horrendous to be effective. There has been a massive rise of hardcore training where people get yelled at and pushed to their limit in recent years. While some people may enjoy this, I want you to know that it´s ok if you don´t. I love exercise, I consider myself to be pretty damn fit but I know that pushing my body to its limit on a regular basis is not something I enjoy, nor something that is healthy for me.
· You know your body better than anyone else. Exercising should make your body feel better, not worse. Pushing yourself is sometimes good but injuring yourself is not. The guy yelling down your ear to push harder is not going to bear the consequences of your injuries so speak up or back off if it doesn´t feel good. You are the master of your body and even though trainers are well intentioned, they can´t feel your pain for you.
· Sometimes less is more. This took me sooooo long to understand. Certain types of exercise create stress on our bodies and our bodies respond by releasing hormones (cortisol among others). These hormones can contribute to making the body store fat, mainly around the abdomen. I know it might seem crazy but too much exercise can actually make you store fat around your belly. If you´re already exercising a lot and not getting the results you want, don´t be stupid like I was and exercise even more. Try exercising less or swapping one of your workouts for a more relaxing one like Yoga and see how it makes you feel.
· Variety is the spice of life: try to integrate different forms of exercise into your workout routine. A lot of people tell me they don´t do Pilates or Yoga because they´re not flexible. But this is exactly why they should be doing it! Stretching was never part of my routine because it didn´t burn calories (I feel so stupid writing this now!!!) yet it wasn´t until I started doing Pilates & Yoga that I started feeling looser, lighter and developed the long, lean muscles I had always been longing for!
· Finally, exercise from a place of love… Without wanting to sound too hippy here, consider the thoughts that are going through your mind when you´re exercising. If they come from a place of hate and that you are somehow using exercise to punish yourself (this may seem like a weird concept for those who have never experienced it…) then try dig a little deeper to understand where this is coming from and address it. Your body doesn´t deserve to be beaten up only because you are unhappy in certain areas of your life. Use exercise as a form of self-love and think of movement as a way to nurture your body, not as a way to destroy it!
So today, my motto is “fcuk the calorie burning” and my focus is on nourishing my body with food and movement that makes it feel good! Calories are no longer part of my thought process and as weird as it may seem, it feels extremely liberating. I have completely overhauled my diet to one that focuses on quality rather than on calories and that keeps me feeling good, slim & energized regardless of the amount of exercise I have time for. I encourage you to find the balance that feels good for YOU, and this may start with thinking outside the "calorie burning box".