There is nothing wrong with wanting to exercise to lose weight. Weight loss can be a strong motivation to make fitness a part of our lives and take that first step towards health. But, weight loss isn’t the whole meat of the matter. When we solely exercise to lose weight, we lose perspective on all of the other benefits that exercise can have to our bodies and lives.
It Gives You Options
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When you solely exercise for weight loss, every goal you set is put through a filter. If your goal doesn’t serve your desires for weight loss, it gets tossed into the trash pile with all of your childhood wishes and daydreaming fantasies. Exercises that promote weight loss become the only options, with the only metric for success being the number on the scale.
The problem with measuring success by weight loss and a number on a scale is that it represents only one way to be successful in the fitness world. There are countless ways to achieve fitness goals and we limit our potential if we set goals with weight loss as the only objective. Trust me, you are capable of much more than fitting into a smaller pair of pants. Let’s make a list of all of the goals we can have when we don’t solely exercise to lose weight. Ready? Go.
- Lift ____lbs of weight
- Climb a mountain
- Do a headstand
- Cross the finish line of a race
- Be an inspiration to your family
- Swim across a lake
- Ride a bicycle across the state
- Run _____ minutes without stopping
- Do ____ pushups
I could go on, but I’d like to publish this post before my 90th birthday. Let’s look at your options if you’re only goal is to exercise to lose weight. Ready? Go.
- Lose weight
Wow, that was boring. You may be thinking that it’s possible to lose weight while pursuing the goals on the first, more exciting list. And, you’re right! Just because you’re pursuing a goal that isn’t directly geared towards weight loss doesn’t mean you won’t lose weight in the process. The point is that focusing solely on exercising for weight loss is a great way to kill your motivation and limit your potential.
By pursuing a wide variety of fitness goals, it becomes clear that weight loss isn’t the be all end all of a healthy life. You may be surprised to find that completing a challenging hike or swimming across a lake gives you more satisfaction than seeing a certain number on the scale. By opening yourself up to new fitness goals, you are also opening yourself up to new opportunities for confidence, pride, and self-worth.
It Builds Community
Being active is a great way to connect with others. A quick Google search will show you there is likely no shortage of hiking groups, swim teams, running clubs, and dance events in your town to take advantage of. With only a small amount of effort, you would need to quit your job once you realized you could fill every day of your schedule with a different activity. With so many ways to connect with others while being active, it seems silly to only exercise to lose weight. Think about how many connections are going unrealized when social activities are turned down in favor of losing weight.
This is not to say that you can’t build community when your goal is to exercise to lose weight. In fact, having a shared goal such as this can offer great motivation and accountability. Issues arise when the weight loss starts to overshadow the friendships. We turn down a casual walk with old friends in exchange for an intense cycling class because the walk won’t burn as many calories as the class will. We stay home from a party because we have an early morning workout the next day, and we may have been tempted to overeat at the party anyway. Soon, weight loss has become our number one priority and our friends and family have taken a backseat.
Be careful that your desire to lose weight doesn’t compromise your ability to connect with others. A great way to avoid this problem is to sign up for a class or a team. Once you’re immersed in a new group, it will be easier to hold onto perspective of how important the social aspect of exercise is. This doesn’t mean you have to kick weight loss to the curb, but it does mean that it shouldn’t be the only factor when exercising.
Maddy Moon of Mind Body Musings described her diet as putting her in social prison. Check out her blog post here for a great narrative about why dieting can be so destructive to one’s social life.
It Helps You Focus on What Your Body CAN Do
When we solely exercise to lose weight, we are always striving for a finish line that’s too far away, trying to get rid of our flaws, and in constant pursuit of something better. We are never good enough. When a number on the scale defines our feelings of pride and success, it’s easy to forget about the countless physical tasks our bodies perform for us every day.
It’s frustrating when we’re trying to lose weight and it seems like our bodies won’t cooperate. “Why can’t I lose just 10 more gosh darn pounds!” we want to yell; maybe with some stronger wording. Believe me, as a writer, I’m very familiar with the blood boiling that happens after throwing in 100% effort for 0% return. While frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe it, this feeling indicates that we’ve missed the point.
When I receive yet another rejection letter and rip up the pages of my story, I’ve discounted all of the learning, skill development, and joy I found in the writing process. Even though I’ll take an acceptance any day of the week, a rejection doesn’t mean that everything is for waste. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t won in other ways. Publication is only one metric of success.
Similarly, when we solely exercise to lose weight, we neglect all of the small victories that happen during our journeys to health. Are you able to do more and push farther than you were able to last year? Are you getting stronger, faster, or more confident? Are you involved in more activities or finding more meaning in your hobbies?
What can your body do?
It’s important to remember that, for the most part, the number on the scale is arbitrary. Your body wants to healthy, active, and functional. If your aim is solely to lose weight, your body may have other ideas. It wants to pump blood through your veins, keep your liver in check after that party last night, give your brain enough oxygen so that you can have Einstein level epiphanies, grow your hair so you can dye it some crazy color, and all of the endless tasks that come with supporting a human life. As far as priorities go for your body, seeing a specific number on a scale ranks pretty low.
Get in check with your body and realize it’s capable of so much more than losing weight. When you exercise, think about all of the things your body had to do for you to even step out of the door, let alone sweat your ass off. Don’t just exercise to lose weight, exercise to say thank you.
Have you heard of LARPING? Believe it or not, LARPING (Live Action Role Playing) is a great way to exercise, while also having fun. Steve over at Nerd Fitness has included LARPING in his list of 25 Ways to Exercise Without Realizing It. Yes, you actually can exercise without realizing it. Check out his post to add some fun to your workouts and forget you’re working
Anyone who has spent an hour on an elliptical every day just waiting for the calories burned hit a certain number knows how boring exercise can be. On the flipside, anyone who has gone on a hike and only realized hours later that they traveled 8 miles knows how fun exercise can be. When we solely exercise to lose weight, we often stare at the clock and call it quits at the earliest opportunity. 30 minutes? Done. Heaven forbid staying on the elliptical for 31. When we expand our horizons, exercise becomes fun and doesn’t even seem like exercise.
This not only increases your enjoyment of your exercise routine, it may also increase your abilities to lose weight. It’s easy to lose motivation when you’re bored, unhappy, and focused on a faraway goal. When you are engaged in an activity you enjoy, you will be excited to get out of the door and may even exercise for longer than expected. That causal hike with friends may turn into an advanced climb once you’re out in the forest and enjoying each other’s company. The bike ride that was intended to end downtown may turn into an exploration of the countryside. A quick peek into a dance studio may turn into a life-long passion for the tango. When you are having fun, you’ll find that your motivation will be endless and you may spend more time exercising than you anticipated.
When we solely exercise to lose weight, we discount all of the amazing opportunities we have to use our bodies every day. It’s important to expand our perspectives, realizing that weight loss may be only one goal in any number of fitness related goals. Exercise provides us with so many benefits beyond decreasing the number on the scale and it’s about time we start appreciating them.
Hey, I’m Diana! I’m an occupational therapist and a long distance runner. I’ve run more races than I can count from 5ks through full marathons, including the Boston Marathon. Right now, my PR for the marathon is 3:09 and 1:26 for the half. I’m a bit obsessed with running and sharing what I’ve learned along the way. Let’s crush some running goals together!