- Fitness Tips -

Why It’s OK to Give Up the Fitness Guilt

This time of social distancing can be an opportunity to let go of all the exercise “shoulds” and instead discover what really moves you.  

A woman in workout clothes hangs her head.

Since stay-in-place orders have ramped up, I’ve noticed an interesting social-media phenomenon that can best be summed up by a description I saw on Instagram: turning quarantine into “fat camp.”

Many people are publicly committing on social media to “get ripped” and come out of the COVID-19 crisis — which has infected almost 2 million people worldwide and killed thousands — in “the best shape I’ve ever been.”

The pressure to hop on this bandwagon can be overwhelming.

Now, don’t get me wrong — as an athlete and fitness editor, I know that movement is powerful. Exercise is an incredible tool for supporting overall health and mobility as well as building confidence and a sense of security in one’s own skin. In times of fear and uncertainty, many of us tap into moving our bodies for stress relief, self-regulation, and grounding. And as many of us shelter in place, those who haven’t had time for, or interest in, fitness may now be ready to commit to make it a priority to move their bodies more.

Friendly competition and accountability can also be incredibly motivating and foster a sense of connection when we are forced to be apart. And it is a relief to have so many options available for on-demand and at-home workouts designed by brilliant fitness minds who want to make a difference in people’s quality of life and health while we wait out a frightening, frustrating scenario.

That said, I invite everyone to look at the intentions behind their movement practices:

  • Are you looking to get fit quickly?
  • Are you afraid of losing the fitness gains you’ve worked hard for over the years?
  • Do you feel pressured to keep up with tough workouts even when your intuition is begging you to slow down?

There isn’t a right or wrong answer to these questions, but I do believe there is value in asking them and considering them openly and honestly. You might find that much of what we think we “should” do is a myth.

The truth is that it is OK if your body changes right now. Realistically, with the new routines that all of us are navigating, it is likely that all of our bodies will change. Is it possible to embrace that change and be curious about these changes, rather than spend energy fighting them to hold onto an old normal?

The truth is that you can take this time to treat yourself better, to look at habits and parts of your old routine that didn’t serve your physical or mental health. Perhaps there is time and interest for exercise and movement where there wasn’t before. Is it possible to explore this new interest to discover what type of activity feels and works best for your body, rather than succumb to preconceived notions of what fitness looks like?

The truth is that it’s natural to be afraid of losing fitness gains during an unplanned or undesired training break, but it’s also the truth that you can bounce back. Is it possible to view the break as an opportunity to mix up training regimens — and even rest — knowing that fitness is a long game, rather than viewing this interruption in your regularly scheduled program as a loss?

The truth is that exercise is a stressor. We often think of it very simplistically as a “good stress,” one that counteracts “bad stress.” But your body needs to be able to reconcile all of that stress. Is it possible to keep this in mind as you make fitness-related choices in the midst of a new stressful situation, rather than push through a routine that worked before everything else changed?

The truth is that allusions to “fat camp” smack of phobia and hatred, and they feed societal fears of fatness. During this time — or really, any time there is a change in routine — some bodies will gain weight and some may lose weight. Causes for both include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • Changes in how and how much you’re moving your body.
  • Changes in types of food you have access to and interest in.
  • Changes in stress and anxiety.

There is no inherent value in weight loss or gain, no moral imperative in smaller or bigger bodies. Is it possible to make positive changes to your fitness without posting on social media or saying something that disparages a particular body type, even if it’s your body type?

Is it possible to unfollow accounts that make you feel bad, overwhelmed, or pressured, and instead follow accounts that engage you in a more empowering way?

Remember: Kindness is not antithetical to fitness and good health. However you choose to move (or not), it won’t hurt to explore how you can do so with kindness, for yourself and others. Do so and you may find that you come out on the other side of this crisis better than before.

, RKC, MFT-1, is an Experience Life senior editor and Alpha Strong coach at Life Time.

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