How to heal your relationship with exercise

My previous relationship with exercise

Around four years ago, I started the gym and I soon became obsessed with the results. I was constantly getting external validation about my body. I was toned, I’d lost a lot of body fat and what was at first a healthy hobby became an obsession.

Suddenly, my motivation for going to the gym was no longer from a place of love for wanting to move my body, it was from a place of fear. I felt like I had to ‘purge’ what I’d eaten the day before. I was using exercise as a punishment or/and trying to manipulate my body into something that I was constantly seeking. “I will be happy when…”

I’ve had such a terrible relationship with exercise in the past, to the point where I went on a girl’s holiday and our flight was at six in the morning so I got up at like 2.30 am to do a 10k run before we flew,  just so I could get some exercise in!!! That’s not a normal relationship with exercise…

How do you know if you have a healthy or a toxic relationship with exercise?

The simplest way to determine this is how does it make you feel? When you’re about to exercise, how does it make you feel? Knowing that our feelings always come from our thoughts and our perceptions, let’s start off with getting curious about what’s going off in our heads…

Do you say things like “Oh, my gosh, this is going to be so hard. I’m not going to enjoy this. I’m going to feel exhausted?!” Are you thinking things like, “Well, I’ve got to exercise because I ate X, Y, and Z last night, or I’ve got to exercise because I need to lose this weight for my goal?”

How does that make you feel? When you go to exercise? Does it make you feel excited or expanded? Or does it make you feel contracted and kind of like ‘yack’ energy?

The obvious solution here is to switch your thinking to things like, “I’m so blessed that I have an able body, I’m looking forward to moving and feeling that glow afterward!” “I’m not going to put pressure on myself, I’m going to do what feels good and most importantly, have fun!”

Next, I’m going to give you nine tips or tricks to help you heal your relationship with exercise.

1. Choose positive self-discipline

Okay, number one,to heal your relationship with exercise is to always choose positive self discipline.

What do I mean by this? It goes back again to “why” – that magic word. Why are you exercising? Are you exercising because you actually want to move your body because it feels good? Or are you exercising because you feel like you need to because of what you ate at the weekend or you feel like you need to because you need to fit into your dress by whatever date?

It’s all about the why. When we talk about positive self-discipline, I’m not gonna lie some days, my alarm goes off and then I’m like, “Oh, no, I really can’t be bothered to do my workout this morning!” But then I connect back with myself and I’m like, “Okay, is this coming from a place of actually needing to rest because I’m sore or is it coming from a place of needing to get my ass out of bed and exercise because I’m being a little bit lazy but knowing I’ll feel so much better afterward?”

It all comes down to, do the pros outweigh the cons of the reason why you’re doing that exercise or body movement? If you’re wanting to exercise to burn calories, I hate to break it to you, but it actually doesn’t work the way you think it does. First of all, when we exercise, yes, we burn calories but how much depends on your genetics, how fit you are now, how your body metabolizes and actually works from the inside, and we’re all different. But if you’re only exercising to specifically burn calories, it’s not going to work in that way and here’s why…

When you exercise… your body’s hungrier. So you will find that on the days you exercise, you’re naturally more hungry than the days you don’t exercise. And that’s a beautiful thing, because your body’s like, “Hey girl, I need more calories over here please, I need more nutrients because I’ve moved more today.” There’s no avoiding that hunger.

I actually used to exercise on purpose on my “cheat days” which are way behind me now, just so I would be hungrier because I always get hungrier when I exercise and we all know that food tastes even better when we are actually hungry! So it’s actually counterproductive if you’re only exercising to lose weight or to burn calories, because if you’re honoring your body’s hunger, which you should always do, then you’re going to be hungrier anyway.

I have a great question to ask you…

If your body was to never, ever change from this point on, no matter what exercise you did, would you still do the exercise that you’re doing right now?

Let’s say tomorrow morning, your alarm goes off. And you ask yourself this question,

“If my body would never change from doing what I’m just about to do, would I still do the exercise?”

The reason that is such a powerful question is that the reason for exercising the most helpful way is because you want to do it, because it makes you feel good, not because you feel like you need to or you have to in order to reach X, Y and Z or to burn x y & z.

So that’s tip number one, finding out why you want to exercise in the first place. What’s your motivation behind it? Always choose positive self-discipline. Okay, tip number two is short and sweet ….

2. Change your language.

If you’ve followed me for a while you will have heard me banging on about food language all the time. For example, what most people call “junk food” is processed food, not junk. The fact is, it’s processed. Processed is a neutral word. It’s not good or bad apart from the conditioning and the meaning that you/we put to it from conditioning. It’s not junk food, it’s processed food. It’s not good or bad. It’s just food.

The same with exercise. It’s really helpful to swap the word exercise or working out, especially because if you think of the word “working out” it has the word “work” in it and “work” is associated with “having” to do something.

So how about changing your language around exercise to body movement, so it doesn’t even have to be exercise, it can purely be body movement?

So that was short and sweet. Tip number two, just notice the language that you use and change it to body movement as that feels a lot softer, a lot more loving. And tip number three is…

3. Find out what you actually enjoy doing.

What body movement actually makes you feel good? Maybe it was something from childhood. Short personal story – When I first moved to the Netherlands, which was three years ago now as I type this, I wanted to rekindle my love for gymnastics. So I joined a gymnastic group and off I went. When I got there I realised I had a huge hole in my leggings right on the crotch area. So I was like, “Hi, I’m English, sorry I can’t speak Ducth, I haven’t done any gymnastics since I was 16 and I have a hole in my leggings where the sun doesn’t shine! Just putting it out there. So that you know!” That actually was a form of self-protection because I put it out there so that no one would talk about me behind my back but that’s another thing altogether…. Point in this story being that I started gymnastics, and I really, really enjoyed it.

So what did you used to enjoy doing as a child or as a teenager or at school or whatever? And why are you not doing that now? Maybe it was dancing. Maybe it was badminton. If you can bring pure fun and enjoyment into body movement, you’re more likely to want to do it. Because body movement is great. It’s really healthy. I’ll always advocate body movement. But it’s the why. And it’s having fun while you’re doing it that is so important. So tip number four is…

4. Connect to gratitude.

Even if you can’t do something, or you suck at something, we can always connect to gratitude. When I first started lifting weights – I was a completely different person to who I am right now – I couldn’t do a lot of the movements very well at all. My form was awful to put it kindly and I used to get really frustrated. I felt like a loser. I felt like a beginner. Because guess what… I was a beginner. And the beautiful thing about that is that we’ve all gotta start somewhere!

Be prepared to suck at it first and just be grateful that your body can actually move. I remember the first time I ever ran, I was really fit in the gym. I was doing burpees, squat jumps, all these high-intensity interval training classes and my mum asked me to go for a jog with her one day I was like, “yeah sure it will be a good warm up for me!” But oh my gosh, I couldn’t even run from one lamppost to the next without dying and feeling like my stitch was going to split me in half! So back then, me being me, I got annoyed that I couldn’t actually run and so I took it upon myself to practice and train to run the fastest 10k possible for a woman. Obviously I didn’t achieve the goal of the fastest women’s 10k but I did pretty well – with my fastest 10k being 46 minutes.

The point is, I started somewhere and I improved immensely. I didn’t really enjoy it because of the mindset I had back then but the point is we all start somewhere. If you can make it fun, and be grateful for what your body can do, moving your body feels like the gift that it is. There’s loads of people out there that actually can’t even walk, let alone run.

So when you’re running and you’re out of breath, and you can feel the negativity coming up in your head, first of all, stop and celebrate yourself for what you’re actually doing and then connect to gratitude that you have an able body that can run.

So to recap tip number four is to connect with gratitude and have fun.

5. Do it with friends

And tip number five is quite a short and sweet one again like number two was … can you do your body movement with friends?

What if you could connect with other like-minded women that can encourage you and support you with your body movement. You’re more likely to do it, especially if it’s fun for you. There’s just something about a community.

If you have no idea where to start, I 100000% recommend Zest fit virtual to assist you with your body movement. It is SUCH a fun platform with motivational, real trainers who get you. Whether you’re just starting your fitness journey or are an experienced “go hard or go home” gym junkie, there is always something to suit, with lower impact options etc.

Join Kat’s virtual Zestfit online fitness platform FOR FREEEEE for 30 days (no-contract): and after that, it’s like 15 pounds a month.

*I’m not sponsored or affiliated with Zest fit, I  just LOVE it, I use it myself and I love the founder, Kat Williams.

Ok so tip number 6…

6. Start slow or take a break

If you’ve never exercised or worked out – let’s use more helpful language – “moved your body” before consistently, then start slow.

If you’re a fitness fanatic like how I used to be, and you struggle in the diet binge cycle, or you just use exercise as a form of self-punishment or purging or calorie burning then take a break.

If you’re new to it, start slow. Don’t jump from one workout a month sporadically to five a week! Start with baby steps. Twice a week to begin with and celebrate yourself along the way. Then when you’re ready, take it up a notch.

If you’re kind of obsessed with fitness, take a break. And I know that is the hardest thing for you to hear right now because I have been there, I would have probably wanted to hit somebody, if they said to me “just take a break from the gym”, I would have been like, “Have you even just spoken English to me right now?!” But seriously, just take a break and be kind to yourself.

Alright, number 7…

7. Celebrate tiny victories

Number seven is to celebrate your tiny little victories. This doesn’t just have to be with working out – I keep using the word working out when I’ve just recommended that we use the word body movement! Even with body movement, like going for a nice walk or if you’re doing 10 minutes of HIIT because that’s all you can fit into your day, celebrate yourself!

Because every little celebration we give to ourselves, every encouragement that we make, helps us to continue the journey that we’re on.

When a child is doing something wrong, if we use positive reinforcement, and celebrate what they have done right and then explain what they could do differently next time, the child goes away feeling positive. We can use the same approach with ourselves.

If we’re not choosing to celebrate ourselves and actually take the time to be like, “You know what… good job!”, then we’re never going to keep striving forward. Because we’re not getting recognition from ourselves, which is the most important place to get recognition from, by the way, is yourself.

Celebrate yourself with every little thing, even if you get up and you do five minutes of body movement because it makes you feel good. Don’t think, “I should have done half an hour instead, what’s 5 minutes going to do?!” think “I’ve done five minutes and five minute sis better than no minutes!”.

So take the time to celebrate your victories. Next we have number 8…

8. Take rest days – recover

Alright, number eight, it is really important to be taking rest days, it can be very easy to keep carrying on when your body needs time to rest or time to adjust to what your new regime. So start listening to your body. If your body needs a break, let her have a break. If we’re not taking time to rest, we don’t recover as well. We don’t feel great, because our central nervous system is under pressure.

If you wear a heart rate monitor or anything like that – I actually sold my Fitbit A long time ago, because I was a slave to it so I don’t wear anything like that anymore – but if you do wear something that tracks your heart rate, you will notice the more tired you are or the more you work out or the more you move your body, If you’re not rested enough, your resting heart rate will be one or two beats higher than normal. And then I guarantee you, if you take one or two days off to rest and recover,  your heart rate will go back down to your typical resting heart rate.

Your temperature is the same, your temperature will be very slightly elevated if you need to rest. But you don’t have to use gadgets to see if you can take a rest day or not! You just need to check in with yourself and be like “Okay, what do I need today? Do I need body movement? Or do I need to rest?” And it’s okay if you need to rest for like a couple of weeks, as long as you’re checking in with yourself and being true to yourself and listening to the wisest thing on this whole entire planet and that is your body. Okay?

Alright, last but not least it…

9. Don’t be so hard on yourself

Don’t be so freaking hard on yourself. If you miss a gym class or a run, or a walk and you know that you missed it because you were just being lazy and you couldn’t be bothered, that’s okay! This isn’t a free pass to just do f-all and just sit on the sofa all day and just moan about it but it is a permission slip to be kinder to yourself.

It’s all about positive self-discipline and that magic phrase – high standards, low expectations – just do your best. And if sometimes you don’t quite make it, then no big deal. There’s more to life than beating yourself up over something that you really wanted to do, and then you didn’t do it. So again, it’s not a free pass to do F-all. But just give yourself a break.

I hope these tips have been helpful to you? The theme of all of the tips I’ve given you is to be checking in with yourself. Checking in with your body, instead of looking at an exercise plan, or a diet plan, or asking someone else’s advice all the time. Advice is great from someone who you trust, who you want to be similar to. Not in a comparable way because comparison is the thief of joy. Even comparing yourself to your old self is completely the thief of joy. So just be in the here, be in the now, and check-in with yourself because that’s all you need to do.

And if you are struggling with your relationship with food, and your relationship with exercise, I would love love love to have you in my free Facebook group. If you’re not in it already. come and hang out with us. It’s called Food and body freedom queendom. We’re all Queens in there and I would love to have you. It’s all free. I go live every week – I answer all of your questions. I’m always posting super valuable content in there to help you heal your relationship with food and exercise and your body. And it’s all about self-love and all the juicy things. So come hang out with us if you’re not already. So much love my dears, Victoria x

PS – Join my free FB group for healing your relationship with food and your body here.


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