Mental Health

How to Rebuild Your Relationship With Fitness And Food

Rebuilding your connection with exercise and nutrition can help you live a longer, healthier and happier life.. Begin your journey with a better relationship with fitness and food with these tips.

By URLife Team
28 Sep 2023

Diet culture fosters negative body image by perpetuating the idea that one's worth is determined by their appearance. It can lead to body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and even body dysmorphia. Individuals under the influence of diet culture may experience guilt and shame associated with food choices. Diet culture refers to the pervasive and often toxic societal attitudes, beliefs, and practices surrounding food, body image, and weight. It places a strong emphasis on achieving a specific, often unrealistic, body ideal through restrictive eating, weight loss, and exercise. 

Many of us have complex relationships with food, navigating through a landscape where no food is inherently labelled as "good" or "bad." Cultivating a wholesome relationship with food not only contributes to long-term health but also fosters an understanding of what best suits your needs, lifestyle and body..


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Unfortunately, diet culture often fuels the destructive cycle of "all or nothing" behaviour. Embarking on frequent diets often goes hand in hand with intense exercise routines. For many, exercise becomes a loaded concept, triggering memories of childhood insecurities related to body size or athletic abilities.
It's evident that many people's reluctance to engage in physical activity stems from what is referred to as "fitness trauma." It is a concept that some individuals and fitness professionals use to describe negative or traumatic experiences related to exercise, physical activity, or fitness practices. 

While recovery requires effort, you have the power to reshape your fitness narrative in any way that resonates with you. Ultimately, the goal is to rediscover the joy of movement, unburdened by past negative experiences.


Related story: 3 Types of Exercises We Need And Why


Impact of Unhealthy Relationship With Food And Exercise

An unhealthy relationship with exercise can manifest as rigidity and inflexibility. This might involve struggling to take rest days, even when you're unwell, injured, or completely exhausted. Alternatively, you might persist with strenuous exercises even when your body isn’t able to keep up.

Your relationship with food and exercise is interconnected. A healthy relationship with both is related to a healthy friendship or partnership – it thrives on compromise, flexibility, and effective communication. In this context, you listen to your body's cues and respond accordingly. 

Changing your perspective on eating cues, distinguishing between emotional and physiological hunger, and maintaining a record of your dietary choices is essential. Ensuring that your body receives the right nutrients at the right times is imperative. Ultimately, nourishing your body means that you are making an effort to be healthy.


Related story: Finding Joy Through Exercise

Ways To Rebuild A Healthy Relationship With Food And Exercise

A healthy relationship with food and exercise can vary from person to person and may evolve over time. What's most essential is that it promotes physical and mental well-being, reduces stress, and allows individuals to enjoy life to the fullest.

Healing your relationship with exercise involves adopting a healthier and more balanced approach that prioritises your physical and mental well-being over unrealistic expectations or negative patterns. 


Here are steps to help you foster a healthier relationship with exercise:

1. Visualise ideal fitness version
Our fitness culture is often shaped by unrealistic ideals and messages, which can lead us to believe that fitness adheres to a single set of rules, a specific appearance, or a hardcore mindset. However, it's important to recognise that you can create your own version of fitness. One way to do this is by assessing your personal fitness goals and priorities.

Make a list of your fitness values that come to mind when you think about health and well-being. Reflect on what motivates you best, and recall a time when you genuinely enjoyed exercise or physical activity. This process will help you shape your own fitness vision, giving you a clear understanding of what works for you and what doesn't.


Related story: Aerobic Exercise That Can Transform Your Health


2. Find activities that bring you joy
Sustainability in exercise is closely tied to enjoyment. It's difficult to maintain a fitness routine if you despise the activities you're doing. If you've lost the joy in exercise, consider revisiting your childhood and reminisce about the physical activities you loved back then, when it felt less burdened by expectations. 

Look for activities or types of workouts that replicate the aspects you enjoyed about physical play as a child. Whether it's swimming, playing basketball, or football, there are options to rediscover that joy. Focus on doing more of what genuinely makes you happy and excited to continue. By reconnecting with the activities you love, you can make exercise a sustainable and enjoyable part of your life.

3. Understand what motivates you to move
Identifying what truly motivates you to move is the key to sustaining your commitment, especially on those days when finding the motivation to start is a challenge.

Consider what is driving you to begin this journey. It might be the desire to gain the confidence to say yes to a hiking or a kayaking trip, and trusting that your body will be up for the challenge. Alternatively, it could be witnessing a parent's declining health that motivates you, or the wish to keep up with your children's energy levels. Perhaps you simply want to feel comfortable and confident in your own skin.


Related story: Improve Heart Health With This Breathing Exercise


4. Consider embracing mindful movements
For some individuals, the term "exercise" may carry negative associations, and there can be an obsession with what qualifies as "real" exercise. It's important to acknowledge that movement doesn't have to be a dreaded chore. If physical activity feels merely tolerable to you, that's perfectly fine. In such cases, consider how you can infuse joy into your chosen activity.

For example, during a walk, you might listen to your favourite podcast, bring your dog or a friend along to make it a social outing, or plan a stop at a coffee shop along the way. By making your activity more enjoyable and personally meaningful, you can foster a positive connection with movement.


5. Rest and Recovery
People with a healthy exercise relationship understand the importance of rest and recovery. They allow themselves to take breaks when needed and prioritise sleep and self-care.  However, taking gradual steps to incorporate a slower approach to your movement practice is a positive starting point. 

This involves pushing the boundaries of what you consider an acceptable amount of rest, stepping out of your comfort zone, and acknowledging that it's perfectly fine to introduce more deliberate slowness into your typical pace of movement.

How to develop a healthier relationship with food:

1. Eat intuitively
In a healthy food relationship, individuals listen to their bodies and eat when they are hungry. They also stop when they are satisfied, rather than overeating or undereating. There is a focus on eating for nourishment and pleasure, rather than strict dieting or restrictive eating patterns.


2. Indulge with other food choices
A healthy food relationship involves letting go of guilt and shame associated with food choices. Let go of guilt associated with eating choices. Understand that occasional indulgences or less healthy foods are part of a balanced diet and do not define your self-worth.

People with a healthy relationship with food enjoy a variety of foods and understand the importance of balance. They include fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and treats in their diet without excessive restriction.


Related Story: What To Eat For A Healthy Heart


3. Practise mindful eating
A healthy relationship with food is necessary for a positive body image. People appreciate and accept their bodies as they are, rather than striving for an unrealistic or unhealthy body ideal. Eating mindfully means savouring each bite, being present during meals, and paying attention to hunger and fullness cues. It involves enjoying the sensory experience of eating.


4. Do not obsess over calories
Individuals with a healthy relationship with food do not obsess over calories, macros, or specific diets. They prioritise overall health and well-being over strict adherence to food rules.


5. Reject diet culture 
Challenge and reject the influence of diet culture, which often promotes restrictive diets, unrealistic body ideals, and food shaming. Recognise that diets tend to be short-term solutions with negative long-term consequences.

Rather than attempting to control and manipulate our meals, it's essential to discover the point where pleasure aligns with nutrition. While consuming foods that provide momentary pleasure is enjoyable, it's important to note that they may not offer the same lasting happiness and well-being as nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Additionally, engaging in diets and restricting food intake can heighten our attraction to food, potentially leading to overeating.


Related story: Is mindful Eating Better


Remember that healing your relationship with exercise is about creating a sustainable and joyful approach to physical activity that supports your overall well-being. It's okay to seek professional guidance or support if you find that negative patterns persist or become overwhelming.


Need all your wellness solutions in one place? A whole new world awaits just a click away.


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