The toxic phrase we have to stop saying this time of year
Barely 12 hours after the last trick of Halloween and my sweet kids were put to bed, I started my typical Monday morning fitness class. But mid-board, the instructor’s commentary caught me off guard and didn’t go over well with me the rest of the day.
“Let’s work all that Halloween candy!” She cried into her microphone.
The nonchalant phrase of “let’s work ___”, while surely meant to be a light joke, is seriously problematic, experts say. The idea that you need to exercise more than food or earn treats isn’t just prevalent during Halloween – it’s extremely common to hear during the holiday season as well.
Here’s why this mentality needs to end and how you can feel good about your body instead:
It discredits the most important benefits of exercise
I definitely wasn’t at the gym that morning to burn the candy. I was there to strengthen my postpartum abs, visit friends, and move my body to feel flexible and strong.
Boston-based nutritionist Emmie Keefe said that whenever instructors focused on that calorie-based âmotivationâ it backfired.
âWe should never exercise to burn calories.â¦ We should exercise for cardiovascular health, for mental health, for emotional health. It structures your day. You can socialize by through classes together, âshe explained.â There is so many reasons to exercise. Bburning calories shouldn’t be one of them.
Recent research shows that focusing on regular exercise improves your longevity – even more than focusing on weight loss. Exercise also eases symptoms of anxiety and depression, improves creativity, and helps you sleep better. Meanwhile, viewing exercise as a punishment rather than a beneficial activity makes you less likely to behave in a healthy way.
Keefe added that the “mental gymnastics” of trying to count the calories in and out with food and exercise is not always realistic or helpful. Instead, regular exercise can help you feel more motivated in other areas of your life and start the day productively.
“What this walk and this workout won’t do is burn off what you ate right before, âshe said. “This way of thinking is a big, big deal.”
âThere are so many reasons to play sports. Burning calories shouldn’t be one of them.
– Emmie Keefe
It promotes harmful food mindsets
How do you feel when you’re about to eat a pumpkin pie or Christmas pudding that you only encounter once or twice a year? Hope just excited, and nothing else. According to Alyssa Royse, owner of Rocket Fitness Community in Seattle, the mindset that you have to earn that pie or repair the damage is “really dangerous.”
âIt connects us to this idea that we have to earn the right to eat and earn the right to have fun. These two things are innate in the simple fact of having a body … of being alive, you are allowed to [both],” she said.
âWhen we moralize food, we trigger all kinds of dangerous thoughts and behaviors in people,â she continued. This includes eating disorders, which can lead to major long-term health complications such as heart damage, problems with hair growth, brain damage, lethargy, etc.
Instead of making these negative connections, the trainers at her gym don’t mention food. If Christmas is approaching, they try to focus on positive aspects such as âGo have fun and enjoy the bounty, go and feel the joyâ¦ this is the main purpose of your body – to experience the joyâ, he said. Royse said.
Royse added that people already have these damaging thoughts themselves around the holiday season, following years of toxic media posts where people are being pushed to be slimmer. She encourages her clients to question those connections they and others have made and move towards body and food neutrality instead.
âFood doesn’t have to be an emotional or moral experience. You are allowed to have it, âshe said.
Keefe also noted that shaming yourself for what you’ve eaten can have additional physical consequences. Due to the stress hormones you release through this thought pattern, you may experience stomach pain and digestive issues (along with many other issues like headaches, heart palpitations, and more).
âYou really hurt yourself twice,â she said. Instead, she emphasizes enjoying it and moving on.
âFood doesn’t have to be an emotional or moral experience. You are allowed to have it.
– Alyssa Royse
Listen to your body instead
Both experts believe it is necessary to tune in to your body instead of letting outside forces influence how you feel, especially when it comes to the holiday season. This process, also known as mindful eating, involves paying close attention to your food – mentally noticing its taste and the pleasure of eating it. It also makes you listen to your natural hunger and fullness signals. Food is not something you ‘deserve’ and there is absolutely no expectation that you will need to ‘get rid of it’.
Royse said she was specifically trying to drink more water (one drink per party cocktail) and take more walks, not as a punishment but as a way to counter any physical discomfort she may be feeling.
Keefe loves all the party foods she wants, while prioritizing nutrition. She chooses fruits and vegetables when she can, noting that this time of year doesn’t necessarily mean you should only eat rich foods or stick to just the veggie platter. She has also seen clients make themselves ill by trying to preventively compensate for the physical impact.
âThey burn out exercising in anticipation or in response to the way they ate on vacation. Their general health is deterioratingâ¦ their bodies are under tremendous stress, âshe said. âTreat your body with kindness. “