Food and exercise are not matter and anti-matter.

French version of this post here, courtesy Stéphanie Potin-Grevrend.


How often do you hear someone say they need to “work off breakfast,” or that they spoiled their workout by eating some calorific food afterward?

I hear it quite a bit, and it always bothers me. Let me count the ways.

First of all, reducing food to “calorie intake” and movement to “calorie expenditure” – setting them up as opposites, one cancelling the other out – disregards the real, complex, essentially human experiences of eating and moving.

It sets food and movement up to be rivals, competing for control over your weight. In doing so, it centers weight as The Priority.

It assumes one should always be in a state of calorie deficit, pursuing weight loss to the exclusion of enjoying your food, or moving for the fun of it.

It also implies that the only reason a person would exercise is for the purpose of off-setting what they eat – that food is matter, and exercise anti-matter.

Black or white. Zero or one. Positive or negative. All or nothing.

Even if you have given up the intentional pursuit of weight loss, it can be hard to escape this kind of thinking. It is imbedded, in many ways, into our culture and our language about eating and exercise. If you find yourself thinking this way, that’s okay – we all internalize messages from our surroundings. The question is whether you examine those messages, and how you act on them.

The best reminder you can give yourself in these instances, where either you have thought of food and exercise as negating each other, or someone else has sent this message in your general direction, is this:

Food and exercise are not enemies. They are friends. They work together to create and sustain life.

If you were to only eat without moving, you might remain nourished, but gradually become weakened in your bones and muscles, your cardiovascular fitness would wane, and you would become very ill. If your internal organs also stopped moving, you would die.

On the flip side, if you were to only move without eating, you would also become weakened (but probably not gradually), and then you would die.

Important note here: “moving” means literally that – any movement that you do in a day. We’ve come to prioritize and privilege rarefied forms of movement in our culture, usually involving gym memberships and special clothes and/or equipment, but your body does not care – your body cares about whether you can do your activities of daily living with adequate energy and strength, and how well your heart and lungs function. You don’t need a gym membership to do any of that (though if you just like going to the gym, then bully for you.)

Simply moving through your day – hell, simply existing without voluntary movement at all – uses up energy. But how many people reduce their activities of daily living to just “calories burned?”

“Oh, I need to burn some calories, so I guess I’ll clean up the kitchen and then concentrate on this book for a while!”

It would be absurd – because even simple activities like kitchen-cleaning and book-reading are about so much more than just calories burned. They are experiences that involve emotion, problem-solving, engaging your senses. They are the stuff human lives are made of.

You cannot reduce human life to a thermodynamic transaction.

There is more to it than that.

There is more to eating than calories, even biochemically – there are vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, antioxidants, electrolytes, fluids, dietary fibre, all the raw materials for repairing and remodeling every single cell in your body. More than that, there is culture, family history, occasion, artistry, skill, growth, feelings of joy or resentment, pleasure or distaste. There are emotional associations and memories, and there is the basic affirmation of life – “I need to eat to survive, and I am worth the effort to survive.” Every act of eating reaffirms your right to exist.

There is more to movement than calories, even biochemically – there is bone strengthening, muscle building, aerobic fitness, neural growth, balancing of hormones and lipid transporters, and every single involuntary movement and chemical reaction carried on below your conscious awareness, working around the clock to stave off entropy. More than that, there is fun, adventure, challenge, mastery, strength, place associations, social bonding, the experience of being an alive thing on a round, blue speck in the galaxy. There is a basic affirmation that you exist in a world you were designed to navigate.

Even if you are disabled, even if you have some impairment, your body is still exploring – from the bat of an eyelash to a trip to the bathroom. You are negotiating, discovering, navigating a physical existence.

You were made for this world. You belong in it, and it belongs to you.

Eating and moving: your right to exist, and a world in which to exist. They are not rivals. They do not annihilate each other. They collaborate to make a whole person, body and soul.

Stories of dangerously reductionist thinking in comments.



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123 responses to “Food and exercise are not matter and anti-matter.”

  1. Beth Spencer Avatar

    Time to get up from my desk, climb the stairs to my kitchen, and make dinner.

    1. sistercoyote Avatar

      Funny, in my house it’s exactly the opposite: get up from my desk, go down the stairs to the kitchen.

      And I think that’s awesome.

  2. Kiri Avatar

    “Every act of eating reaffirms your right to exist.”
    That has just hit me squarely between the eyes….. Without going into pages of herstory that is probably similar to many of your readers, that sentence rings true on so many levels. Have I been over eating/ starving myself/ eating a “normal” “diet” my whole life in order to justify/ validate my existence when that existence has been questioned by family, society, spirituality, philosophy and evolution to name a few……
    Does the existence of my body say – Hey there, I do exist, this is the home I walk around in, would you like to take a look inside? The decor is tasteful, colorful, interesting, thought provoking, comfortable and friendly.
    Hmmm food for thought anybody? ……my favorite….

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I think it’s hard not to use behaviours that bring social rewards (like exercising, “eating right”, etc.) when your right to exist has been questioned for a long time. And, for a lot of women especially, we have been questioned by messages that tell us repeatedly that we are worse than useless if we don’t look a certain way. But beneath all that, we are still human beings who already exist, and who belong here as much as anyone else.

  3. Daniel Avatar

    It’s so nice to read something like this. As someone who is struggling to reach a healthier relationship with exercise I’m in tune to how often people phrase exercise as you’ve mentioned. My roommate is always saying before one of his runs “Oh, I gotta go run ____ off,” or “Just ate that pizza, need to burn it off.” I don’t want to think about exercise as justcalories out just as much as I don’t want to think of food as just calories in and our culture (and my roommate) doesn’t make it any easier.

    Isn’t there an on/off switch I can just flick and go back to eating and exercising for enjoyment? =\ (It’s not as bad as it used to be to tell the truth.) I’d just like to be able to take a bike ride without worrying about caloric expenditure. It’s kind of odd – if I do my normal, planned workout, any activity after that is incredibly enjoyable. That’s not to say the planned workout is horrible (some days are better than others), but when I know I’ve hit my “goal” for the day, anything above and beyond doesn’t feel like it has caloric ties to it and I can enjoy it more.

    *Sigh* I’ll get there sooner or later. :)

    1. Michelle Avatar

      You will get there. And I so wish there was a switch you could flip! It’s pretty interesting that you notice how much more enjoyable the non-mandatory movement feels. I think that says a lot about how human motivation works :)

  4. Sue Ellen Avatar

    I treated food and exercise like that for years. And in hindsight, I can say that it really sucked.

    I’m in the process of developing a better (non-ED) relationship with food, and it’s interesting the way my attitude to exercise has changed at the same time. I’ve recently discovered Zumba, which I love (to my utter astonishment, since I am dangerously unco ;) ) and now I find myself linking food and exercise in helpful ways. As in, “I have Zumba tonight… better make sure I eat a decent lunch so I have energy for it” and “Why am I so hungry? Oh right, Zumba last night. Of course I need extra fuel today.” It feels so weird to me to be thinking this way after so many years of “yay, you exercised – now don’t ruin it by eating”. Weird, but incredibly freeing.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I sometimes do that too – when I used to walk to and from work, I always made sure to keep an extra package of trail mix in my bag to eat before I headed home for the day. I just knew I needed that extra bit of energy to get me through – it wasn’t negating anything. It was helping me do what I needed and wanted to do.

  5. JenC Avatar

    Great post! I’m so tired of hearing ‘Calories in-calories out!’ as though that simple equation explains everything. Just ‘work off’ every calorie you consume and you’ll be fine. I would love print out this post for my doctor, who used that tired cliche on me at my last checkup, but alas, I fired her for it.

  6. Lindsay Avatar

    So so true – I really hate when people talk that way. “Oh look at me, eating this ____ after I just worked out!” Uhhh so if you didn’t work out you just wouldn’t have eaten?! But I used to do that… My relationship with movement has changed drastically since I’ve recovered (from my ED). Movement used to be a punishment, a required daily act. Had to work out every day. Had to get as many steps as possible in the day. Had to stand/fidget as much as possible when not working out cause that burns more calories (cause of course I read that somewhere). Inevitable overuse injuries. And then if I ate something really “bad” or had a binge I just felt despair while working out because it could never take back those calories. It was an exhausting, joyless game. I’ve finally been able to get away from that kind of thinking -and truly in order to do so I had to stop “working out” and was fairly sedentary for a couple of years because I needed to be able to trust myself and my body without it. But it’s so different now in a good way. And it’s amazing how much more energy I have and how much better I feel (something people usually associate with weight loss…certainly not when I ever lost weight!) . If I’m going to be moving a lot I accept that I’m probably going to want to eat more that day or the next…eating as much as I NEED and WANT and not playing the eat as little as possible/exercise as much as possible makes moving a lot more fun. Cause who wants to move in any way when they’re not nourishing themselves? It’s like that fatigued feeling when you get sick and lose your appetite only all the time – to me that’s what the combination of dieting and exercise felt like.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      This is so awesome, and I’m very happy for you!

  7. Carrie Avatar

    I could not agree more! Moving away from this sort of thinking is the best thing I could have ever done. I now don’t even see the two as related, they are separate, joyous entities. Thanks for a great post!

  8. Rachel Avatar

    Thank you. I’ve been going through a rough patch, and this post…it just whacked me upside my head and gave me a whole new perspective.

    1. Kate G Avatar
      Kate G

      Me too. :( Counting calories vs. exercise has been my life lately. Which I know is not psychologically healthy for me, but gives me the illusion of control.

  9. deeleigh Avatar

    This post is a shining beacon of truth. Eating and movement both nurture our bodies. That’s the simple truth.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Aw, thanks! I know you already know this :)

    2. Glauke Avatar

      I initially mis-read that as a ‘bacon of truth’, which made me giggle.

  10. buttercup Avatar

    I’ve been trying to defeat the “exercise is punishment for eating” mindset for the past ten years. (I’m 51) Still no luck. It’s a work in progress. Having a severe case of peripheral neuropathy does not help. Moving hurts.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      That’s rough – I think actually feeling pain from moving is obviously going to impact how you view it. I think it would be a challenge for anyone experiencing what you are experiencing. I wonder if opening up the definition of “exercise” somewhat might be helpful, so that you can perhaps find ways of moving that don’t hurt, but that you can still accept as nurturing and helpful for your body? I have a feeling that being really gentle with yourself is going to be an absolute necessity. When I was feeling too depressed to do much of anything, my first goal in getting moving again was practicing opening my eyes in the morning, and keeping them open without falling back asleep. If I could keep my eyes open (blinking allowed, of course) for 15 minutes, it felt like a victory. Taking a shower was the next huge victory, followed by getting dressed. These are all movements, and they all count.

      1. buttercup Avatar

        I do swim, that’s one thing that is relatively low-pain. I pay for it afterwards with increased general pain levels but it’s not as bad as trying to spend a day at a fair or something. The degenerative nature of it is what’s messing with me most now. I need exercise to help control the diabetes so the neuropathy won’t get any worse but it hurts to move so I can’t exercise so my blood sugar stays higher than it should be and I’m already eating a very healthy balanced diet so I can’t help it there. Like I said, a work in progress. If I can get myself past the psychological barriers, I can deal with the pain.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          That’s really rough – to be tasked to control your blood sugar with something that causes you obvious pain. I just hope you have medication on your side to help you out, for both the pain and the blood sugar.

        2. littlem Avatar

          Buttercup, I feel so bad that you’re in pain.
          Might there be a yoga coach in your area that might be able to help you with something well-suited to your body’s concerns?

          1. buttercupia Avatar

            unfortunately not an option-money doesn’t permit it right now.
            I’ve tried some yoga but I can’t seem to stick to it.

        3. Rebecca Avatar

          Buttercup, have you had physical therapy lately? My grandfather and I both had good luck with physical therapy for neuropathy (different types- mine was from an injury and his was from Type 2 diabetes). If you have health insurance it should be at least partly covered.

        4. Chris Avatar

          For what it’s worth, I’ve got type one diabetes, and although I can manage my blood sugar pretty well with insulin injections – which in some ways gives more flexibility than some of the medications for type two – not sure what medications you’re on and how well they’re working for you – anyway, people talk about weight bearing exercise and cardio and all that – but more than any other activity, I’ve found tai chi to be best for helping moderate and lower my blood sugar levels. In particular, the 24 Tai Chi sword routine seemed to have the most profound impact, but I’ve no idea why. What made me think of it, is that tai chi places such a strong focus on relaxed, free motion. Of course, if money’s an issue this might not be all that helpful…

          1. Michelle Avatar

            Really interesting, thanks!

      2. deeleigh Avatar

        You know what’s strangely good exercise? Practising a musical instrument. It’s even better if you have some privacy and can move around. And I don’t think it would hurt many people. So if you play one, pay attention to the physical aspect of the practice: the act of playing, breath control if you’re a wind player, etc. You’ll see what I mean. I’ve been noticing it lately.

  11. Electric Landlady Avatar
    Electric Landlady

    SO true. I think exercise machines at the gym feed (heh) this mentality – there is always a little readout for how many calories you’ve burned, and it makes me furious. Nail on the head as usual!

    1. FatChickinLycra Avatar

      I’ve often thought of bringing a little sticky note to cover up that puppy. Bugs me that no matter what display I set it on, it ALWAYS has calories burned. NO way to turn it off.

      Or maybe I could bring a roll of black electrical tape and do a guerrilla blocking of that thing on all the machines… if I went to a commercial gym instead of to the Y, I’d be more tempted.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        Electrical tape is so handy.

        1. littlem Avatar

          LOL. I actually bring a little piece of duct tape to do this when my ortho doc says I *must* do the arc trainer.
          You all know I’m kind of weird, though.

      2. Lys Avatar

        When I had a gym membership, I would actually just grab an extra hand towel and drape it over the display. I didn’t even let the time show because I would set the treadmill for the amount of time I wanted or the distance I wanted and let it count down. It would drop into cool down when I reached the end, so I didn’t have to pay any attention to how long I’d been going and didn’t need the display at all! :)

    2. Lindsay Avatar

      How can they know how many calories you’ve burned? Doesn’t that vary from person to person?

      (I know your basal metabolic rate varies … I suppose they could just be tracking the amount of energy you’re transferring to their machine by running/cycling/rowing with it, and converting it into kilocalories. That would be just part of the energy you’re actually using, though, since they couldn’t possibly measure the energy you’re using that *doesn’t* get transferred to the machine …)

    3. Lindsay Avatar

      I see there’s two Lindsay’s on this post so I hope this doesn’t get confusing ;)

      The only thing I’ve seen that will sometimes work at stopping the calorie counter on exercise machines is if you ignore the “enter your weight” command that’s prompted at the beginning – they can’t compute your calories burned if you refuse to put your weight in. (Of course, some machines have a default and will just use that if you ignore it).

      1. Tori Avatar

        As an alternative option to subverting the machine’s default weight if it has one — What works for me is to enter a weight so far from my own that I know the “calories burned” number will be being computed for a body that is not mine. In turn, that helps me ignore the number. (If a machine’s default weight is closer to mine, I am tempted to try and translate that into my own calories expended, which never ends well for me.) I don’t expect that this idea works for everyone, but it might be an additional option to add to the arsenal.

        That said, I am now tempted to try the tape thing. Something like blue painter’s tape… well, it won’t stick, so gym staff shouldn’t get mad at me, right?

        1. littlem Avatar

          Maybe a small Post-It. :-)

          1. peregrin8 Avatar

            How about a small Post-It with a great quote from The Fat Nutritionist on it? You could say you put it there to motivate yourself and then “forgot” to take it off :-)

    4. Kaz Avatar

      My bicycle computer has an output saying “calories burned”, which I find absolutely ridiculous. Because, you know, the only data my bike computer *gets* is how fast I’m going. Things like: amount of weight on the bike, amount and direction of wind (cycling with strong headwind is ever so slightly more tiring than cycling with the wind!) or, of course, whether I am going uphill or downhill apparently don’t factor in at all! And that’s before factoring in individual difference or subtler environmental stuff or w/e.

      In other words, the calorie-burn-record on my bike computer is essentially fiction, and when I’m not laughing at it I’m annoyed that culture is such the makers felt they had to add it on as an option.

    5. Zannah Avatar

      One more reason I love, love, LOVE having a treadmill desk- computer monitor covers up “calories burned”. I have it just slightly to the side so I can reach around and hit the “Walk” button, which has my preferred walking speed and the max time it’ll let me exercise pre-entered, so I typically don’t even think about it. (That’s the one thing that bugs me about this machine- I can only exercise for 99 minutes max. Of course, I can just hit Stop then Walk again, but it interrupts my flow.)

    6. Melanie Avatar

      I started really liking going to the gym, actually, when I got myself and my daughter a Y membership. I could fit in a half hour of elipitcal trainer while she did her swim lesson. I put the display on this neat topographical map/distance meter, and tried to get a little bit further every time. I wasn’t so much worried about calories, but I liked to see how far I could ‘run’, and I usually felt pretty great afterwards. I started signing my daughter up for more classes so I could go ‘play’ on the eliptical trainer some more.

  12. Dee Avatar

    This post is awesome!! Thank you for your encouragement.

  13. L. Avatar

    Recently I realized that when I went running, it often felt like a slog, moving along like a snail only so that I could reach an end (literally and figuratively–the end of the route, the goal of getting fitter). Instead I tried to make it a more joyful experience by perceiving myself as running toward something I enjoyed, like a meeting with a good friend or a library of good books. And started listening to music again during my runs, stuff that made me want to dance, i.e. move. I find myself running faster and farther now. It’s really interesting how my emotional approach to the act of moving makes a difference.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I love this. I have done something similar at times, while exercising – that instead of imagining an abstract end goal, either it was something pleasurable and concrete, like you mentioned, or else I tried to tune in to how my body was feeling while moving, and interpreting those feelings (sweaty, breathing harder, warm muscles, increased heart rate) as positive, exciting, nice-feeling things. It really helped, instead of interpreting those things as signs of defeat, or proof of not being fit enough. After all, even elite athletes get sweaty, out of breath, and heart-pounding when working out – it’s a sign that I’m growing and challenging myself, not that I’m somehow a failure.

      Granted, I can get that feeling during a hilly 20-minute walk, but everyone has to find their own level. It actually feels good to me to have those feelings, no matter how much or how little movement gets me there.

      1. Nebet Avatar

        This is a good idea.

      2. Chris Avatar

        “It really helped, instead of interpreting those things as signs of defeat, or proof of not being fit enough” – oh, I get that! It’s one of those things that makes us feel marginalised – the feeling that other people don’t go through this, that other people can exercise for longer without fatiguing, but the whole system we have in place for exercise is one that’s based on seeking out that fatigue, working hard for the sake of those damn calories, and it’s not a system that values movement efficiency or conservation of energy – which is really strange, because athletic progression is all about efficiency, not expenditure. So it’s that backhanded shitty thing again – a fitness culture that will pressure you to exert yourself, and then make you feel bad about being exhausted? WTF? And we’re told that if we sweat too much, it means we’re unfit – but sweat is just part of a cooling mechanism, and it varies a lot from person to person, like everything else, and is not often representative of anything terribly important except maybe how hydrated you are. And whenever you go to a gym, everyone talks about the fun and party-times that is training, and if you find it distressing – because hell, exercise is distressing – you’re specifically applying stress to your body – you’re made to feel like some sort of unfit freak….. while everyone else is having so much ‘fun’, except that you can kinda see people’s self-loathing in the way they train – I gotta destroy my arms if I want them to grow – aaargh! And I’m supposed to believe that’s ‘good for your health’? There’s enjoyment and there’s enjoyment… I might have lost track of my point, sorry. I hope it’s okay that I ranted so much here!

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I always enjoy your rants. Here’s a rambling one of my own:

          Hyperhidrosis runs in my family, so if it’s even slightly humid out and if I am moving at all (even just walking), I will sweat, particularly my face and hands. On days when the humidity is low, it’s no big deal because it evaporates quickly, but if the humidity is above 50% (and it often is in Ontario) then it’s noticeable and really annoying. I’m kind of used to it, and I carry handkerchiefs, but I often worry what other people will think – “Oh, there’s that fat lady sweating all over the place!” But would it be better if I avoided moving just to not offend people with my sweatiness? Obviously not. Then I’d be stereotyped as a bad, lazy fatty instead of just a bad, sweaty fatty – it’s such a catch-22.

          I guess what I’m trying to say is, sweat: it’s part of being a human who moves. Maybe we could just all accept that and make life easier for everyone.

          1. Chris Avatar


            I know of people who’ve had some sort of mesh implanted under the skin to try to inhibit sweating, and people who’ve taken a variety of drugs (knew a doctor who was telling me about them), but in none of the cases he reported was there anything actually ‘wrong’ with the individual’s ‘excessive’ sweat. It wasn’t like they had bacterial infections, or I don’t know – it was all for cosmetic purposes. And shaming people is supposed to be for their own good – why?

          2. peregrin8 Avatar

            My mom is a sweaty fat lady – she has always sweated a lot, and her face will be red and shiny after a good walk. Also? She has GREAT skin. It may not be Science[TM], but she says it cleans out her pores, and she has the best skin of any woman her age I know.

  14. alynna Avatar

    OMG yes, those comments bother me so much too.

    I still struggle with this “exercise” concept. There are multiple movement-involving activities that I really enjoy for their own sake. But if someone comes along and names them “exercise”, I freak out. It’s like when people say “oh, you’re being so good, eating that delicious bowl of peaches, because Fruit Is Healthy”. Suddenly I don’t want any anymore.

    Somewhat tangentially, I occasionally enjoy running, when it’s unstructured, but I cannot Go Running. I’ve tried. What happens? I get out of breath, then I feel guilty about being Out Of Shape, then I force myself to keep running even though my lungs hurt and I can’t breathe, then I literally can’t go any further, then I go home and cry and don’t run anymore. I blame my Phys Ed classes in high school, where they yelled at us for being unable to run a 10-minute mile, but provided absolutely no coaching on how to do so.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I feel the same way with the word exercise, and with positive reinforcement about eating Healthy food. I think it’s because both of these things infringe on intrinsic motivation to do or eat things for their own sake, and not because they are Healthy.

    2. L. Avatar

      I can see why Going Running is completely unappealing, ugh! Please check out this lady who is all about going SLOW and comfortable–she completely turned around my feeling about Running, and she isn’t at all the “run to lose weight” type–only “run to feel healthy and good”:

      1. J. Avatar

        Thanks for this link! I am also a slow runner, & that’s something I discuss on my blog. I actually just outed myself with my actual times yesterday with plenty to say about those who don’t think I’m a real runner because of it. But I love running & I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, so just moving at my own pace is ideal.

    3. Brandi Avatar

      I so agree with your sentiments regarding things labeled “exercise” or “healthy.” For me, it’s about things being a “want to” instead of a “have to.” And if someone turns my want to into a have to, I tend to find I don’t want to anymore.

      I appreciate the message you’re getting out there, Michelle…about food being more than calories and movement being more than calories burned, and that the energy consumption/usage equation can be a very unhealthy focal point. But I’d like to offer a kind of counterpoint as well…in that I don’t believe the equation is necessarily a bad way of viewing things.

      As a person who is on a journey of slowly and healthily losing some weight for various reasons both physical and emotional, and also a person who loves numbers and math, I’ve found that counting calories works for me. By work, I mean, I can easily wrap my head around it and use it as a tool to help guide my choices. But I know it doesn’t work for everyone, and even when it does, it’s not always in a healthy kind of way…but as a math nut, the equation idea just appeals to me.

      The way to keep it positive though is to not obsess over it, and to also be actively aware of the other aspects of eating and moving. I may be aware of roughly how many calories I’ve taken in today, but I am also aware of the types of food I have eaten (usually several different kinds giving me a good variety of beneficial components), and how much I absolutely loved eating each of them! And the movement I participate in is rarely typical exercise, aside from some dedicated stretching (because “exercise” = a “have to” ewww)…but I try to be aware of what my body is doing and feeling throughout my day, how good each muscle feels even when I’m just walking through the store.

      I am on a quest elsewhere in my life to become as aware of everything as much as possible. Previously a supporter of gay rights but thoroughly ignorant of the myriad other civil rights issues plaguing the world today, I have relatively recently become an outspoken ally for everyone I encounter who is oppressed in every conceivable way, a staunch opponent of all the ridiculous elitist -isms that I encounter. I have spent countless hours following breadcrumbs on the internet to learn all I could about the injustice my fellow human beings face. I have to search this information out…being white, cis, and hetero myself, I have no real firsthand knowledge of my own Privilege.

      So it is in this same spirit of discovery and knowledge and heightened awareness that I am paying attention to my body lately. I am attempting to balance my intake with my usage, but I am also trying to enjoy every second of eating and every second of using energy. I eat what my body says it wants, and I move how my body wants to move. I recognize that the choices I make affect my body in negative and positive ways. When I eat in a generally healthy way, and move regularly, my body feels great, feels alive and vibrant. I used to be so disconnected from it, but now I’m much more in tune with it, and that’s a great feeling. I hope that everyone here can find what it is that you can do in order to feel that same sense of symbiosis–of oneness with and love for your body.

      Michelle, I love your blog. Thank you for sharing this part of yourself with the world. A lot of folks need to hear what you have to say! Love to you all. :-)

      1. Michelle Avatar

        If it works for you, then I am sincerely glad. My problem, however, is that it is hard for a lot of people just to choose not to obsess over calories. A lot of people are vulnerable to disordered eating, especially in a culture that pressures them to lose weight and that pushes caloric information in their faces all day long. And since I don’t tend to think weight loss in general is a productive goal for most people, I find calorie counting to be fairly useless. That’s not to say, however, that some people, the lucky ones who don’t find themselves obsessing about weight loss, don’t benefit from it. I think a lot of people find, whether they count calories or not, that eating healthfully and moving regularly helps them to feel great.

        I think it’s wonderful that you’re involved in anti-oppression work. I think it’s one of the most important things you could do.

  15. melisma Avatar

    This brought tears to my eyes (as someone who often feels like she doesn’t deserve to exist and skips meals because of that). Thank you.

  16. Frog Avatar

    I weigh quite a bit and have my entire life. The zero-sum approach to exercise and food was my existence until a couple of years ago when I started training to ride the AIDS Lifecycle (a 545 mile, week long bike ride with a couple thousand other people.) On most of the training rides and on the actual ride I was burning insane numbers of calories and I found myself eating in order to bike farther, weight loss was the farthest thing from my mind. The experience totally changed my relationship with food. For the first time ever I was paying attention to everything I ate, but not focusing on weight. It was a pretty cool experience.

  17. Gwyneth Avatar

    As you know I work with the growing community of those with restrictive eating disorders (anorexia, restrict/reactive eating cycles, bulimia, anorexia athletica and orthorexia) and yesterday the CDC was kind enough to update its ‘obesity’ map using let’s just say highly massaged 2010 data.

    Some days are tougher than others when it comes jousting the medical industrial complex as it feeds its own need to sustain itself. Obesity as a disease is merely a construct that allows for a plethora of lifestyle blockbuster drugs to enter the market. A blockbuster drug is one that has a market able to pay for the drug; is for a condition that does not actually curtail the lifespan of a person; and will need to be taken for life as a way to remediate the so-called condition. Obesity is not a disease. It is not even a condition. But saying so out loud most days is like spitting in the wind.

    Women today have a 13% lifetime risk of developing invasive breast cancer (World Health Organization). The lifetime risk of developing obesity is estimated at 25% (V.S. Ramachandran et al., 2005) The lifetime risk of developing restrictive eating behaviors is about 33% [[J. Jones et al., 2001; C.M. Shisslak and M. Crago, 1995]

    In 2009, breast cancer research received $872 million in federal funds in the United States. And in that same year the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States reports $862 million funded obesity research. According to the NIH federal funding for eating disorders totaled $31 million for that same year.

    This burble is all by way of saying, I just really needed to read your article today. Thank you!

  18. Lindsay Avatar

    This phrasing never fails to boggle my mind, either. It’s just so counterintuitive. “Oh, I’m going to go exercise now, and if I exercise for [whatever amount of time] it will be as if I’d never eaten [food item]!”

    I’m always like, what? No it won’t! Depending on what [food item] is, you’ll be able to exercise that much longer or more vigorously because you’ve eaten it!

  19. […] Food and exercise are not matter and anti-matter […]

  20. KaralynZ Avatar

    I’m doing a lot better these days but it still creeps back to haunt me sometimes. My friends and I are doing a couch to 5 k program together, just to become more healthy from a cardiovascular exercise standpoint. I was exercising regularly before but less intense exercise. Now I find myself hungrier in the afternoon and automatically chastising myself “Oh you had to go and eat those m&Ms and negate your running.

    No! The exercise is still improving my physical fitness. My body is still getting stronger, and I’m really, really *not* going into this with a weight loss goal of any kind. If it happens, it happens, but my goal is a certain level of physical fitness as measured by running speed and completing the 2 month program.

  21. Serena Avatar

    This is perfect timing for me. Last weekend I went on a chocolate walking tour. A girl on the tour commented that she can’t get over the amount of sweets we’re eating and I said “but we’re walking it off so it’s okay” (as a joke to her but the truth for me) and she replied “but even if we were weren’t walking it off it would be okay because we don’t eat like this every day”. I had a “duh” moment right there. She’s so right and then came along your post and you’re so right. Love your writing.

  22. mara Avatar

    I think this is part of what you’re actually saying, Michelle, or, like, a corollary of it or something, but I have also found that calorie deprivation in and of itself – the physical effects as well as the mental – tend to make exercise torturous.

    Moving around is one thing – a thing I quite enjoy. Moving around without food before or after and for a prescribed (too long) length of time – that just doesn’t feel physically GOOD. Probably because it isn’t. Funny, that!

    And I do find that, for example, walking up the very same same hill on two separate days can feel totally different – easy one day, quite slogging and difficult another day, and I think for me that a big part of that is the amount of food and water I’ve had (ie. not enough makes it harder).

    Anyway, all of that is to say, Yes Yes Yes to everything you’ve written! Feeding myself properly has been one essential key to my enjoyment of moving – not pushing myself to the point that it hurts has been another.

    It’s funny how the calorie-economics tend to put us out of touch with any actual reality-based economics re: this issue. An older woman once told me that, when she and her brothers and sisters were growing up poor by the sea shore, she always wondered why their mother limited the amount of time they were allowed to spend swimming. After all, it was free entertainment and fun for them. When she got older, she understood: the longer they swam, the more food they would need – more than they had money to buy.

    Sad story, but simple common sense. My question now: What is it, actually, that is so compelling about the idea of weight loss that it displaces even the most straightforward common sense and biological wisdom?

  23. KCLAnderson (Karen) Avatar

    What a fine example of both/and thinking :-)

  24. Elodie Avatar

    I’ve lost weight since becoming disabled. I haven’t wanted to. My doctor told me eating only 1000 calories a day might help, but I knew that was bs — losing muscle mass is going to do the opposite of help, and I don’t need to add hunger to pain, thanks. And yet, because I’m not moving, I’m losing muscle mass. I’m getting almost no “exercise” of any kind, from walking to cleaning the house, and yet I keep shedding pounds. I’m eating a little less because I’m not as hungry, since I’m not moving around, but not enough less to explain my drop in weight.

    So, yes, calories in-calories out is totally bogus. Looking at weight as a measure of health is totally bogus. A nurse at my last doctor’s appointment said “oh that’s nice, you’ve lost weight,” and I couldn’t think of what to say to her — I just gave her a look. I’ve lost weight because I’ve lost strength, and losing weight has not helped my pain. If anything, it’s made my pain worse, because I don’t have the muscles to keep me strong and able to compensate that I used to have.

  25. […] The Fat Nutritionist: Food and Exercise Are Not Matter and Anti-Matter […]

  26. J. Avatar

    How timely! I just found a link to this on tumblr today, & last night began planning my own blog post about lingering thoughts about weight loss after I’ve embraced HAES & becoming a well nourished runner.

    Running saved me from some growing disordered thinking about diet & weight loss. When I was doing a big weight loss program, I would not eat for the day or two before my weigh-ins in an extra effort to make sure that number went down. This meant I spent more time in bed because I was weak, tired, & hungry. I definitely could not go running those days. Deciding to leave that & embrace running, including giving my body the foods it needs to keep me strong & capable of moving myself around longer & longer distances has brought me more happiness & health than any weight loss or pant size.

  27. Sereg Avatar

    This reminded me of something, actually. I’ve seen a lot of sites and books say “always check with a doctor before beginning any kind of exercise program”, but I don’t know what to check for. Every “physical” I’ve ever had has been some halfassed routine of blood pressure while I’m sitting calmly, listening to my lungs while I’ve been in a waiting room and not under any kind of exertion, and shrugging off any of my real concerns with “oh, you’re just fat” and “oh, you just want an excuse to be fat”.

    I haven’t had any kind of insurance for a long time. I’ve started a new job and benefits will be effective soon, and I was going to go see a doctor but I don’t have a real idea of what to ask. What do they need to look at before I start a serious weight loss effort? I need to lose about 80 lbs but I’d be happy with 50*. Actually, I’d be happy staying at the same mass and just converting all the fat to muscle, but my benefits won’t stretch to cover a personal trainer.

    *I’m at 5’4″ and 220. 120 was my lowest adult weight and I was in great shape but I was also 18. Things have obviously changed over the years.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Hi Sereg – getting a stress test is never a bad idea if you are concerned about how your heart/lungs/blood pressure will respond to vigorous exercise. Ruling out stuff like exercise-induced asthma or, in rare but important cases, pulmonary hypertension is also a good idea.

      For a weight loss effort, I truly have no idea as I’m of the opinion that it’s probably better to focus on building fitness than losing fat. It’s more likely to be permanent, and may bring less risk with it.

    2. Elodie Avatar

      Weight loss efforts almost always lead to weight gain. 94-97% of people regain all the lost weight and usually more in 5 years’ time. 3-6% success is within placebo rates.

      Swimming is an exercise that I’ve never seen called bad for anyone who doesn’t have serious heart and lung problems, or narcolepsy or something. It’s no-impact and full body. If you don’t eat enough while you’re on a swimming regimen, you could drown, so if you’re likely to not feed yourself plenty, it can be dangerous. If you do feed yourself plenty (though not immediately before swimming of course), and start slow, it can be awfully fun — water aerobics classes are common at the Y and such.

      Exercise can cause weight gain, because muscle is heavier than fat. The numbers on a scale and BMI are absolutely terrible predictors of health, not to mention of happiness.

      Whatever you choose, have fun with it!

      1. Sereg Avatar

        Oh, okay. I’ll just accept that my knees are going to be under severe mechanical stress and my heart will never work right and my lungs will always wheeze whenever I walk up a single flight of stairs, then. Pointless to make any effort, since I’ll just gain more weight!

        1. Sue Ellen Avatar

          Well, yes, you could do that. Or you could focus on health and work on improving your fitness (which will almost certainly help your heart and lungs and probably your knees too) rather than attempting deliberate weight loss by some form of calorie restriction, which may not have any positive effect on the wellbeing of your heart, lungs and knees and will probably result in weight gain later.

          Focussing on health over weight doesn’t mean throwing up your hands and saying, “Well, if I’m giving up on weight loss I might as well give up on taking care of my body entirely.” It means choosing to focus on taking care of your HEALTH, at whatever size you happen to be, by feeding your body things that are nourishing and tasty, and moving in ways that you find enjoyable (and therefore will want to do more than once), within your current level of ability.

        2. Michelle Avatar

          No one is saying this. But sometimes other things can be done than focusing purely on weight loss. When you see things in such dichotomous terms, however, you will interpret even this as saying “give up.” Because we are all pressured to conflate weight with health. They are not the same thing.

        3. KellyK Avatar

          No one said anything even resembling that. If you’re worried about your knees, there are exercises you can do to strengthen your knees. If you get out of breath or your heart rate skyrockets when you do minor things, exercise can help with that.

          Giving suggestions on what specific questions to ask a doctor and suggesting exercises that might be good is a pretty far cry from telling you to give up.

        4. Elodie Avatar

          I didn’t say anything like that.

          Muscle weighs more than fat. Being strong helps with joint problems. Calorie restriction destroys muscles as much as it destroys fat. (In my case, a lot more.) I have direct experience with losing weight causing me to have more pain and be more disabled and less mobile. You need plenty of calories to be able to exercise.

  28. kate Avatar

    I’m trying slowly to change my hate/love relationship with food. I’m overweight, so would say obese. But I also have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and am still trying to make sure that my hormone levels are balanced. I eat more fruit and vegetables than most people I know. I stick to good fats like avocados, nuts and olive oil. I’ve been exercising 3-4 times a week at the gym (1 hour of cardio). But still no weight loss. I’m trying to focus on how much better I’m feeling because I’m feeling clean and healthier. Buts it hard when the numbers don’t reflect the effort you’re putting in. Your blog is refreshing and it gives my hope that one day I might be able to have a good relationship with my body, food and exercise.

  29. Kim Avatar

    Thank you. Thank you for putting into words and on “paper” what I have such a hard time expressing. I am a newbie to a non-dieting way of life. I am just starting to realize that my health and the way my body can move is so important. It’s still scary, kind of liberating, and just so different from my previous way of thinking. I am finding that I need to unlearn so many things that I thought to be true about weight and health. I am learning to be comfortable with whatever food choices I make, that no food is “good” or “bad”, and that I have every right to enjoy whatever I choose to eat. I am learning to be happy with the way my body can move, whether it’s while gardening, kickboxing, or doing yoga. I’m still learning but I’m hopeful that someday I’ll have a normal relationship with food and my body.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      It is a very different way of thinking, but you’re right – very liberating. I think you are on your way to where you want to go :)

  30. RNegade Avatar

    I attribute this cultural phenomenon of conceptualizing eating and exercise as opposing forces (as two different behaviors that work in opposition) to a few systemic problems, for instance:
    1) deeply embedded capitalist worldviews, and
    2) individualist notions of personal responsibility (dating back centuries to religious beliefs in personal salvation), and
    3) dominant cultural discourses that construct the illusion of individual CONTROL while offering a false sense of personal power and security.

    These prevailing cultural forces of oppression and domination construct health as something an individual HAS (like a belonging, a possession, personal property or a commodity of one’s very own), an ownership perspective which in turn demands one’s personal responsibility to *insure* that this commodity is maintained as *efficiently* as possible.

    Moreover, as with any commodity, inevitably there is a “risk” of losing value (say, if “quality” of health diminishes), yet there is (supposedly) great potential for increasing the commodity’s value by effectively managing one’s investment (thus, *spending* or *investing* one’s personal resources, aka: time and energy–which are an individual’s *currency* in this market exchange) to increase chances for improved health outcomes=equivalent to earnings.

    In addition, since the dominant cultural “health” discourses construct health as an individual’s product (commodity) whose outcome (profit or loss in the form of “health outcome”) can supposedly be managed or controlled by the individual’s careful decision making & wise investing, then a responsible investor proceeds diligently and cautiously to ensure “balancing of the ledger”–by investing more energy (with exercise as currency) in order to offset the (health or weight) “costs” resulting from increased consumption (of food).

    This dominant cultural mythology provides willing participants with a reassuring (yet false) illusion of having “control.”

    Also, the dominant cultural norms and dominant discourses (which insist that people should exercise as a means to pay for their consumption–to get out of “the red” and back to “the black”–aka burn off any *excess* consumption to balance input & output)

    1) offer rewards to agreeable participants with popular approval (from media, friends, coworkers, etc);

    2) provide emotional perks (sense of virtue, self-righteousness and security) to individuals who go along without questioning or complaining;

    3) create material bonuses for those who follow enthusiastically–rather than resisting (obedience to norms can increase social status, which may lead to job connections, promotions at the workplace, etc);

    4) allow the true believers (and sincere followers) to identify with (and dream about becoming!) the movers and shakers at the top of the power structures–all those alluring, seemingly HAPPY, powerful people (celebrities, pop media leaders, and even president’s wives) who cheer lead and champion the norms.

    The cultural norms (based on domination) distort and construct cultural perceptions–making it appear as if the status quo is inevitable and natural and normal…With so many followers and leaders (continuously repeating and championing the norms) the whole thing just starts to seem proper and rational–simply inevitable for a person’s lived experiences (and her whole life) to become an extension of the market–and it’s all just an unavoidable aspect of “the human condition”–the way it’s always been–when you spend your life (existing) as consumers/commodities.

    Of course, eventually, when the perks and rewards slow to a trickle, with time and with the inevitable health challenges that come with continuous aging, the resulting wide-spread dehumanization, alienation, and feelings of meaninglessness (which no one dares mention) feel suffocating, BUT AS IF BY MAGIC even those dreadful realities are socially (re)constructed–transformed!–through more “health care” discourse–into new medical diagnoses or into mental illnesses, which, naturally, for a price, can be “cured” or “managed” with still more (advanced!) commodities: psychotropic pills or therapeutic protocols to “heal” the dysfunction, depression, or terror–er, anxiety.

    Well, that’s my 2 cent analysis. :)
    Peace and love, RNegade

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I love this, it’s fascinating. Thank you!

      1. RNegade Avatar

        Glad you enjoyed it, Michelle! I wasn’t sure how coherent it turned out, or whether I even got a main point across, because it’s one of those pieces one writes on impulse in the wee morning hours after battling (unsuccessfully) with insomnia–all night long without a wink of sleep–while trying to safely self medicate to counter the nonstop spasms from a pulled shoulder muscle. :( I guess, considering the context, I didn’t do too badly. I still can’t get over how many parallels there are between (a) weight loss discourse (including the *need* to atone for extra eating by increased exercising–or the *need* to carefully monitor and balance one’s calories-in/calories-out ledger to achieve the desired outcome: one’s “ideal” weight; and (b) religious discourses which stress personal responsibility with intense behavior monitoring–to achieve the desired outcome: individual salvation, and (c) individualist political discourses that emphasize personal responsibility and self control as the key ingredients for achieving the desired outcome: financial security.Thus, in all three discourses, the underlying assumption for achieving success denies any need for favorable social or material conditions–on the contrary: success (with weight loss, spiritual salvation and financial security) is solely determined by an individual’s personal choices and efforts. Hence, apparently, our cultural mythology of individual control runs mighty deep! Moreover, an individual’s *failure* to secure or maintain control reveals a lack of effort and/or wrong choices were made. Wow, this sure seems like a set up for failure and guilt to me–a surefire way to make people feel responsible for conditions over which they had no control.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          …and a wonderful way to create a ready market of self-loathers who’ll buy anything promising to cure them of their horrible (human) condition.

  31. Stephanie Draus, ND Avatar
    Stephanie Draus, ND

    Thank you so much! I’m a naturopathic doctor, and full-time faculty in a naturopathic medicine program. I am working hard to get this message across to patients and students–eating is necessary, eating should be nourishing and joyful, eating is NEVER a sin. Movement is necessary, movement should bring joy, it doesn’t need to feel like punishment to “count” as exercise.
    I will be sharing your work with many people!

  32. Nia Avatar

    Great article. Now, I’m going to leave this computer and go to the beach,where I’ll take the longest walk my lower back can manage and I’ll also try for the first time the strange local tradition of eating a cream bun right there on the beach.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I also live near the beach, and near a local ice creamery, and it is a really common thing to see people at the beach eating ice cream. Sounds like fun to me!

  33. Laura B. Avatar
    Laura B.

    I love this! Most of my exercise is in the form of brisk walking. Like some other commenters, I enjoy exercise more when there’s a “hidden agenda” – a purpose besides exercising for the sake of exercising–to my walk. Consequently, I walk to a Whole Foods, a farmers’ market, a Trader Joe’s, or a co-op grocery on my afternoon break almost every work day. A mile or two of brisk walking is good exercise, and it’s a great way for me to acquire tasty food that I enjoy and that makes my body feel good!

  34. peregrin8 Avatar

    I love this post. I have been making progress on this front via 2 methods:

    1. Reminding myself that I practice intuitive eating. Michelle is my good angel of the kitchen now… sometimes I actually say to myself “Intuitive eating!” when I am starting down a mental path of judging myself for daring to be hungry.

    Also, sometime around the Olympics I saw something about what Michael Phelps eats in a day. OK, maybe it’s not actually 12,000 calories, but do you think those people “watch” what they eat? They know they need fuel in order to have energy and strength.

    2. Having specific reasons for exercising, that have nothing to do with attempts at slimming. I am hoop-dancing to learn a new trick… I am starting to jog a little b/c it’s good to gradually strengthen my knees and ankles (and this path is so pretty!)… I do yoga for my back and neck… I danced on the grass at the Philly Folkfest because the music was lively and joyous!

  35. Gerald Rubin Avatar

    Excellent blog piece. We do not need to make any connection between eating and exercising. These are two primary activities of life, somehow we have been conditioned to make secondary accounting issues take primacy. Much of our ability to enjoy food has been lost, and exercise has become a corrective function only. All of this is false too, there are no obesity causing foods and exercising is no better than dieting when used for weight loss. Our hunger drives are dictated by caloric requirement so if we exercise to lose weight we are just fooling ourselves. And we are now learning that dieting itself is a primary cause of obesity. It is woeful as to how our good intentions have come to “pervert” our normal drives and functions. Unfortunately very few people have been catching on to this.

  36. Cindy Avatar

    I enjoyed this article very much as well as the comments.
    Nothing gets me angry faster than the old calories in vs calories out simplification that is so loved on comment boards.

  37. Andra Avatar

    So helpful. As usual. And still the part that is hardest for me, but did you know that triathletes sometimes refer to eating and adequate hydration (enough, at the right time, to fuel performance etc) as the the fourth discipline. So that really they are training for four sports — swim, bike, run, EAT!

    Sometimes helpful for me to remember as I affirm myself as a non-ED/weight loss focused female athlete in this culture.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      That’s kind of awesome, I love it.

  38. LadyTL Avatar

    I love that I’m not the only person who feel this way about eating and exercise. I go for walks because I want to go out and enjoy it not because I need to burn off what I have eaten. I do have a tried and true response though to people around me who try to tell me I need to practice “calories in calories out.” It violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics because humans are not closed systems. There is always other factors outside of us and various inefficiencies in us that make that equation useless. You can put all the work in the world into that equation and still come out wrong.

    So I try to practice intuitive eating and be as healthy as is right for me. I try to ignore the bullies who say I’m eating “bad” food and not exercising enough (even though they really don’t know what I eat or do) and try to ignore the unhealthy messages around me. It helps that I’ve stopped watching alot of tv. What’s funny is some of the people who know science say since it follows the 1st law, it doesn’t have to follow the 2nd. Uh, it kinda has to follow both. It’s really funny to watch them work their heads around that.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I feel like trying to bluntly and broadly apply principles of pure physics to biological systems is a farce, because biological systems figure out complicated ways of using those principles that often look like they are violating them when they are, in fact, not. Anyone who has taken biochemistry should know better.

      It’s sort of like arguing that humans are violating the law of gravity (or even the principle of inertia) because we can jump into the air. Rocks cannot jump into the air, no, unless they are propelled by something. Humans are propelled from the inside, from the fuel that our muscles use to contract and force us upward, against gravity. If you look at humans like they should behave like inert objects, then yes, you’re going to be surprised that we can jump without an external source of propulsion. If you accept that we are biological creatures who can internally manipulate the laws of physics to our advantage in ways that stationary objects cannot, then it makes sense. Simply remaining alive and relatively organized for long periods of times APPEARS to violate the second law of thermodynamics, when really we are shifting entropy around internally all the time to drive chemical reactions that keep us repaired, warm, and in one piece for decades at a time.

      People who say we are violating the first law of thermodynamics by claiming that some people gain more weight on the same amount of food, or lose weight more easily on the same amount of activity as other people are being overly simplistic and disingenuous about how energy dynamics function in the human body. Of course we are not violating that first law. There are just more variables involved in how we shift that matter and energy around than a simple equation like (food eaten) – (formal exercise done) = (how fat your ass is.) Our bodies are not hourglasses, totally stationary and passive, with sand running in and running out. And we are not bomb calorimeters – not all of us “burn” or store the same amount of energy from our food. Calorie intake is not JUST food eaten, but also how many of those calories are absorbed in the gut, and how your body chooses to allocate them once inside your system, what types and amounts of tissues your genetic blueprint directs your body to build. Calorie output is not JUST formal exercise done, but also your basal metabolic rate, what sort of repair and remodeling work or immune defense is being done within your body, what body temperature you maintain, whether you squander some energy by pooping it out, etc.

      People who pretend not to know that bodies are complicated are either so ignorant of biology they are not worth arguing with about weight, or are being purposely disingenuous because they do not want to accept that biology (and hence life) is not simply a matter of willpower and choice.

      Cachexia, from the outside, also looks like it’s violating the first law of thermodynamics, but I don’t hear anyone carping about that.

      1. LadyTL Avatar

        Um While it is awesome knowing you know about physics, I said calories in calories out violates the 2ND law not the first. I’m kinda confused why you would go off on me about how it doesn’t violate the first which I know and mentioned. Humans aren’t perfect closed system so trying to use calories in calories out which uses the assumption that you are trying burn off exactly what you input violates the 2nd because it does not account for variables and inefficiencies.

        Just kinda confused with you reaction as if I was disagreeing when I was agreeing with you and sharing my strategy for dealing with people who actively butt in about calories in calories out.

        1. KellyK Avatar

          I don’t think she was going off on you…I think she was agreeing with you, expanding on what you said, and going off on people who want to simplistically apply physics to complex biological systems without actually accounting for all the relevant variables.

          (My husband, a physics major, has a “You might be a physics major if…” t-shirt, and one of the jokes on it is, “You assume a cow is a sphere to make the math easier,” which gives me the impression that physics is a scientific discipline where it’s easy and common to oversimplify.)

        2. Michelle Avatar

          Sorry – I wasn’t going off on you, you inspired a rant from me because your comeback reminded me of the people who say things about the 1st law. I wasn’t assuming you disagreed with me. I appreciated your comment – it just got me thinking. Thanks.

          1. LadyTL Avatar

            Thanks for the clarification. I’m an Aspie and sometimes misunderstand things.

          2. Michelle Avatar

            No problemo. I also just talk too much sometimes :)

  39. Dana Avatar

    Michelle, I absolutely love your blog. Sincerely. As a food addict with Chrons disease, I have a turbulent relationship with food and your entires help me a lot. I see a therapist for my food addiction, keep food diaries, and try really hard every day to fight this battle, but sometimes just popping on here and reading through your fantastic posts are more helpful than anything. I just wanted to say thank you, and that I admire you so much!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thanks Dana! I’m glad to help. Good luck with your work on eating – I know Crohn’s is really tough, especially when you have other food issues. I salute you :)

  40. Kathy Avatar

    I’ve had this thought process for so long it’s a hard habit to break. Not constantly but it’s there. EG: Yesterday my husband worked on building a fence for like 12 hours. As he & the two friends who helped sauntered down to the corner store for screamers (slurpee/ice cream combo) I remarked to my friend something like “well they’ve earned it they worked hard today” and then, reminded of this blog post, kind of tried to take it back but not very successfully. How then does one correct this habitual thinking? How then does one eat enough to have sufficient energy, proper nutrition (my bad habits surfacing again: don’t always eat enough during the day and by suppertime I’m starving, cranky, etc.)?? how does one change lifetimes of self-loathing, poor body image, and thus poor eating etc.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      It’s tricky, isn’t it? I think the only way to change this, as with many habits, is to pick one small step to take and focus on it for a while. Even just noticing that you said that is actually a first step, being mindful of your words and aware of the ways your brain thinks about this stuff. Continuing to notice it can, all by itself, reduce that type of thinking. But you could also make a more active effort by coming up with a different way to phrase what you said, and practicing saying it.

      1. Kathy Avatar

        Thanks Michelle. I know intellectually that I feel better, sleep better etc. if I eat more. But there is still that self-hatred that keeps me eating less than optimum. There’s also the issue of a lack of appetite (something present with IBS) and then sometimes it’s probably a cultivated “lack of appetite” i.e. denial of hunger.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I sometimes like to think of it like this – exercise makes me feel better and makes me stronger. But in order to do exercise, I have to have enough energy to do it, and that comes from eating enough. If I don’t eat enough, I feel weak, lethargic, and also totally unenthusiastic about the idea of doing any physical exercise. If I’m going to exercise and get stronger, I need a baseline of strength and energy in the first place, which comes from food.

          Self-hatred is a real problem, so I totally know what you mean. It’s not always easy to talk yourself out of it either. If it helps, there was an interesting tidbit in some of the rodent studies they did about weight, eating, and exercise, which found that in mice, the leanest mice tended to exercise the most AND eat the most, while the fattest mice ate and moved the least (if I remember correctly. This was a study they talked about in The Dieter’s Dilemma, a really old book that goes over some of the animal models of obesity.) The theory at the time was that the mice’s bodies interpreted exercise as “food-seeking behaviour” and as such didn’t need to store as much fat for survival, because they would obviously be encountering food in their travels. The more immobile mice, on the other hand, needed to store more fat since they were apparently hunkering down for the long haul. Not sure if it works the same way in humans, but it’s an interesting idea and forces you to think of the food/exercise dichotomy a bit differently.

  41. Beth Avatar

    Thankyou so much for having such a positive blog! And posting such logical, helpful posts. For a little while now I’ve felt guilty for NOT dieting, which is stupid. And this post has helped to shift my thinking :) so awesome.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thanks, Beth! Definitely no reason to feel guilty for not dieting :)

  42. M.Bar Avatar

    Wow! Thank you for such an enlightening read that makes so much sense. I go to the gym and try to eat healthy, but the calorie intake, often in the back of my mind, keeps me from really enjoying my food. I will never feel guilty again!

    1. Rose Avatar

      I have felt this way often about eating and exercise (hate eating dessert in public—I don’t deserve it). This way of thinking is ingrained and it produces shame and guilt. I am overweight- have been forever. But I also had 2 lung failures after I had my daughter, no one knows why, no doctor can figure it out (amazingly I am in the 40% of people who survive ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome). My lungs filled with fluid and I was placed on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma for 9 days (I am lucky- some people can be in the coma a month or more). I had to completely rehabilitate my body and moving is difficult. As a result of ARDS I have joint pain, fatigue, I have scar tissue in my lungs which make breathing a difficult chore. After 2 years I now have 52% lung function (I couldn’t be more thrilled). Hopefully I can keep improving this number but only time will tell. I am telling you all of this because becoming ill has put a damper on “traditional exercise”. Hills, stairs, intense movements all reduce my ability to breathe and are incredibly dangerous. I have had to think in an entirely different manner about moving and exercise, and I have had to reduce my guilt and shame (not exercising like normal people, getting ill, etc.). Thank you for this article and for your blog…I just stumbled upon it. I think this will help me restructure my negative thinking to reduce guilt and shame and increase motivation and kindness for myself. Thank you.

  43. […] and exercise are our friends, we need them both working in tandem to be healthy. Great article on The Fat Nutritionist about thinking about and utilizing food and exercise together in a healthy […]

  44. Cath of Canberra Avatar

    I’ve been reworking some of my relationship with exercise recently, and I’m loving for the game aspects. Do exercise, level up! Yay geekery! (I’m cajela, follow me!)

    It’s interesting here though, because of the multiplicity of relationships visible with food if you care to go look. Note: you can mostly avoid it by choosing your friends and groups carefully; there’s even a HAES group. I would recommend the site to most people, but those with severe eating disorders would need to be extra careful to avoid triggers.

    But anyway, while there’s the usual weight loss threads (site culture leans strongly to Paleo), there’s also a lot of people there who are trying to GAIN weight. And so there’s a lot of technical diet talk focussed around protein and muscle building and how many calories of what kind and when do you have your protein shake and your carbs…

    Peregine’s comment here is actually a bit off: …what Michael Phelps eats in a day. OK, maybe it’s not actually 12,000 calories, but do you think those people “watch” what they eat? HELL yes, they “watch” what they eat! They have complex diets with specialist dieticians and sports nutritionists making sure they eat enough of the “right” things. Non-Olympians who are serious athletes do this; and there’s lots of room to get sucked into a kind of orthorexia about the ONLY ONE TRUE WAY to eat while also eating an enormous amount of calories.

    So yeah, not even heavy duty exercise will get you off that “danger, beware of evil bad food” hook.

  45. lady Avatar

    “Every act of eating reaffirms your right to exist. […] There is a basic affirmation that you exist in a world you were designed to navigate. […] You are negotiating, discovering, navigating a physical existence.”

    This was such an amazing thing to read. I’ve always thought that my body and I are were at war ; the body is not me, it is my burden, the “thing” I carry or that I am even hiding in. Objectively, I know it is not just mine, but me ; emotionally it’s the most horrible truth to admit. It’s not just the weight, it’s everything, I was born with a skin defect here, I have a scar there, I have acne almost everywhere else… I keep postponing recommended surgery for years because I hate so much what the body is doing to me. I often wish I was a pure spirit, but of course it’s impossible. And the more I have to take my body into account, the more I discover things to hate about it : discomfort, pain, weight gain, stretch marks, kysts… It’s a neverending war I’ve always thought I kept on losing.
    But I love to eat. For a few years, I had to starve because I had no money. So now I just love to eat good food. I don’t need to binge eat (although it has happened ; your post on the subject is very thought-provoking too btw), but I need to make sure I eat VERY well, both in quality and portions. And now, reading your post, I realize… It is a proof I exist physically, right ? And that it’s not too bad. IT IS one way I could use to acknowledge my body,and maybe enventually make peace with it. This body is here, and the only time I am not at war with it, for now, is when I eat. (now, right after I eat is a whole other thing)
    I could use that powerful thought to eat better, and take care of this body. Further than that, I could also use that thought to enjoy other moments in life when I move, so that I connect with my body. Last year, I bought an apartment bike but I never can ride it, it hurts my thighs to sit on it, I can’t breathe after a few minutes, and it’s just such a burden to do it because “I have to exercise”. But I’ve noticed recently that sometimes (just sometimes for now), when I walk around the city, I take some sort of pleasure in it (although it is painful and I am very tired ; it is really a vicious circle sometimes, isn’t ?), and maybe it is also a proof that my body and I can work together, if not make “one” some day, and it can be enjoyable. Maybe it doesn’t have to be a struggle.

    I came to your blog because of the News anchor video (very inspiring too) and everything I have read so far seems to open new doors. Thank you. What you do here is precious.

    (sorry for the potential grammar/spelling mistakes, as I am French)

  46. AK Avatar

    Your website is amazing!! I’m a skinny girl who has struggled with malnutrition (non eating disorder related) since birth. I’ve learned that food can be so good to you if you work with it. I’m a huge proponent of what you’re saying about the relationship between food and movement. Trouble with food is something I know about. What I don’t know about is being fat, and I’m learning about what that might be like, which I hope will make me a better friend and human being. Thank you for sharing your light!

  47. Ali (@WholeisticFit) Avatar

    I just happened upon your blog & I am loving it!! This is an excellent post :). Unfortunately, this view of exercise as being punishment for what you eat is so engrained in our culture and is misrepresented as actually being “healthy”! Thanks for shining some light on this topic.

  48. Duncan Heinz Avatar
    Duncan Heinz

    This article astounds me, because it seems to simply be a rationalization of eating whatever you want by taking the worst of weight-minded thinking and confusing it with watching what you eat.

    Calories are literally energy, or heat. You expend energy by doing things, therefor the food you eat is the energy you have. If you have a surplus of energy at the end of the day you’ve messed up, and if you’re deficient you’re doing something wrong. Ideally, depending on your current fitness goals, you’ll be either slightly deficient, spot on, or the appropriate amount in surplus to bulk intelligently. This article does nothing but reinforce the idea that “eating is great, exercise is inherent in existence, therefor eat all day and don’t exercise”.

    That’s just shitty. All you’re doing here (and on this website in general) is ignoring the very real, concrete health problems associated with being overweight, the emotional and mental issues that accompany it, the maddeningly ignorant consumption required to maintain such a weight, and in the end you’re patting people on the back for being poor to themselves and poor to the world. There’s no opinion here; being fat is a choice and it’s a selfish, self-destructive one. Stop telling people you’re a dietician and stop telling people that what they’re doing is okay by creating a strawman out of dumb arguments like this… anyone with half a brain knows that calorie-in, calorie-out isn’t black and white.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Sorry for astounding you Duncan. You seem to be new here, and pretty easily astounded. (And possibly made of cake.) That must make life interesting.

      Being fat is a reality, not a selfish choice. No one is hurting you by being fat at you.

      This is a ridiculous comment all-around and I don’t think I have the energy to respond further. If anyone else wants to take a gander, be my guest.

      An interesting commentary on calories and thermodynamics here –

  49. Cath of Canberra Avatar
    Cath of Canberra

    Clearly Duncan lives in the world of the spherical cow.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Why couldn’t he at least have brought a jar of frosting with him from 4chan? That would have been nice.

      Share with the class, Duncan.

  50. Kat Avatar

    I don’t really know how to put this into words, but every post I read makes me love your site more. I will definitely be recommending to other friends who come from pasts of disordered eating, and still struggle with self and body acceptance. I see a lot of overlap in this and other types of human rights activism that interest me- fighting ableism, sexism, and other forms of opression that keep us from expressing as full human beings and livingthe joyful and amazing lives we deserve. Thank you for sharing the gift of your blog with the world. <3

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thank you so much! If you like all this, you would love (if you don’t already!)

  51. Edna Avatar

    I stumbled on your site this week, and I am so glad I did. For someone who is relearning to trust her body with food and exercise again (since I’ve swung in the extreme in both ways), this blog was so relatable and so freeing to read.

    It gives me hope and makes me smile.

    Thank you!

  52. […] Food and exercise are not matter and anti-matter by Michelle (The Fat Nutritionist) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Published: November 4, 2012 Filed Under: Uncategorized […]

  53. Big Girls Run 2 Avatar

    I think I’m actually going to use some of the things you said when I’m having food this holiday and people talk about burning off all the food from the turkey or pies. Sometimes people just need to enjoy a meal and just live. I love your ending quote, “Eating and moving: your right to exist, and a world in which to exist. They are not rivals.”

  54. […] series of work, documenting disability, sexuality and physical ‘otherness’”; on why “food and exercise are not matter and anti-matter” and why we should recenter our discussions about weight and nourishment; on gender, genetics, […]