How One Woman Found Joy In Running After Years of Using It As a "Punishment"

Colleen Christensen says she used to treat exercise as a way to earn food. Now, she's changed her mindset and learned to love running in the process.

Colleen Christensen
Photo: Instagram/

As a registered dietitian who swears by the benefits of intuitive eating, Colleen Christensen doesn't recommend treating exercise as a way to "burn off" or "earn" your food. But she can relate to the temptation to do so.

Christensen recently shared that she stopped using running to offset what she ate, and revealed what it took to change her mindset.

The dietitian posted a before-and-after photo with a picture of her in running gear from 2012 and one from this year. Back when the first photo was taken, Christensen didn't find running fun, she explained in her caption. "For a solid 7 years running [was] more like punishment for what I ate than it was a joyful form of exercise," she wrote. "I was using exercise as a way to 'earn' my food."

Since then, Christensen has changed her intentions, and she's learned to love running in the process, she explained. "Over the years I've improved my relationship with exercise by changing my mindset and focusing on respecting what my body is able to do—not its size or what it looks like," she wrote. "By doing the work to improve this relationship I have found the JOY in running again!"

In an accompanying blog post, Christensen gave additional context to her fitness journey. Fresh out of college, she had noticed that she gained five pounds, she wrote. "I ended up developing a full-blown eating disorder, anorexia nervosa," she shared. "I viewed running as a form of punishment for eating. I had to 'burn off' everything that I ate. It was a compulsive behavior, my anorexia was coupled with exercise addiction."

Now, she's not only changed her approach to running, but she's also cultivated a true passion for the exercise. "I LOVED IT," she wrote of a race she ran last week. "I felt alive the entire time. I cheered to the spectators (so backward, I know!), high fived every person who stuck their hand out as I passed, and literally sand and danced the whole way."

There were three major things that helped her make the shift, she wrote in her blog post. First, she began eating intuitively to fuel for training, rather than just calculating her calorie intake. Secondly, she started focusing on strength, explaining that strength training not only made running more enjoyable, it also made it easier on her body overall.

Finally, she started cutting herself slack on days when she really didn't want to run or felt like she needed to go slow. "Missing one run won't kill you, but it CAN make you start to loathe training and leave a feeling of disdain in your brain around running," she wrote. (

Changing your perspective on working out is easier said than done, but Christensen provided several solid starting points. And her story suggests that it can be well worth the effort.

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