Everywhere you turn, there’s advice about how to “burn off” calories, which can make it seem like exercise is only something you do to offset your diet… especially after indulging in certain cravings. However, the two can go positively hand-in-hand. A healthy relationship with food allows you to better care for your body, which translates to wellness success. We spoke to experts and trainers to learn how to develop and keep a healthy relationship with food.
Don’t use exercise as punishment.
“All too often, I hear individuals claim they have to ‘burn off’ the dessert they enjoyed last night or get in an extra run after an overindulgent meal,” says personal trainer Annie Brees of Healthy Habits, Happy Moms. “But using exercise as punishment for eating too much or skipping the gym when you’ve eaten well can lead to inconsistent exercise and even a distaste for it all together.”
Brees says to focus on moving your body on a regular basis regardless of what you put in your mouth. This will help you reap the most benefits from exercise.
Eat clean for more energy and better emotional health.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a well-balanced diet improves physical health by increasing energy levels and protecting the immune system. At the same time, she says “there’s no question that a well-balanced diet relates to better emotional health.”
Nadia Murdock, a fitness expert and personal trainer, suggests steering clear of processed foods and prioritizing clean eating above sugary snacks or beverages. This approach helps you feel satisfied and energized, but also helps replenish your body post-workout to keep you strong and avoid any unnecessary injury. Good choices include protein-rich items, such as chicken, nut butters, nuts, tuna, cottage cheese, or oats.
Murdock also recommends staying hydrated with plenty of water. “Not only does hydration get rid of toxins, but it also keeps you feeling alert and energized,” she explains. “Avoiding starchy foods that offer no nutritional value not only will benefit your waistline, but your energy level as well. If you choose the right foods to fuel your body, not only will you be able to perform your workouts better and more efficiently but you will also feel more energized to hit the gym.”
View food as workout fuel.
“Having a good relationship with food is so important for overall health,” says Aaptiv trainer Jaime McFaden. “Learning about general nutrition is also important. There’s so much hype about trending diets, it can be tough to decide what’s healthy or not.”
Mcfaden says it is critical to view healthy foods as the path to fueling your workouts. Eating healthier often leads to more productivity and better workout results. “When you eat healthy, you will want to exercise and vice versa,” she notes. “When you eat crappy foods, you will feel more lazy and less likely to workout.”
Practice eating and moving intuitively.
Stephanie McKercher, Colorado-based registered dietitian, says she used to think a lot about calories. But once she started to think of food as a source of nourishment instead, she experienced a dramatic mindset shift that carried over to fitness habits, too.
“I used to slave away on the elliptical machine or, more often, skip going to the gym altogether. But now I’m truly excited to practice yoga or get outside for a quick hike,” McKercher shares. “Eating more intuitively helped me move more intuitively, and it’s made a major positive impact on my overall health.”
It’s pretty cut and dry, according to Aaptiv trainer Kelly Chase. Food choices affect your mood, and your mood affects your workout. “If you eat junk food, your mood—although at the current time of eating said junk food might be very happy—will change to feeling sluggish, perhaps heavy, not-motivated, even sick. When you eat a diet based on whole foods, you’ll feel energized, light, motivated to be active.”
Find balance through moderation.
A healthy diet and regular exercise most frequently improves body image. But Dr. Greenberg warns against excessive preoccupation with either one because it can lead to body image issues and eating disorders.
“For those looking to maintain a positive, healthy relationship with food and exercise, I suggest holding onto the phrase ‘everything in moderation’ very tightly,” she advises. “As long as you’re eating, and exercise habits are enhancing the quality of your life, then you are in a safe zone.”