weight loss exercise

Why weight loss isn’t a great motivator for exercise

Many people start exercising because they want to lose weight. But is that really the best motivator? Probably not, and here’s why…

What do you think of when you read the word ‘exercise’?

Fitspo? Activewear? Sweat? Australian Ninja Warrior? Gym selfies on Instagram? My money would be on ‘weight-loss’, or some form of body shape changing, being right up there as well.

So many people have weight concerns. How could we not? Weight loss is talked about everywhere like it is the easiest thing in the world and society makes us feel terrible if we can’t achieve it. We’re bombarded everywhere we go.

Weight loss is marketed everywhere!

It appears on social media as ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures. We get hit by advertising on Instagram, Facebook and TV. ‘Influencers’ constantly tell us their (incredibly unhealthy and often unsubstantiated) weight-loss secrets. Current affairs shows and morning television are always spouting the latest gimmick. How could we not be consumed by it?

On top of that, anything less than ‘perfect’ is made out to be all our fault. We lack willpower. We’re not dedicated. We’re told that if we were just motivated enough we would be able to stick with this intense regime and lose weight.

Exercise really has become synonymous with weight loss

And I think that’s a real shame. People tend to assume that if we’re exercising, we’re doing it for weight-loss. Additionally, ‘success’ is often measured in the number of calories we burn, how much weight we have lost or how that ‘after’ picture looks.

There are so many other amazing reasons to move!

We shouldn’t just move our bodies to change our shape or the number on the scale. And if we do have weight concerns, is weight-loss even a good enough motivator to get us to move our bodies?

No. And here’s why…

Exercise and motivation

There are basically two reasons why we do just about everything: Extrinsic (external) and intrinsic (internal) motivation.

Extrinsic motivation comes from things outside of ourselves. We do things to gain external reward or to avoid punishment. This could be money, approval, opportunities, accolades or to avoid the chastising of your peers, your boot camp instructor or society in general.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within ourselves. We do something for its own sake and for personal rewards. We enjoy it, we have fun, find purpose, follow our passion and get to express ourselves.

Intrinsic motivation is the “special sauce” to form lasting habits and meaningful change. Extrinsic motivation might start us on a journey, but intrinsic drivers are what get us there. They give us sticking power and create enjoyment along the way.

Weight loss is often an extrinsic motivator

Weight concerns and the pursuit of changing one’s shape tend to fall into the extrinsic category. We do it because we feel we have to. It doesn’t speak to us on a deep and personal level or brings us joy. Sure, you might reach that number on the scale or fit into that dress … but then what?

Now, its ok if weight-loss has been your primary motivator up until now (or even if it still is). It’s so easy to get caught up in the weight-loss rhetoric that is peddled by the wellness industry. But if we do that, we’re missing out on some the best reasons to move our bodies!

It’s time to dig a little deeper

I invite you to ask yourself “what are you hoping moving your body will provide for you?”. If you want to lose weight, what do you hope that you’ll gain from that weight loss?

Perhaps you hope to have more fun in your life. Maybe you want to reduce your blood pressure or boost your energy levels. Maybe you want to improve your confidence, get stronger or move without pain.

Whatever your reason for starting, it’s also important to think about how you feel during and after exercising. How does moving your body make you feel? Do you love the endorphin rush after a run? Do you love the calm of mind after yoga? Or how alive you feel after a swim in the ocean?

There are so many deep and personal reasons to move our bodies, and yours will be different to every other person who reads this blog. That’s ok. In fact, it’s great! Can you imagine if we all did the same thing? How boring!

Getting started on your movement journey can be tough

Whether it’s becoming active for the first time or returning to movement after a setback or change in circumstances, it can be hard to overcome all the challenges of modern life. Here are some tips for making movement a regular and rewarding part of your life:

Do something you enjoy

Channel your inner Marie Kondo and find a way to move your body that sparks joy. If you hate running (like me), then probably don’t try that “Couch to 5km” you saw in the paper. Doing something you like will help to foster a positive relationship with movement and your body.

Start small and slow

All those ‘each journey begins with a single step’ clichés exist for a reason. Make sure you are setting goals and expectations for yourself that are actually attainable. If you have a bigger goal in mind, break it down into smaller chunks so it is less daunting. If you want to do the Cradle Mountain Trek but haven’t been moving in a while – great! Starting with a walk a few times a week rather than donning a 20kg pack and heading bush.

Think about your ‘why’

What is it you really want from moving your body? A social outing to catch up with old friends or make some new ones? More energy to play with the kids (or nieces, nephews and fur-babies)? To improve your sporting performance? To reduce pain or rehabilitate an injury? To help manage your conditions? To improve your mood? To have some time that is just for you?

All of these are great reasons and there are countless others. Just choose the one that resonates with you the most.

Remember, it’s not about your shape and size

It’s time to stop focusing on the scales and focusing on how movement will enrich your life. This will help you prioritise movement in your busy schedule. It will also help with long-term exercise adherence.

Every movement journey is different, but they are all equally worthy. I hope that you find a way to bring joyful and meaningful movement into your life, for the rest of your life.

If you need extra advice or you’re living with a chronic health condition, I recommend chatting to your local Accredited Exercise Physiologist before getting started.

Written by Meredith Woolsey. Meredith is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Move to Live Exercise Physiology.