Exercise Is Not Penance

Workouts don’t buy food. The idea that working out every day lets me eat whatever I want with no consequence was never true. Not for me.

I can be pretty fit even when carrying thirty more pounds on my body than is strictly necessary. I can charge up a mountain and feel great doing it. But if I want my clothes to fit properly without having to buy all new clothes, I can’t expect even a rigorous exercise program to make up for a diet that has sugar in it.

Also, the value of a good workout is not negated when I eat a donut in the break room. Exercising was still a worthwhile thing to do with my body this morning, and it will be again tomorrow.

Yet the truth remains that as long as I avoid sugar and white carbs, my body finds a handsome equilibrium. No need to count calories or points or keep track. For me, it’s about what I leave out rather than what I buy into.

This seems like a good moment to reiterate that this cycle of blog posts is me giving advice to me. Other people’s bodies work in other people’s ways. One thing I love about being forty-six years old is that through trial and error (so, so much error), I’ve found exactly what works to put me on the path to optimal health. The information is fully uploaded. This month so far I have been behaving on that information and it feels good.

I love to dance like nobody is watching. It’s a problem only when lots of people are watching. 

I was out to dinner with a friend of mine who is a health instructor, yoga teacher, and all-around wise and generous woman. I shared with her that I know exactly what I need to do to be at my best health. I may not have been in the practice of doing it, but I knew what it was. She smiled and said that it must be great to know what works for my body.  She was happy for me just that I had the information.

I exercise every day because I’m a human being who craves movement and also the chair thing that happened. I eat with self-respect (avoiding sugar) because I’m a human being who needs fresh food to function.

If I am taking the best possible care of myself, I don’t try to earn food through exercise. Exercise isn’t penance. It doesn’t erase calories. That old way of thinking about movement doesn’t work for me. I know what works for me.

Today I resolve to act on what I know.

Dancing together when our girls were younger.

Journal ideas:

What do you know for a fact about your body? What makes you sick? What makes you feel great? What time of day is best for you to exercise? Eat dinner? Go to bed? What do you need on a daily basis to feel good and be healthy?

Pretend you are a wellness coach and you are your own client. Knowing everything you know about yourself, what weekly workout and nutrition plan would you write to support your best possible health?

What is your experience with the idea that exercise is penance for the sin of eating? How has this way of thinking about your body been useful, or not useful to you?

Consider the ramifications of divorcing exercise and food in your mind. What if you take a walk or dance or go for a swim because those things are fun? If exercise was a reward, what kinds of exercise would you do?

P.S. If you haven’t seen these images by Howard Schatz of the diversity of female athletes’ bodies, check them out at this link. There is more than one way to be badass fit. Find your own way.










  1. I was SO like that age 18-26. I had an an epiphany when I saw an art performance in San Francisco that involved a very curvy Mexican artist who was BEAUTIFUL. It’s all about acceptance. You’re so right about everything here, Maureen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. It took me a long time to understand this.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Laura E. Alvarez Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s