How To Tell If Your Relationship With Exercise Is Actually Toxic

Christine Byrne
·2-min read
How you view the gym or fitness can affect your overall mental health.
How you view the gym or fitness can affect your overall mental health.

When we talk about diet culture and oppressive, unattainable body standards, the conversation often centres around food. But really, diet culture reaches far beyond what we eat. Obsessing about achieving or maintaining a certain body type can also wreak havoc on our relationships with exercise ― and often, mainstream fitness culture often encourages this unhealthy mindset.

Because most fitness programmes are built around the explicit or implicit promise of weight loss or “improved body composition” (which — eye roll — is code for fat loss), many people only think of exercise as a way to change or control the way their body looks.

That’s why it’s crucial to examine your relationship with exercise, determine if it’s unhealthy and, if it is, change the way you think about working out.

First, let’s talk about toxic fitness culture.

Ilya Parker, a North Carolina-based physical therapist assistant, certified medical exercise specialist, gave the following examples of toxic fitness culture:

  • The promotion of fitness for the sole purpose of weight loss.

  • The belief that “fit” has a look.

  • Personal trainers unwilling or unable to modify exercises that support your unique body.

  • The belief that you’re not working hard enough if you haven’t achieved thinness.

  • Personal trainers who aren’t registered dieticians giving diet advice.

  • Unsolicited dieting advice in general.

  • Personal trainers who don’t believe you when you say need to stop and who encourage you to push through pain.

  • The belief that beating your body up makes for a good workout.

  • The belief that your body has to get smaller or toned when you engage in fitness, and, if it doesn’t, that you’re doing something wrong.

  • Thinking diet and exercise are the only ways for someone to take care of themselves.

  • Cultivating fitness spaces that aren’t accessible or affirming to a diverse group of bodies.

You’ve likely seen some of these in action, and you might even hold some as beliefs. The thing is, using...

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