Food: sin to atone for or fuel for the fire?

We have been conditioned to think of exercise as punishment for eating— especially women. While men’s fitness magazines often discuss how to fuel for a workout or eating to build muscle, women’s magazines usually focus on how to burn calories. Prime example: Shape magazine’s “you ate it, negate it” feature that tells you how many minutes you’d have to run on the treadmill, say, to burn off that candy bar. it’s all about burning calories, as if that were the be-all end-all of exercise.

fun, friends, fitness
fun, friends, fitness

But this approach sells exercise short,  it sets us up to feel guilty about our food choices, and it teaches us to think of exercise as punishment. Exercise is good for us in many, many ways. It increases energy, fitness, and stamina. It improves cardiovascular health. It boosts overall metabolic function. It increases longevity and improves mood and mental clarity. It can be fun and social. And yes, it burns calories.

Let’s put to bed the notion that exercising has to mean a punishing slog on the treadmill or elliptical, calibrated to counteract the damage done by eating. Let’s reframe it as a way to take care of ourselves, feel good, and have fun. It’s an inherent good. And there are endless ways to partake, so there has to be SOMETHING you can find to enjoy. It could be running or crossfit, sure, but it could also be yoga, dancing, rollerblading, boxing, hiking, zumba, biking, swimming, archery, karate. . . you get the point.

fuel for whatever is coming today.
fuel for whatever is coming today.

So let’s flip this thing on it’s head: we aren’t excercising to burn calories, we’re eating to fuel our activity. So yes, that means workouts and exercise, but it also means performing well in everything else we do all day.

Long days at the clinic call for serious fuel.
Long days at the clinic call for serious fuel.

Have you ever eaten lunch and then immidiately just shut down, ready for nap time, and lost a few hours of the afternoon? I have. What about planned on a morning workout, only to wake up feeling too bogged down to get out of bed? Yeah, I’ve done that too. It doesn’t have to be that way. Now, I think about what I have coming up in a day, and I plan my meals to help me do it. A long morning with no  break until 1 calls for a solid breakfast with protein and complex carbs. 4 PM yoga means a 2PM snack like an apple might be good. Long run planned? A banana or toast with nut butter usually goes down easy. A rare lazy sunday with no plans and a rest day from training? Hell, let’s get bagels and mimosas!

We’re not thinking about calories anymore— we’re thinking about energy (which, after all, is what calories measure). This shift in thinking might seem tough at first— but once you start to connect your food to your performance and your energy, you may never want to go back.

What's cookin, good lookin?

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