In our weight-focused, diet-driven culture, experiencing special foods during the holiday season can be tainted by guilt (more about the problem with this mindset here). Many people view exercise as a source of relief from this guilt, promising, “I’ll eat this piece of cheesecake tonight, but tomorrow, I’ll hit the gym hard to make up for it.” Others just sigh to themselves, or comment about how many miles they’d have to run to burn off all the calories they just consumed.
The problem with this mindset is that it frames enjoyment of food as a crime and exercise as the punishment. We hear a voice in our heads saying, “Did you eat something tasty last night? To make up for it, you’d better do crunches and push-ups.” Or, “Oh, you chose pizza last night instead of salad? Shame on you—time to run 4 miles.”
When exercise is utilized only in the context of shame and guilt, how can any of us be surprised when it’s not our favorite thing to do? When we are only thinking about burning off yesterday’s calories, we are less likely to think about which exercise we actually enjoy doing. This, in turn, results in even more shame when we find that we can’t stick to the intense exercise regimen that we prescribed for ourselves.
Instead of buying into the “exercise punishment” mentality this holiday season, try picking ways to be active that you enjoy. Go mall-walking with a friend you’ve been wanting to catch up with. Try an exercise class that looks fun to you. Go sledding with the kids (if you can brave the cold weather). Both exercise and food are gifts, to be enjoyed with thankfulness. You may be surprised at how much easier it is to fit exercise into your life if you don’t hate every second of it!