Healing Your Relationship with Exercise: Moving Beyond Guilt and Shame

Last Updated on: 13th February 2024, 05:56 pm


In the eating disorder space, its quite common to experience feelings of guilt, shame, worry, when you skip a workout. Many of us have developed an unhealthy relationship with exercise, influenced heavily by diet culture and societal expectations. This is because diet culture is literally the water we swim in. However, it is possible to start challenging the rules around exercising in order to start building a healthy relationship with exercise.

The Problem with Diet Culture and Social Media:

The narrative around exercise, propagated by diet culture and social media, often emphasizes a moral high ground associated with rigorous physical activity. This perspective can lead to feelings of inadequacy and guilt, particularly when the prescribed “ideal” routines are unattainable or unenjoyable for most. The reality though, is that exercise should not carry any moral value. Whether you engage in physical activity or not does not determine your worth.

Understanding Your Relationship with Exercise:

Many factors contribute to our relationship with exercise, from childhood experiences and accessibility to safety and past traumas. Recognizing that not everyone has had the opportunity to be exposed to physical exercise in a healthy way is crucial. Moreover, for some, exercise might feel more like a controlling force than a source of joy, especially when it’s used as a means for weight control or as a punitive measure after eating.

Healing Your Relationship with Exercise:

If you’re ready to transform your relationship with exercise, consider these first steps:

  1. Reflect on your exercise habits: Are they motivated by self-care or self-punishment?
  2. Identify what forms of physical activity feel manageable and enjoyable for you.
  3. Start small and gradually build your routine, focusing on activities that bring you joy.
  4. Recognize the comprehensive benefits of exercise, beyond just weight loss, to include mental health, cardiovascular health, bone health and overall well-being.
  5. Most importantly, listen to your body and respect its limits.

The Benefits of Mindful Exercise:

Engaging in exercise mindfully can offer numerous benefits:

  • Enhanced Cardiovascular Health: Boosts heart function and overall cardiovascular wellness.
  • Strengthened Muscles and Bones: Promotes muscle strength and bone density.
  • Improved Mental Health: Exercise can elevate mood, reduce symptoms of depression, and enhance cognitive function.
  • Metabolic Health: Supports a healthy metabolism when paired with balanced nutrition.
  • Stress Relief: Serves as a natural method to alleviate stress and anxiety.


Moving away from a punishment-based model to one that celebrates movement for joy and health is essential for healing. Remember, your journey with physical activity is unique, and it’s vital to find what works for you. It is possible to embrace a new perspective on exercise, one that prioritizes personal enjoyment, health, and well-being over societal expectations and external pressures.

Ready to start your journey toward a healthier relationship with exercise? Then book a discovery call today. Together, we can navigate what feels right, safe , healthy and enjoyable for you

About Me

I’m Sarah, a registered dietitian and eating disorder specialist. I am passionate about helping individuals and families overcome the challenges of eating disorders, disordered eating, and mental health conditions. My expertise lies in supporting families and individuals with a history of trauma, including domestic abuse, and guiding children and teenagers through the complexities of eating disorders, particularly those stemming from adverse childhood experiences.

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