It’s been a stressful week…month…year? Ok, let’s just settle on that it’s been particularly stressful this week. My husband just had cancer surgery yesterday and, while he’s thankfully doing really well, that does make for a stressful and emotional time. Today, I had one of those mornings where it just seems like everything I did went sideways. It’s the kind of day where if you even touch a glass, you’d break it.
Now, normally, once I hit that “this is the last straw…I can’t take any more” point, I’d be reaching for the chocolate chip cookie bars that are sitting on my kitchen counter right now. Instead, even though I’d already lifted weights and done a barre workout, I put on my running skirt and shoes and hit the pavement for a training run. As counter intuitive as it may seem, I know I’ll feel better from sweating it out than I would from eating comfort foods. Comfort foods only comfort temporarily and then whatever it was I was trying to comfort myself from comes back to the surface and it becomes a vicious cycle that leaves me feeling icky and my weight rising.
When I have negative emotions, it’s like a black ball of tar in my chest, heavy and sticky and full of poison. Exercise pulls the poison out of me with each bead of sweat like venom from a snakebite. I can almost imagine my sweat being black and foul as I begin and then, slowly becoming clear as all the anxiety, stress, fear, frustration, and anger are pulled out with the drops of sweat. Over the past week, during my workouts, I’ve visualized the dead Covid virus leaving my body with my sweat.
Today I was not disappointed. As my feet pounded and my legs reminded me that I’d lifted today already, with each block I began to feel more myself. I felt my thoughts calm and I moved from living in my head to coming back down into my body, pulled there by aching calves and lungs growing stronger. My heart beat more easily even as it beat more rapidly. As I reached my cooldown, I walked with a peaceful ease that wasn’t there.
And this comfort comes without a cost later and it is more lasting than anything I would have gotten from those chocolate chip bars, delicious as they are.
The reasons that working out helps me lose weight aren’t really tied so much to however many calories I burn. Even though my workout watch tracks such things, I don’t really pay attention. The calories burned are just a nice bonus. Working out helps me lose weight because I have an outlet besides eating to deal with my emotions, but it’s even more than that. When I work out, the quality of my workout is impacted a lot by how I eat. If I eat healthy foods, it’s easier to do my workout and I enjoy moving more. You know what I mean if you’ve ever overeaten or eaten a bunch of junk food and then tried to go for a walk…you just feel awful. It’s even more like that when I run or work out hard. If I’ve eaten well the day before and drank lots of water, there is an ease in how I move and my body feels good. If I have given in to junk foods, eaten too much, or skimped on water, I struggle in my workout and it’s just a chore.
Every time I run I realize that it’s easier to run when I’m not carrying around empty foods in my stomach or on my body.
All day, when I reach for what to eat next, I remember my workout and I am mindful of the experience I want the next time I sweat. Do I want it to be a struggle or do I want to feel ease? Is that chocolate chip bar worth the struggle I might have later? Is a second helping going to feel good tomorrow? In some cases, the answer is a resounding yes, but in others…I pass it by.
In this way more than the calories spent, working out helps me keep on track with healthy eating, which in turn is a bigger factor in weight loss than exercise. You simply cannot outtrain a poor diet.
And you cannot out eat your emotions.