How to Make Your Workout ‘Stick’ Without Shaming Your Body

Sep 21, 2017

Words by Kiana Duncan

I get a lot of questions from people. A LOT. And I love it. One of the most common questions I receive is the hardest to answer, because it revolves around the most difficult part of a lifestyle change: How do I keep with it?

Personally, I think getting to the gym is more of a mental struggle than anything. It took me months to get into a better mindset about my body, and a better mindset about fitness in general. The years and years of diet culture stuck with me, reminding me that if I didn’t have abs, there was still improvement to make, which quite frankly is bullshit. So let’s talk about ways that you don’t even have to get off the couch to try!

Being mindful: Work on your mental health as much as your physical health. Read daily meditations. Journal. Check in with yourself. Get in as many life talks as you can. Do things YOU enjoy. Spend quality time with yourself. The better you know your mind, the better you can take care of your body. Despite what diet culture tells us, you are not broken. You are not a project to fix. You are a complete, whole person. What are you doing to take care of you?

Stop fixating: ETDD. Eat the dang donut. We justify so much of what we do and when we should be doing it because it makes us happy. American culture is so much about us shaming ourselves, or convincing ourselves we deserve that cupcake, we deserve that donut, because we DESERVE to eat. How crazy does that sound, convincing ourselves that we deserve to perform a basic human function necessary for survival? Take a step back and reevaluate what makes something healthy.

Now, this is two-fold. We fixate on our gym routines too, convincing ourselves that we’re never doing enough. This is what killed my gym stamina every time. If I didn’t look like that girl with the thigh gap, why try? If I already ate something society conceived as fattening or unhealthy, I should probably just give up for the day. If I can’t keep my energy up for an hour-long workout, I might as well not even go. Progress can be found in the shortest of workouts. Did you feel good about what you did? Awesome!

Make the gym a place you want to be: If you are going to the gym seven days a week, two hours a day, chances are, you might be freakin’ tired. If cardio every day is making you super bored, only do it once a week. Or none, if that’s what you’re feeling. There isn’t a “one size fits all” routine for everyone. So what if the girl next to you is running for 45 minutes? What makes YOU feel good?

Do not engage in negative self-talk: A big trend in fitness is negative self-talk. Wow, does it sting when I see women with “10 squats, fatass!” around their apartment or written down as inspiration. This is completely counterintuitive to me. Inspiration should make you want to be the best you possibly can be, not bring you down. Additionally, talking badly to yourself while eating food necessary to help you have your best workout (carbs) will not help you. Get rid of that inner judgmental voice we all have and practice talking to yourself with compassion and understanding. Respect your body. As I’m writing, there’s a sign on the wall that I really like. “Talk to yourself like you would someone you love.” So, yeah. Do that.

Unrealistic expectations: This is something I really struggled with at first. Every day will not be your best day. Some days your cardio might not be where you want it to be, but your self-talk is on point. Some days your arm workout wasn’t feeling super strong, but you made an effort to be there. Some days you might not even want to be there, and I’ve definitely had some of those, but that’s OK. It’s unfair to expect ourselves to run for 20 minutes when our body can only handle half of that. Of course, we can’t lift as much as our workout buddy who’s been lifting since high school. Her body is different. The point is, you made it to the gym. That’s what matters. Set loose goals, but be understanding and kind to yourself, even on days where you can’t reach them.

Decide to love your body BEFORE working out. This makes all the difference. Working out gets a lot more fun after you stop seeing it as a way to “fix yourself.” The pressure is off, it’s just something fun you get to treat yourself to! It makes that SlimFast smoothie a lot less appealing, as well as those coaches blowing up your inbox who want to help you find your summer body. Pssst … Do you have a body? Is it summer? Congrats, you have a summer body.

Self-love isn’t always easy, and can take a lot of introspection and adjustment. Catch yourself when you start hating on the things you do, eat or try. It’s a process. Sometimes even I need a reality check, which sounds something like this: “Are you freaking kidding me? Do you know how awesome it is that you made the gym a priority today? It doesn’t matter how much you’re lifting, it’s just great that you’re here. You are badass, and later we are going to sit down and figure out why you feel this way!”

Surround yourself with positive people: Every day is not going to be your best day. And on those days, it’s good to have people who will hug you anyway and love you for who you are. Don’t keep the people who point and say, “I thought you were on some sort of health kick,” as you eat chips. Don’t bring the people along who laugh when you try a new machine and use it completely wrong — we’ve all been there! Don’t bring people who try to create rules for you and boundaries for you to live inside. Your body is yours, and good friends will respect that. Misery loves company, and even the best of friends or significant others can project their own insecurities onto you. You have enough on your plate, and it’s not your job to handle theirs too. Likewise, be a good friend and be mindful about what you say to others.

Find #fitspo — fitness and inspiration — if that’s your thing: Be careful with this. I’m going to do an entire post on this, because I think #fitspo is one of the most dangerous things to self-image if not discussed properly. Don’t follow the girl because you want her body. Follow the girl because you admire her work ethic. Follow her because she inspires you to accept more variety of what health looks like. Follow her because she posts awesome recipes, fun workout ideas or because you think she’s a great person. Don’t get caught up in “but her butt! I want!”

Girl, listen. You cannot have her butt. You can have yours, which is just as awesome. If you see her post and it instantly makes you feel bad about your own body, unfollow. I followed a girl who posted great arm workouts for a while, but then decided that my mental health was too important to see her try to hit her lowest weight for bikini shows. I’m super happy she’s living her best life, but I won’t torture myself with images that do not make me feel good about the body I’m in.

You have to want it. You have to know the reason behind why you want this. Plain and simple, if you do not want to go to the gym, if you do not want to go to yoga, if you do not want to eat kale, then don’t. Genuinely. Be deliberate about what you want. Life is too short to go do squats when you would much rather be at Taco Bell, read an awesome book or hang out with your friends. Make choices you want to make. Have you ever had to do something you didn’t want to? I sure have, and let me tell you, it was not my best work. Classes I didn’t want to be in were not my highest grades. It’s not rocket science. Fitness is the same way. If you don’t want it, you don’t do it. And when you do want it, you begin to make it a priority. Do it because YOU want it. If not, walk away.

Let’s start a conversation! Follow me @KianaDuncan_ and let me know what helps you stick to your workout.