How to Overcome Exercise Guilt

How to Overcome Exercise Guilt | Balanced Black Girl

Disclaimer: In this post I’m going to talk about topics that may be challenging or triggering for those who have a history of eating disorders or exercise addiction. If you’re not in a good space to discuss those topics, you may want to skip this post.

Ahhh social media. How I love thee and hate thee at the same time. Social media is an incredible place to go for inspiration, to build community, and to find information on just about any subject at the tip of your fingers. Unfortunately, social media can also be a hazardous trap that induces anxiety, comparison, and misguidance. I notice this happening especially around the topics of fitness and exercise guilt.

On social media we are inundated with messages telling us what we are doing is never enough. A few weeks ago, I just about fell out of my chair when I saw an influencer I follow call herself a “slacker” for only working out five days that week.

I immediately thought about how triggering that kind of message could be for someone who has a history of orthorexia or exercise addiction.

I thought of how discouraging that message could be for someone who is getting back in the swing of exercise and is only able to do so once or twice per week and is doing the best they can at that.

I thought about the guilt that woman was bringing upon herself and others. The same kind of guilt I placed upon myself for years whenever I broke a fitness “rule” and felt like what I was doing wasn’t enough (by the way, these rules don’t exist).

After taking some much-needed downtime from fitness, and slowly reintroducing it back into my life, I learned a ton about how to approach my relationship with fitness guilt-free. Through self-exploration and coaching others, I have figured out three tips for overcoming exercise guilt.

How to overcome exercise guilt - tips for reducing feelings of guilt in your fitness routine.

If you’d like to hear the audio version (with a bonus tip!), listen below:

Schedule rest days into your week, and fill that time with activities you love

If the thought of taking time off of exercise is really hard for you, try scheduling your time off and intentionally filling it by doing something you love. If you take time off from exercise to lay on the couch and watch Netflix, then it can be easy for guilt to seep in when you see those fitspo accounts on Instagram that seem so perfect (spoiler alert: they aren’t). During your rest days, keep yourself busy with non-strenuous activities. Try painting, photography, play tourist in your hometown for a day, go on an adventure with friends. If you’re filling up your soul while letting your body rest, you won’t have time to feel guilty.

Think of fitness as qualitative, not quantitative

It can be so easy to let your wellness journey be defined by numbers. How many steps you take, how many calories you burn, how on point your macros are, how much you weigh, etc. However, none of these numbers have much to do with how healthy your mind or body are. They are metrics created by an industry designed to make us want to buy, buy, buy without ever truly seeing the “results” we are promised.

Fitness is much more rewarding when we focus on the qualitative benefits. Do you do yoga because it makes you feel calm? Great, focus on that aspect of it. Do you lift weights because doing so helps you decompress from a stressful day at work? That’s amazing, keep doing it. By staying in tune with the qualitative side of fitness, i.e. how fitness makes you feel, you’ll be able to understand the value in taking rest days as well. Free of guilt.

Do away with the devices

Fitness trackers are supposed to be motivating and informative. But if you are finding you feel overwhelmed, stressed or guilty when wearing one. It is time to ditch it. As we discussed in the qualitative vs. quantitative point above, how you are feeling is a much more important than any number a device can tell you.

In the height of my obsession with “clean eating” and exercise, my day revolved around how many calories my heart rate monitor said I burned. I had a crazy schedule with two jobs and a long commute, so I only had a set amount of time to workout every morning. If I didn’t burn an “acceptable” amount of calories in that time, I would be in a horrible mood for the rest of the day. I felt like my workout didn’t “count” unless I burned a specific amount of calories (which was completely arbitrary), and I walked around feeling incredibly guilty. As I write that out, my heart breaks just thinking of that time, and I don’t want anyone else to ever feel that way.

If you have a close relationship with your fitness tracker, try going just one day per week without it for a peace of mind until you find yourself less dependent on it.

There you have it – my tips for overcoming exercise guilt. I hope they are helpful in guiding you towards a more loving, positive relationship with fitness.

Your Turn:

  • Have you ever experienced exercise guilt? What are some of your tips for overcoming it?

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14 Responses

  1. Yes to all these tips! I took a break from fitness too and it gave me a whole new appreciation. I’m much more open to taking rest days, moving my body throughout the day and just enjoying the workouts I do. Finding a workout that made me excited to go to the gym was a big thing for me. Can’t wait to listen to the podcast!

  2. Hi! I just found your blog (via Georgie from In it for the Long Run) and I must say that I really love it. I have experienced exercise guilt way too many times, I even got to the point when I used to workout literally and thought that I was “so dedicated” and I never realized that I was basically overdoing it. I think that one of the things that really helped me was coming to the realization that I was doing more harm than good to my body and that I was burning myself out. Happy Valentine’s Day, Les, and keep on the good content! xo, Sara.

  3. Doing away with the devices was so key for me, and unfollowing or not looking at things that caused me to always compare my fitness journey with someone else. Thank you Les!!! Can’t wait to listen to your interview with Georgie today.

  4. Yes to all of this. Love this post so much. The exercise guilt is SO REAL in our society. Another thing that helps me is hanging out with people who don’t care as much about fitness/health/all of that. Keeps me grounded to be around people who don’t think twice about any of it.

  5. Oh man, this was totally me! Especially with doing workouts that I didn’t *think* burned enough calories. I remember my sophomore year of college when I was dancing from 8-2:30 5 days a week and STILL felt like I had to run on top of that. Crazy! It took me a long time to get over that, but I finally found what works for me in terms of fitness. LOVED your interview on Georgie’s podcast too! <3

  6. Les:

    Really enjoyed this blog. I think this is a topic we all can learn something from. And I really liked the addition of the audio file on soundcloud! Nice touch!

  7. LOVE the audio! (You have a lovely voice for this kind of stuff, lol)
    And these tips are spot on. I’ve definitely dealt with exercise guilt in the past–I always wanted to just get in my workout no matter what the cost (i.e. skipping quality time with husband, friends, etc.) Thankfully after reading different and similar stories of people who were also struggling with over-exercise, I realized maybe I needed to take a chill pill myself.

  8. These are awesome tips! I’ve definitely dealt with exercise guilt before but have been learning that sometimes I just need to rest (mostly because my husband told me I had to…). But what I finally realized is that the rest is key to making the workouts that I do complete strong and beneficial workouts! And I love the tip of replacing your workout on a rest day with another fun activity!

  9. Loved this post so much! I totally can relate, a couple years ago I was totally over-exercising for my body and its needs. The sad thing is I didn’t even realize it until my sister called me out. I was so surrounded by other people over-exercising I thought it was normal! I love exercising and truly enjoy lifting weights and yoga but my exercises these days are super quick and I never hesitate to take an extra rest day if I need it!

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