If you ever use fancy exercise equipment, you can find out how many calories you burned while exercising. And these days, you don’t even need to go that far. You can check online or use apps on your phone.
But a strange thing can happen when you focus on those numbers. You can start to feel like you’re exercising to earn the right to eat.
It doesn’t help that our culture reinforces this. It’s not as obvious when you’re thinner, but if you’re fat… it’s all over.
I even remember thinking for myself when I was heavy that I shouldn’t be hungry. I’d stare down at my fat stomach and wonder how I could need to eat when I was so big. After all, my body certainly had enough fuel. It didn’t need me to add more.
So if I wanted to consume anything else, obviously I had to burn off some of what I had first.
Yeah – no. It’s completely wrong.
You deserve to have food no matter what
First and foremost, you don’t have to earn the right to eat by doing anything more than being.
I don’t care how much you weigh or what size body you have. You deserve food just as much as you deserve anything else required to survive. Water… air… shelter… companionship… connection.
Hunger isn’t about stored fuel
Then there’s also the fact that hunger isn’t about how much fuel you have stored. Okay, you’ll probably last longer in a famine if you have extra weight, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be hungry.
Because no matter what your outward appearance is, if you haven’t eaten in a while, your stomach will still be empty.
I mean your actual stomach muscle, not to be confused with the belly you might pat when you talk about your stomach. Because the two don’t really have anything to do with each other.
Exercise and eating don’t go hand in hand
Another problem with this kind of thought process is that you might convince yourself it’s okay to eat something because you’ve exercised… without bothering to check if you’re actually hungry or even want it.
You set yourself up for this idea that you want to eat something, and you go to the trouble of doing all this exercise you might not even like. After that, odds are you’re going to eat whatever it is without thinking too much about it.
Plus, saying you need to exercise to eat just puts more focus on the whole idea that eating is something to feel guilty about. And I don’t believe in applying morality to food.
Oh, and let’s not forget that this focus tends to make exercise the “bad guy.” It’s the thing you force yourself to do because you’re “supposed to” – just so you can get to the good stuff afterward. And you can run into this no matter what size you are.
It’s hard to escape using treats as a reward
It doesn’t help that it’s very hard to escape this notion of earning food. As a kid, you might have gotten rewarded with a treat if you did things you didn’t want to do. Maybe after getting through certain chores, you’d get a cookie, or ice cream, or your favorite candy.
In fact, I’ve just started watching the reboot of Lost in Space, and in the second episode, when one of the daughters gets through her to-do list, her reward is Oreos. (And as an interesting side note, when I did a search on Pixabay for free images using the word “reward,” everything either came up as food items, trophies, or dog treats.)
Even as an adult, you’re surrounded by this concept that food, especially sweet food, is something you need to justify eating. Usually with exercise, although also sometimes with depriving yourself of other food to make up for what you’ve eaten. Even if you’re truly hungry.
Ideas for shifting the focus
So what can you do to get away from feeling like you need to earn food? Here are a few ideas.
Avoid using all those number trackers. I’m actually going to talk more about this next week, because I’ve gotten a little addicted to the pedometer on my phone, and I’m trying to put some distance between us. Stay tuned.
Remind yourself that you need to eat. It’s not something you do just for the heck of it. It’s a basic requirement of living, no matter what size you are. Your body burns fuel simply by breathing and keeping your heart beating and circulating blood through your veins and all those other basics of biology.
Consider other ways of rewarding yourself. Because sometimes you do need something to look forward to so you can get through the less pleasant parts of life. But it doesn’t have to be food. It could be reading something for fun. Watching an episode of a favorite show. Playing a game. Taking a bath. Or whatever else appeals to you.
Focus on moving your body for fun. I know, “exercise” and “fun” can be hard to think of in the same sentence. But that’s only if you consider exercise as something forced or unpleasant. Instead, what if you can think of it just moving your body in a way that feels good? It might take some experimentation, but you could be surprised at what you find.
But really, don’t feel obligated to do any kind of exercise or movement if you don’t want to.
You can still eat, and you don’t have to feel guilty about it. End of story.