We’ve all made that desperate and often half-hearted promise to ourselves at least three or four times in the past five years: “I’m going to start exercising more.” In my experience, when this happens, I’ll change into the old exercise clothes, lace up my (hardly used) running shoes, tie up my hair and jump on the treadmill for 40 minutes or so. Congratulations, self.
Not so fast.
After my invariably excruciating work out, I usually hop off the treadmill, do a couple stretches, take a shower and plop right down on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Workout over. Let the television commence.
This trend is disappointingly prevalent throughout all of our lives. Don’t get me wrong, indulging in embarrassing amounts of junk food is perfectly fine now and again. But what is not perfectly fine is the mindset that if we exercise, we can stave off unhealthiness and weight gain. Our reason for working out should not be to enable our poor eating habits.
Bob Harper, a trainer on the show “The Biggest Loser,” said in an interview with Reuters, “I used to think a long time ago that you can beat everything you eat out of you and it’s just absolutely not the case.” The inherent flaw in the misconception that Harper referenced is that our weight does not define how healthy we are. It all depends on the way we treat our body and this includes what we put into it.
We know that junk foods are bad. Excessive consumption of them can lead to obesity and a myriad of health complications, as well as significantly decreased energy levels, sometimes leading to crankiness, bad attitudes and even depression. But what some people don’t realize is that these things won’t go away with exercise. What you put in your body affects the way it functions. If it’s junk food that you’re constantly putting in your body, it will affect you negatively, whether you spend every day in front of the TV or run 20 miles a week.
It may seem pretty obvious, but eating healthy has numerous health benefits, many of which are directly opposite of the effects of eating poorly. These include a significantly lesser risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even some types of cancer. Not to mention, it leads to better mental health and boosts energy.
The issue that many people have with eating healthy is that many people view it as dieting. According to WebMD, “Healthy eating is not a diet. It means making changes you can live with and enjoy for the rest of your life.” The article goes on to explain what exactly the difference is: “Diets are temporary. Because you give up so much when you diet, you may be hungry and think about food all the time. And after you stop dieting, you also may overeat to make up for what you missed. Eating a healthy, balanced variety of foods is far more satisfying.”
Eating healthy doesn’t mean you throw in some fruit with your Lucky Charms, or that you deprive yourself of the food you like, or even that you eat less. It means making sure that the foods you put in your body will nourish you and provide you with the nutrients you need. Of course, indulging in a bag of sour cream and cheddar Ruffles once in a while won’t hurt you. What hurts is making these foods that are completely lacking in any nutritional value a consistent part of your diet and justifying it with exercising. Even if you don’t gain weight, the perpetuated illusion of being healthy is just not true.
Since I made the decision to start eating healthier, I have found that my quality of life has significantly increased. I’ve had more energy and motivation, and healthy eating has made me feel I have more control over my life. Instead of eating large amounts of junk food and desperately running a painful three miles to “make up for it,” I’m feeding my body with the food that helps it thrive on its own, rather than convincing myself that I can trick my own body into being healthy.
Obviously, none of this means that exercise is not important. Exercise coupled with healthy eating habits is a winning combination for a powerful body and a happy mind. But what is important to note is that in the long run, for people hoping to become healthy or lose weight, a nutritious diet is much more beneficial than exercise aimed at compensating for an uncompromising intake of junk food.
Elise Martorano is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]