8/2/17

Overcoming exercise/training guilt


For many athletes, exercise guilt is a constant struggle. Exercising in order to improve your physical, mental and emotional health weighs heavy on your mind as you know it's something you should do on a daily basis, especially if you are training for an athletic event, but every day, you feel pulled in all different directions, with little time to devote to yourself.

Guilt is often a big barrier as it relates to making changes in your lifestyle. You either feel like you are doing the wrong thing(s) or you are failing at doing the right thing(s). No one likes to feel guilty as it can cause great physical and psychological pain, so why is it that so many athletes have such remorse when sticking to an exercise routine or when training for an athletic event?

I find that there are two reasons why athletes experience exercise guilt.

Athlete status - Many athletes struggle with the "athlete in training" status. Perhaps it's a new title that is not yet accepted by the spouse/family as your new training regime is unfamiliar and perhaps is more time consuming that your past exercise regime or you don't quite feel like you should be dedicating so much time, money and effort to a sport, especially when your sport is just a hobby or you are just getting started. If you found yourself saying "I'm too busy, I don't have enough time, I'm not disciplined, I don't have willpower, I don't look or eat like an athlete, I'm too slow" you will constantly feel like you are not meeting your own expectations of what you think an athlete should look like or how an athlete should perform/train. If you are in constantly feeling like a failure, because you can't meet your standard of "fitness", you will always feel guilty about the time that you dedicate to training as it won't feel worth it (especially if it comes at a cost, like not spending as much time with your family or at work, compared to what you think you should be spending). This is nonsense. Own up to your athlete status and enjoy your "me" time. You deserve time for yourself and you deserve to explore your boundaries of what you are capable of achieving with your body. Whether you are comparing yourself to someone else, a past version to yourself or thinking that you should be doing more/less, accept where you are right now and stop the negative self-talk. Your exercise routine doesn't have to be perfect. Integrating training into your busy life is not easy and it will never be easy but you deserve to dedicate time to improving yourself, as an athlete but most importantly, as a human being.

Exercise addict - Do you feel anxious when you miss a workout? Do you feel guilty if you take a day off or cut a workout short? On the opposite spectrum of exercise guilt, from the individual who feels like the training/exercise is not worth the time, money and energy and should be spending more time with family and work, there is the athlete out there who is addicted to exercise. When the mind experiences a constant conflict between what the body should look like and how it performs, you may find yourself preoccupied with the endorphin rush of exercise, as it is a vehicle to your food choices (what you can/can't eat) and it serves the purpose of assisting with body composition goals. This athlete is addicted to exercise and feels an extreme amount of guilt when fitness standards are not met.
When an athlete is dissatisfied with his/her body, a great amount of guilt can come from not working our or working out "enough" to meet exercising targets. This may lead into a food addiction, restrictive and radical eating and low self-esteem. If your goal is to achieve an image or a number on a scale, and you feel guilty every time you don't workout, it is important to make a shift in your workout routine so that you work toward health and performance goals, without exercise becoming an obsession.

Whereas one individual may not be comfortable with his/her "athlete status" and may feel guilty when time is spent exercising, there is another individual who is addicting to exercise and may be letting exercise/training run his/her life.

So what's an athlete to do?

There's no doubt that guilt can be complex. Sure, you have to put in the time to train for an event but you also have to spend your time, money and energy on other things in life. You will never live a guilt-free life as it relates to exercising/training and let's be honest, guilt can be a good thing when it keeps you grounded and keeps your priorities in place. But feeling guilty, every time you do or don't exercise, will not help you live a happy and healthy life. 

If guilt is leading to unproductive behavior, liked doing something you shouldn't do (ex. exercising on a rest day or going too hard on an easy day) or feeling guilty after the fact (like skipping a workout because you felt like you needed to spend more time at work or not be away from your child for 30 minutes), reframe the situation so that you can put things into perspective.

The rest or easy day is important in your training routine as it allows you to stay consistent and to recover from the harder sessions. 

You can still be a great parent and a great employee, even if you take time out of your day and schedule in a workout. If anything, you will feel more fresh, focused and relaxed after your workout is complete, thus being more productive with your job/family. 

Although it's easy to talk yourself into guilt, you can also talk yourself out of guilt. Most of the time, the guilty thoughts that we think, come from within but it's very easy for others to make you feel guilty for your choices. Take a moment and think about what has made you feel guilty over the past few days.

The next time you feel guilty about dedicating time to something that makes you feel healthy and happy or when you feel guilty for not doing more (or better), ask yourself if you are judging yourself too harshly and if what you are thinking is really as bad as you make it out to be.

Guilt from spending time on yourself and your own needs/goals is no way to live life. So if that means training for a marathon, an Ironman or partaking in some other adventure, go for it. If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to take care of others. Get in touch with your own needs and create an environment where you can become the person that you always wanted to be, as you help enrich the lives of those around you.