Overcoming Exercise Guilt

Overcoming Exercise Guilt + Finding a Healthy Balance

I’m on a flight on my way to San Francisco right now to spend the...

Overcoming Exercise Guilt

I’m on a flight on my way to San Francisco right now to spend the week with the Facebook team, learning about how Facebook and Instagram can help grow your small business!

I’m so excited to be part of this select group of business owners, and I can’t wait to see the Facebook HQ!

Since I had some extra time on the flight, I wanted to really dive deep into today’s #livinginspiralized feature. I’m talking about exercise guilt.

What I Ate Today, April 4, 2017



Another day, another oatmeal bowl with Wild Friends sunflower butter, sliced bananas, blueberries and chia seeds.


I had more of my raw nut mix. Raw cashews, almonds, pecans, walnuts, and raisins.


My videographer was over to film some new cooking videos, so I was eating min-portions of everything. The largest portion I had (so I guess, ‘lunch’) was a bowl of my bikini bolognese (just the sauce).


I snacked on some raspberries, straight out of the fridge and these “Figgy Pops” (unbaked organic energy balls in ‘Tart Cherry Fig’) from Made In Nature, which I’ve been obsessed with. I have two (that’s a serving) and those tiny little… well, balls… are surprisingly filling – and eventually energizing!


Dinner was a “I’m going on a trip, let’s eat all these vegetables so they don’t get wasted.” I had heirloom rainbow carrots, sweet potatoes, and cauliflower and served it over quinoa, along with two fried eggs for Lu.


My favorite Daily Harvest smoothie aka chocolate milkshake. It literally takes like a milkshake, but better! It’s refreshing, nourishing, and the perfect amount of sweet. It’s the Cacao+Avocado flavor and whenever I need something sweet after dinner, it satisfies the craving – and I always get Lu to split it with me. You can get 3 free smoothies by entering code “inspiralized” on checkout at Daily Harvest.

Overcoming Exercise Guilt

Let me first preface by saying that this post was inspired by the lovely Davida from The Healthy Maven. She wrote a piece on her once unhealthy relationship with exercise and I realized that the topic needs to be covered more by those of us in the healthy blogging space. Many of us have been tormented by exercise obsession and I wanted to share my experience and my advice, as someone who has overcome exercise guilt in the hopes of opening up the conversation and perhaps, helping someone who is currently struggling with this. The more we talk about the uncomfortable, controversial issues, the more comfortable we’ll be with seeking help and getting better.

Exercise guilt. It’s the guilt you feel when you miss a workout. You may feel worthless, lazy, and even depressed. Why do you feel guilty? You feel guilty because you know you could’ve made the gym that day but you didn’t push yourself to get there and that makes you feel ‘guilty’. You could have and you didn’t. You failed. Actually, you can even feel exercise guilt when there literally wasn’t enough time in the day (unless you woke up at 4am to workout) to fit it in.

You also may feel guilty, because you feel like a missed session at the gym, a run, or whatever is a missed opportunity at reaching your weight loss goals. You think that missing a workout, or two, or a few is going to derail your goals. You may even compare your days. You may say, “Well, I ran for 30 minutes yesterday, so now I can’t eat as much today because then I’ll have consumed more calories than today and I’ll gain weight.” THEN, you may feel so poorly, that you end up over-eating or indulging in a bag of chips or ice cream, because your guilt turned into self-digust.

Sound familiar?

Well, you’re not alone. And to be frank with you, for most of my 20s, that’s exactly how I felt. Every single day, I felt exercise guilt. It was debilitating and caused this unbalanced, unhappy feeling with fitness and health. Even when I did make a workout, I’d always compare it to other days and judge myself if I worked harder the previous day.

While I’ve never had an eating disorder, exercise guilt is probably the closest I’ve ever come to one, because it caused me to binge eat a lot when I’d miss those workouts.

So how did I beat it? How did I rid myself of the exercise guilt?

Diet > Exercise

In terms of weight loss, I finally realized that diet was more important than exercise. If you focus primarily on your diet (eating clean foods and fueling yourself properly), then the weight will peel off much more quickly than if you make 7 workouts in a row. Exercising only 3-4 days a week and eating a very clean diet is just as effective in weight loss as exercising 7 days a week and eating a mildly healthy diet. What would you rather do? Feel good 7 days a week or feel sub-par 7 days a week and feel chained to the gym?

Since working out 6-7 days a week is pretty difficult to maintain, you’re liable to experience fatigue, apathy, and other symptoms that lead you to skip the gym and grab that bag of chips at lunch instead of the apple. When I miss a workout, I don’t binge eat. I simply don’t have dessert. Or, I eat a big salad instead of a big sandwich for lunch. Or, I skip the 3pm snack. Now that I’m pregnant, my goals have changed, of course, but this is how I overcame the exercise guilt.

Stopping the social media spiral

Stopped following fitness stars on social media. This is HUGE. Just like real life models, Instagram fitness models and accounts make their living off of looking fit. They feel an immense pressure to keep fit, toned, and thin. They spend hours at the gym, eat extremely strict diets, and most likely, have disordered eating. Actually, the pressure is so real, that they’re now trying to relieve some of that pressure and show that they’re “real people” by doing fake before and afters where they show what they actually really look like without the posing on Instagram (example here.)

Long story short, why are you following these types of people? Instead of following super thin fashion bloggers with thigh gaps or fitness stars with abs and sleek arms, why not follow more women who live a more balanced life? Perhaps female entrepreneurs who are also healthy, not necessarily ripped and always in sports bras and spandex? Or a woman who may not have abs, but is changing the world? OR, find someone on Instagram who has a healthy approach to diet and exercise, one that’s relatable and attainable. If you need some fitspo (shameless plug coming), follow me on my fitness account, @getinspiralized.

When you scroll through your feed, you won’t feel bad about yourself for not having abs or a protruding clavicle. Instead, you’ll be motivated to work hard and achieve bigger, more important goals. If you think about it, every time you see an unattainable body, you think, “Ugh, I wish I could have that discipline!” and it rarely makes you feel good about yourself.

Commit to a workout schedule that fits your schedule

I’ve found that working out in the morning has kept be sane. On days when I’m just too tired to get out of bed, I don’t. But mostly, I’m able to wake up and make my workout. This helps me from feeling that all day torment of, “Should I go to the gym?” or that end-of-the-day guilt of, “Ugh, I really should get to the gym, but it was such a long day!”

If you workout in the morning, there’s none of that. Your workout is done before most people brush their teeth in the morning, and you feel great all day, thanks to the endorphins.

So, if you’re someone who knows making a post 5pm workout is difficult and you’re likely to feel shameful over it, then commit to a better schedule. Maybe it’s the morning, maybe it’s a 20 minute HIIT workout on your phone at lunchtime. Whatever it is, make it fit your schedule, and be honest with yourself.

Switch up your workout routine

The less you stick to a strict regime (ie running 6 days a week for 45 minutes) and the more you switch it up, the less likely you are to compare yourself to previous fitness days, because no two workouts are the same! Also, your body won’t get as burnt out or tired, and you’re more likely to healthfully commit.

What helped me the most was trying less aggressive forms of exercise. Around my 29th birthday last year, I was about 80% over the exercise guilt. I still had “relapses”, because I was trying to shed a couple more pounds and thought the way to do that was through consistent exercise (even though I was finally realizing that diet was what was going to get me there.)

That day, I had a private yoga lesson with Lu (I had never done yoga before that point!) scheduled in the evening. So what did I do? I worked out early in the morning, because I knew I wasn’t going to get a “good enough workout” that day with just yoga.

There’s no such thing as a bad workout – all workouts are good. They get your heart rate pumping, they strengthen your cardiovascular health, and they help build strong bones and muscles, and exercise releases endorphins, making you happier!

Now, I do yoga once a week and I look forward to how different of a workout it is than my other weekday workouts which are more high intensity, like spinning, running and HIIT.

Also, on days when I don’t “feel” like working out but I have the energy, I go to the gym, because I know it’s good for my body, and I do a lighter workout, but I don’t feel any guilt. I feel accomplished, instead. Even if it’s just 20 minutes of walking on the treadmill.

On the days that I don’t want to work out because I don’t have the energy, guess what? I don’t. And the most liberating thing is that I feel zero guilt. I know I have my healthy diet to fall back on, so I’m not going to gain weight.

Do I have abs? Do I have a little extra pudge on my hips and my arms? 100%. But you know what I DON’T have? Guilt. Fatigue. Mental torment.

I’ll take a little extra pudge for a happier me.


with love, Ali

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  • Thanks for sharing this post Ali, it definitely speaks to me! I have been trying for a long time to find peace with the balance of diet and exercise. I appreciate your honesty in your healthy living posts. Looking forward to your demo @Whole Foods in Boston this weekend!!
  • i needed to read this today! thank you!
  • Thanks for this post...! Totally relatable...! Great tips.
  • Oh wow I love this post. I am all about healthy body image and balance of health and exercise and just being nice to yourself too, because for so much of my life I didn't do that! I have listened to a couple of posts about the effects of "healthy" posters on Insta and Facebook lately and so agree, there is some social responsibility needed there. Meanwhile, tell me, what are your favorite 20 minute HIIT workouts? Where do you find them/stream them from??? Thanks for all you do!
  • Thanks, Ali, great post!
  • So good! I wrestle with this as well as PTSD from anorexia. Thank you!
    • Hi, Lisa. Soooo sorry to hear that you've struggled with/are struggling with anorexia. You mentioned PTSD, too, and I wanted to mention EMDR as a potential treatment. I'm a therapist & find EMDR to be 'magical' for all kinds of issues, including eating disorders & the related runaway negative self-beliefs. You can find an EMDR therapist in your area by going to www.EMDRIA.com. BEST to you.
  • I'd love to hear about what workouts you do, or online videos you'd recommend. I don't have a gym to go to so working out at home is my go to.
  • I too needed to read this today! Thank you for the positive motivation!
  • Well said and fabulous that you have figured this out at such a young age! Congrats on your pregnancy! Children are the best! Motherhood is wonderful! Enjoy!
  • LOVE this post and series! Two things: 1. You will LOVE the Facebook headquarters. They're amazing! Like a mini version of Palo Alto. I went a couple years ago and got to chat with the woman who designed the HQ... so interesting! Can't wait to hear all the things you're doing with them. 2. Totally with you on the exercise guilt! It's not at all worth it. I have to say, though: it's hard being a part of the wellness industry sometimes because people can be very extreme. I've personally found that I feel more relaxed when I put less pressure on myself to workout. It's all about balance, right?! I'd love to know which accounts you follow for "real" inspiration in one of your wellness wednesday posts!
  • Love this post but I feel that it's naive to say that ALL fitness social media models have a negative influence and the assumptions that u made don't apply to everyone . I follow many that have very informative channels and inspire me in my own fitness goals in different ways, just as your account does. How others use or don't use them as inspiration is on the viewer . While your observations of social media fit models may be true for some , it's important to discuss both angles .
    • That's what I said - just follow whoever inspires you and doesn't invoke envy or unattainable angst!
  • I'm so happy that you have found this balance, Ali. Eating healthy always makes me feel better that a tough workout. We have two big puppies who we walk twice a day and love to take hiking on weekends. They're counting on us and enjoy it so much, there's no skipping!
  • Unfollowing fitness instagrams is so key!!
  • Where is the link to the "fake before and after" photos? Thanks for sharing everything!
  • Thanks for writing this post. I wish I had come across posts or resources like this two years back when I was restricting my food intake and overexercising. These days, my main workout is yoga (first thing in the morning) and if I get a chance mid day or later in the day, I'll tag on a Tone it Up workout. I also eat the same way, regardless. I always eat pretty healthy and plant-based so I might just choose lighter meals/snacks. I find that cutting out a snack or shrinking down a meal too much leaves me unbalanced throughout the day and I feel hungry after dinner. Snacks are important! Once again, your perspective is refreshing. I appreciate you sharing your experiences and thoughts.
  • love this, i recently read another food bloggers post about her previous day's "bad eating" and "too stupid and lazy to get to the gym" comments and I was SAD!! its beyond irresponsible (lots of teen girls following) and very damaging. ive since unfollowed her, because i dont need that message in my universe. i was so disappointed. We all have days where it all goes south but we cant continually beat ourselves up about it - the important thing is that we educate ourselves on what works for OUR bodies and lifestyle and LAUGH at our indulgences, move on and tomorrow is another day - I choose this as my thought process xx
  • Thanks, Ali. I slept in this morning and felt a little exercise guilt. I needed to read this today.
  • This is such a great post! Curious about your nutrition - do you count calories? I struggle to get enough daily (with a pretty balanced clean diet) and feel it's hindering my progress. Any advice?
  • Hi Ali - this is a really eloquently written post about an issue we don't talk enough about. I'm a family doc and see a lot of girls who go through this. It's hard not to when there are so many accessible photos to those insta-fit stars. You're right, they are likely spending hours at the gymand many of us forget that. You're right that we should be following more girls who are paving the way to success without cachectic appearing abs. I love your instagram and find it not only inspraling but inspiring ;)
  • Such an important topic, thank you! I've also written about exercise guilt here https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fit-femininity/201502/feeling-exercise-guilt and have found that often people find the topic uncomfortable...almost as if by admitting to feeling guilty, they ARE guilty of something. I agree that talking about it more will help make it less of a taboo subject and hopefully reduce interpersonal judgment as well!
  • Thank you for this. You put into words what I feel regularly and it was very powerful to hear. I have been loving your healthy living posts and how you share your emotional and mental transition into a healthier lifestyle. There are so many resources that teach you how to eat healthy, lose weight, etc on paper but the daily challenge and hurdles are not often mentioned. Thank you for your vulnerability and for letting us into your struggles and transition into a healthier mentality, as well as lifestyle.
  • Seems to me you haven't really solved it all that much if you can only get over the exercise guilt if you reduce your food intake as a result, by eating a salad and not having dessert. That's not healthy either as ultimately you're restricting yourself to be comfortable with the fact you haven't exercised and so weight loss is running your life still. I was hoping this would be an article that could help me but for someone who struggles with a past of food restriction and exercise addiction it just sent unhealthy messages to cut food on non workout days.