What’s The Big Deal About Exercise?

“I’m just one of those people who hates exercise”.

That’s what I used to say. And I believed it.

Man, did I hate exercise.

I felt angry (and guilty and ashamed) at the mention of the word and I’m worried you may stop reading for the very same reason, but I hope not.

In the past, if a thin person said to me “I’m just going to the gym” , I’d think “why the hell are you doing that? You’re already thin! You don’t need to go to the gym”. It was my assumption you only exercised to lose weight. It didn’t occur to me that people might exercise because they enjoy it.

After all, what was enjoyable about exercise? Nothing. All that pain and sweating and discomfort. It felt like punishment.

And it was.

We often adopt the same all-or-nothing approach to exercise that we do to eating.

I was punishing my body for being “too big”, for being “wrong”, for being “defective”. I told myself I had to do something about it. I needed to get a grip, give myself a good talking to, get my shit together.

That was how I approached exercise and that’s why I hated it.

It was about transforming the body I considered shameful into something acceptable, nothing else.

With that as my starting point, I was doomed to failure.


Because if we approach exercise purely from a weight loss standpoint, we tend to “attack” it rather than find a way to fit it naturally into our lives. However much we exercise, we tell ourselves it’s not enough. Rather than a means of looking after ourselves, we use it to compensate for eating too much or to give ourselves the right to eat.

Despite being unfit, we don’t listen to our bodies about what they’re capable of right now. We just push them to get rapid results. And because we don’t see those results quickly enough and because the entire experience feels like torture, we give up and never want to do it again.

Subsequently, in exactly the way that we form damaging beliefs as a result of dieting, we develop negative beliefs about exercise according to our experiences: “it’s too hard”, “I can’t do it” and, of course my favourite, “I’m just one of those people who hates exercise”.

We often adopt the same all-or-nothing approach to exercise that we do to eating. In the same way that it’s either “I’m dieting or I’m bingeing”, it can be either “I’m going to the gym every day for 2 hours and totally crushing it or I’m doing absolutely no exercise whatsoever”.

But where’s the middle ground?

Because just as you can have a healthy diet without having a perfect diet, you can have a fit body without having a “ripped” body.

Realistically, how much time do you have for exercise?

20 minutes a couple of times a week? Fine.

5 minutes every other day? Fine.

Whatever you can manage is fine. If it’s manageable it just becomes a normal part of your life, not a Great Big Deal or something you dread. And if you change your experience of exercise, you change your beliefs about it.

The reason I’m telling you this is because if you begin to find autonomy in your eating and your relationship with food calms down, an interesting thing can happen.

You get messages from your body to move more. Something within you gently urges you to be more physically active.

Obviously, when I first started receiving these messages I ignored them (because I was just one of those people who hates exercise, right?). Luckily, my body is smarter than I am and the messages became so persistent I couldn’t disregard them any longer.

Physical activity is an expression of self-care – a way of demonstrating to your body just how much it means to you.

My clients are often amazed to receive similar communications from their bodies and these experiences contribute to their developing self-trust. 

It’s astonishing and gratifying that the body you’ve despised and abused most of your life is still attempting to co-operate with you. It’s as though your body is patiently saying “I know how you feel about me, but I’m still here and I’ll work with you whenever you’re ready”.

You also have to work with that part of you that might feel self-conscious about slapping on the lycra and hitting the gym. While it’s likely you’re going to experience some self-consciousness trying something new, it’s no good if you’re feeling overwhelmingly insecure. Better to do something you really enjoy, rather than signing up for a 12-week hardcore Butts ‘n’ Guts Power Pump Killer Body Booty Camp (OK, I made that up).

“But I won’t lose weight that way” you might say.

Don’t let weight loss be your motivation. Rather let it be a by-product of your improving relationship with yourself. You don’t lose weight from a starting point of “I hate my body”: you lose weight from a starting point of “I value and appreciate my body and I want what’s best for it”.

I’ve come to believe that, rather than punishment, physical activity is an expression of self-care – a way of demonstrating to our bodies just how much they mean to us. Exercise is an ally when life is demanding and challenging. It helps balance us emotionally and psychologically. It helps negate years of derogatory messages and body-loathing and striving to be perfect. It helps us prove to ourselves we’re worth looking after.  

It helps us feel strong. 

It helps us feel better

It helps us appreciate what our bodies do for us.

And that’s a very long way from “I’m just one of those people who hates exercise”.

That’s why it’s a big deal.

©️ Julie de Rohan 2018.

25 thoughts on “What’s The Big Deal About Exercise?

  1. Oh, I love this! As someone who used to exercise as punishment as an adolescent to lose weight, I did not use to enjoy exercise. But as someone who now loves to run and do yoga, I have realized the mental health benefits of moving my body in a healthy way, but a gentler way. Exercise feels more like play than like punishment now. It is “recess” rather than work. Thanks for this post.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I had a feeling this might resonate with you! I totally agree that exercise feels more like “play” than “punishment” (especially as it’s an excuse for me to listen to some noisy tunes probably far too loud in my headphones). Many thanks for taking the time to write your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! I’m struggling with balancing my time between writing and exercise. I usually have to choose one or the other because of time constraints. My writing usually wins because I love it. Exercise…not so much. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lisa, I’m glad you liked the post even though you’re not much of an exercise fan! I hope the new book is going really well, thank you so much for your comment.


  3. You’re SO right that exercise isn’t about punishing the body! It’s about moving. Later this week I’ll be taking a Zumba class for fun movement and fitness at the same time. Let’s actually enjoy our active time 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Defiitely! One needs to love something to make it effective. Exercising is great, but we must target our well-being in general and not only the weight loss…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My pleasure! I haven’t been a sporty person for the biggest part of my life, and then I started doing something, slowly at the beginning, and without any “pressure”, and then I started enjoy the very feeling of my body doing exercise. It’s oxygenating, relaxing, and rewarding on the long term. But, as you say, one needs to have a different outlook on it than just “loosing weight” or “sculpting the body”… if we focus only on this we can get easily stressed. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this outlook on exercise. So often I beat myself up about the exercise I’m not doing consistently that even when I do complete my 20 minutes a few times a week, I do not appreciate them because they are “not enough.” This mentality can go a long way in changing not only mindsets but overall health.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, I’m really glad this post resonates with you. I hope you can replace the voice that says “it’s not enough” with one that says “you’re doing really well” – I know from my experience that it feels so much better.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Very nicely put! Because you enjoy it you want to do it, rather than trying to impose something on yourself that you “should” or “have” to do. Many thanks for sharing your experience, Colline.


  6. This is a great article. When clients come to me for weight management, one do the things I have then do is discover activities that they enjoy that get them moving. I never use the word, “exercise,” for many of the reasons you detailed in your post. For some, it may be taking a dance class or walking the dogs (just an extra step a day makes a great difference). One client had trouble walking but loved playing the drums. That was a wonderful outlet for him physically and emotionally and mentally. We don’t always need a gym.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, understandably lots of people have an aversion to the ‘e’ word! You’re right that exercise doesn’t mean just going to the gym, although that’s often what springs to mind which is what can put people off – there are so many other ways to enjoy moving, it’s just important that we find what speaks to us (like playing the drums!). Many thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A fantastic analysis and so encouraging, for me it’s quite enlightening too, as someone who has always run and gone to the gym you’ve given me a whole new viewpoint into another perspective 😀😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you’ve always valued your body and exercised it can be difficult to understand that others struggle with those things but, sadly, that’s the reality. I’m so glad that this post has given you a different perspective and that you’re so understanding of that perspective. Many thanks for your comment, Charlie.

      Liked by 1 person

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