Atonement Workouts (I’m not for ’em)

On Saturday night while Andrew and I were chowing down on chips and salsa, we eavesdropped overheard a conversation between two women at the table next to us.  One of the women appeared very fit–thin and toned–and was giving nutrition advice to her friend.  At first glance you’d think she had it all together, but after listening for a few minutes (unintentionally, of course;  Andrew and I couldn’t really talk because it would have required us to take breaths between bites ;-)), I thought, Whoa, this lady is way off base.

“Women need at least an hour of heavy cardio every single day.”

“I generally eat 1500 calories a day, but things carry over day to day;  I’ll make up for this indulgence [motioning to her small cocktail] tomorrow by only eating 1000 calories.”

In immediate response to that I said to Andrew, “That sucks.  I won’t.”

I witnessed a similar event a couple of months ago; I overheard a woman in the gym locker room say this to another woman after they’d just taken a group fitness class together:

“Well, I’m going to go do the Elliptical now because I decided to eat Girl Scout cookies last night!”

In addition to what sounded like a grueling class, this woman completed a full workout on an Elliptical machine in order to make up for something she’d eaten the day before.

I call this an “atonement workout” or “atonement eating,” in the case of the sad 1000 calories–in which a person thinks they must work off a food debt they’ve created or make right the horrendous wrong of, say, eating a few Girl Scout cookies–and I think this attitude is all wrong.

While there’s obviously a connection between our weight and the calories we eat and burn, this attitude misses the big picture… and can drive a person nuts.  Food is not something to be punished for, but is, along with physical activity, a means to care for our bodies.  I like to think of physical wellness not in terms of the “bad” things we “shouldn’t” have (“I can’t eat carbs/fat/cookies/chips…”) but rather the sum of the kind things we do for our bodies.  I feel well not because I didn’t eat dessert yesterday (I did,) but because I ate a lot of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein and took a walk–The sum of the good stuff rather than the absence of the bad stuff.  And I am not working out for longer today because I ate a delicious, homemade cupcake yesterday.

Health is about more than hitting a certain calorie goal each day.  And by the way, if I completed an hour of hard cardio daily and only ate 1500 calories, I’d be a very unpleasant person;  don’t even get me started on the 1000 calories (which, for the record, is below what is considered starvation.)

Be good to yourself!

What kind things will you do for your body today?

21 thoughts on “Atonement Workouts (I’m not for ’em)

  1. I love your take on exercise! Like you, I don’t believe in “atonement workouts.” Just last week, I jumped off a cliff with what I ate all in one day. That night, I went for a walk/run with a group from my church – making jokes that I really needed it after what I ate that day. However, it was my only workout that day. And I only had enough strength to do half an hour anyway! So there was no atonement there! Then a couple of days later, I stepped into the middle of a conversation at a picnic where one person said, “Exercise is only a benefit to being healthy, not a means to being healthy.” I kept shoving food in my mouth to keep myself from saying what I really wanted to! It truly is amazing how many different views and attitudes about health are out there. You said it very well with: “The sum of the good stuff rather than the absence of bad stuff.” I’m going to have to put that in my memory banks for future use. Thank you!

  2. Don’t even get me started on this topic – my boss that I make lunch for – she eats a 3/4 cup of Total for breakfast with 1/2 a cup of milk for breakfast. Has a FOUR shot black Starbuck’s coffee every day – and my 400 calorie lunch.

    She looks at the food I give her (which is roughly 100 calories more than her frozen Lean Cuisines) and declares that I am trying to fatten her up and that she’ll have to skip dinner because of her “big” lunch.

    She’s a size 6, but skinny does not equal healthy!

    • Ridiculous. She probably embraces the “lean” on her Lean Cuisines and thinks that because what you make is actual food, it will make her fat. Pretty sad, actually. It sounds like she has some issues to work through. You may have said this on your blog at some point, but why do you make her lunch?

  3. Pingback: Atonement Workouts (I’m not for ‘em) | lil' monkey PJ

  4. Pingback: Atonement Workouts (I’m not for ‘em) | Another Day In...

  5. You’re exactly right! I’ve been thinking lately about all the disordered eating/working out I see, hear, and read about almost daily, and “atonement workouts” are definitely an example of that.

  6. I couldn’t have said this better myself!! Very well written!! I can’t help but feel bad for people with this mindset, such a trapped way of living!! Pass the cake!

  7. Ooooofta…. man alive. Yeah – that’s rough. I mean, I understand the whole science of calories in, burning them up yadah… but come on! This is why people who exercise and want a healthy balance get a bad rap. Great post!!

  8. I absolutely agree with every word of this… It’s ridiculous how people think these days. Just tonight, in my fitness class, the instructor said this, “You guys should have eaten about 2 hours ago to make it through this class. This isn’t something where you’ll burn a bunch of calories and lose a bunch of weight – it’s about muscle endurance.”
    It just hit the nail on the head and so does this – it’s a travesty that people feel this way, when in reality, your decision to not stress over 1 drink is in fact the obviously healthy choice.
    Great post.

    • Thanks! Similarly, a few years ago in what ended up being the hardest spin class of my life, the instructor (a large male) said, “Last night I ate a big, juicy cheeseburger… and this morning we’re ALL going to work it off.” And while it was actually pretty funny (until 5 minutes into class when we were all dying…) it’s just another example of this. Food and exercise are both pieces of a healthy life…one isn’t payment for the other. Ugh.

  9. Right on Catherine, fab post, never coined on the term ‘atonement eating/workouts’ but you’re spot on. I feel really sorry for all those poor women who feel a bit lost with e.g. weight loss or getting fit, only to be told bucket loads of unhealthy behaviour by ‘ideal’ women, what are they to think or do?! The other thing which can gnark me is people preaching about their particular way of healthy living without realising that a healthy lifestyle can be quite a personal thing, so what works for one person may not work for another. Good food for thought so thank you 🙂 !

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