Introducing 'Don't Sweat It,' A Guide On Improving Your Fitness Relationship

We'll explore how we've been conditioned to hate exercise and how to change our outlook on workouts so they benefit our mental health.
Shanee Benjamin for HuffPost

As I write this, my fiancé is currently out on a 3-mile run and I’m sitting here beating myself up for not working out with him.

The thoughts that plague me include irrational stress over my health or fitness deteriorating; a voice that’s quietly telling me I am actually just lazy; and the mental calculation of the food I ate last night that I “should” be “burning off.”

None of these thoughts are productive, true or good for me. Yet here I am experiencing them, right in the middle of editing this series on changing your relationship with exercise.

My outlook on fitness has been negative for most of my formative years. I’ve always been the tallest one in a group, even as a kid. But instead of being #blessed with a natural athleticism that would have landed me on a basketball team, I was uncoordinated and unsure of myself. I was also bullied for my weight, which made me feel like I was too “big” for most rooms ― especially the locker room.

As a result, I loathed gym class and the ridiculous curriculum that came with it. Required activities like running a mile in under 15 minutes and the mandated Presidential Fitness Test (seriously, why did that thing exist?) gave me uncontrollable anxiety that would linger the rest of the day. When you’re young, you don’t have the awareness that you’re not the problem. You just hate the body that doesn’t give you the same ability as the rest of your classmates.

I found myself constantly attaching physical activity to my physical appearance, a habit that only got worse as I became an adult. I would make excuses for why I couldn’t try a workout, like “I’m too tall to be a runner” or “I don’t want to get in a dude’s way at the squat rack” or “I’m too large to be in a barre class.”

In reality, I was just too intimidated to try these things and too soured by my history with exercise to see that it could actually be beneficial ― and even fun.

Maybe you’re like me and this has been your experience, too. Maybe you’re working out too much and it’s taking a toll on your mental health. Maybe you’ve never tried a consistent exercise routine before and you’re looking to start one.

Don’t Sweat It is a series for all of us who have ever had a complicated relationship with fitness. We will feature advice and interviews with experts, and highlight people who have repaired their own viewpoints on working out. The goal is to educate us on all the ways we’ve come to feel this way. We want to explore how to move our bodies in ways that feel good. We’re looking at how to detach exercise from what we see in the mirror. We hope to restore how we look at fitness and rest — both of which we desperately need for our well-being.

Don’t Sweat It won’t instantly cure us of every single issue we have with exercise. My story this week is definitive proof it’s a constant journey. And sometimes, if the outlook is really bad, you may need professional help to work through it. All of that is OK.

But if this guide helps us reexamine how we approach fitness, and urges us to keep working on that relationship, then it’s worth a million endorphins. It’s time to stop sweating our sweat sessions (including the ones we don’t take).

This story is part of Don’t Sweat It, a HuffPost Life series on improving your relationship with fitness. We’re giving you a guide on the latest thinking on exercise and why we’ve been conditioned to hate it in the past. Mental health and body-positive fitness experts will offer guidance and show you how to find a routine that works for you. Find all of our coverage here.

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