"This holiday season (actually, all seasons) I ask you NOT to work out to punish yourself for what you ate."

By Arielle Tschinkel
December 27, 2019
Getty Images/Monica Schipper

During the holiday season, it can feel impossible to avoid toxic messaging about "working off" the festive food you ate or "canceling out the calories" in the new year. But these sentiments can often lead to disordered thoughts and habits around food and body image.

If you're sick of hearing these harmful holiday beliefs, Anna Victoria is flipping the script this year. In a recent Instagram post, the Fit Body app founder encouraged her followers to embrace post-holiday workouts as a way to feel "strong and energized", rather than a means to "punish" your body.

Victoria said her post-holiday exercise regimen is all about using the "fuel" from her festive indulgences "to have a killer workout"—and she's reminding her followers to approach their own workouts with the same positive, flexible outlook.

"Work out because you love how working out makes your body FEEL," she wrote in her post. (Related: Anna Victoria Has a Message for Anyone Who Says They "Prefer" Her Body to Look a Certain Way)

Victoria's motivational message comes just a few weeks after a scientific review published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggested adding physical activity calorie equivalent (PACE) labels to food, to show how much you'd have to exercise to "burn off" what you're eating. After reviewing 15 existing studies that compared using PACE labels on menus or food packaging to using other food labels or no labels at all, researchers found that, on average, people tend to choose lower-calorie options when faced with PACE labels, as opposed to traditional calorie labels or no food labels at all.

Though the intention behind PACE labeling is to help people gain a more concrete understanding of calories, deciding whether a food is "worth it" isn't just a matter of counting calories. "It is possible for two different foods to have the same amount of calories while containing varying amounts of the essential nutrients your body needs to function properly day after day," Emily Kyle, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., previously told us. "If we are focusing solely on calories, we are missing out on the nutrients that matter the most."

Plus, thinking of food as something that must be "earned" or "canceled out" by a workout can be harmful to your overall relationship with food and exercise, Christy Harrison R.D., C.D.N., author of the upcoming book Anti Diettold us in a recent interview. "Labeling food as something that needs to be counteracted through exercise creates a dangerously instrumental view of food and physical activity that is a hallmark of disordered eating," she explained. "...In my clinical experience, and as I've seen in the scientific literature, breaking down food into calories to be negated through exercise sets many people on a harmful path toward compulsive exercise, restrictive eating, and often compensatory binge eating." (See: What It Feels Like to Have Exercise Bulimia)

These proposed food labels, as well as the messaging around food and exercise you're sure to come across around the holidays, "reinforce the idea that exercise is simply a counterbalance for ingesting calories or that one should feel guilty for eating," Kristin Wilson, M.A., L.P.C., vice president of clinical outreach for Newport Academypreviously told us. "It can lead to increased anxiety around nutrition and health and can contribute to disordered thinking about eating and exercising. This can result in the manifestation of an eating disorder, exercise compulsion, and mood disorders."

So, if extra time off during the holiday season has you feeling like you "should" hit the gym, keep Anna Victoria's message in mind: "Think about how amazing you'll feel AFTER the workout—how strong, energized and empowered you'll feel."

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