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Madeleine Karlsson, also known as @maddywell_fitbodyfreshmind, just might be the healthiest person we know. A certified health coach and Pilates instructor, she knows that eating right and staying fit is just part of the equation – wellness is a mental practice, as well as a physical one. We’re excited to have Maddy join us as a regular contributor focusing on all things healthy living! maddywell.com

As with many women who want to stay in shape, I love to move and people often assume that I exercise about 17 hours a day. And while this may have been true at some points in my life (maybe not 17, but hey…) it couldn’t be further from the truth today. Let’s flashback to 10 years ago when I was running up to 40 miles and going to the gym six times a week. I was on a constant mission to “burn calories,” thinking the more I burnt, the better I would feel and the more I could justify eating whatever I wanted. I was constantly sore, hungry, tired and unhappy with the way I looked and felt. I was a “calorie burning” queen yet I was heavier than ever and I could see no solution to the problem.

The problem wasn’t the problem. The problem was my attitude about it all. My sole measure and guide for exercise was calorie burning… thankfully now I know that this is a deeply flawed concept. There are so many other factors that affect the way we look and feel than just calories in/calories out.

First and foremost, no amount of exercise will outdo a mediocre diet – the quality of the calories we ingest is far more important than their quantity. And yet many of us continue to use exercise to make up for the questionable qualities of our diets. Whether this is something you can relate to or not, I encourage you to reassess your relationship with food and working out by considering the following:

+ What is your motivation for exercise? Is it to look a certain way? If so, try flipping that idea into feeling a certain way instead. Not only will it help you reach your goal sooner but it will also change your mindset towards exercise and make it more of a positive one. For example, turn “I need to workout to burn calories to lose weight” into “I workout because it makes my body feel good!”

+ Reassess your long-term goals. If your reason for exercising is to maintain good health and enjoy the things you love when you get older, pounding the pavement to mindlessly burn calories may not be your best option. When I was clocking up the miles in my early 20s, my boyfriend at the time asked me if I wanted to be able to ski when I got older. Of course I did. This stuck with me because it made me realize that if I was feeling pain in my joints in my 20s chances were, I’d be in a lot more trouble in my 50s if I kept doing what I was doing.

+ Don’t let yourself get bullied into thinking that exercise needs to be hard and horrendous to be effective. There has been a massive rise of hardcore training where people get yelled at and pushed to their limit in recent years. While some people may enjoy this, I want you to know that it’s ok if you don’t. I love exercise. I consider myself to be pretty damn fit but I know that pushing my body to its limit on a regular basis is not something I enjoy, nor something that is healthy for me.

+ Sometimes less is more. This took me so long to understand. Certain types of exercise create stress on our bodies and our bodies respond by releasing hormones (cortisol among others). These hormones can contribute to making the body store fat, mainly around the abdomen. If you’re already hitting the gym hard and not getting the results you want, try exercising less or swapping one of your workouts for a more relaxing one like yoga.

+ Variety is the spice of life: try to integrate different forms of exercise into your workout routine. Many people tell me they don’t do pilates or yoga because they’re not flexible. But this is exactly why they should be doing it. Stretching was never part of my routine because it didn’t burn calories (I feel stupid writing this now!) yet it wasn’t until I started doing pilates and yoga that I started feeling looser, lighter and developed the long, lean muscles I had always been longing for.

+ Finally, exercise from a place of love… without wanting to sound too hippy here, consider the thoughts that are going through your mind when you’re exercising. If they come from a place of hate and you are somehow using a workout to punish yourself then try digging deeper to understand where this is coming from and address it. Use exercise as a form of self-love and think of movement as a way to nurture your body, not as a way to destroy it!

So my new, informed motto is “f**k the calorie burning” and focus on nourishing my body with food and movement that makes it feel good. Calories are no longer part of my thought process and that feels extremely liberating. I’ve completely overhauled my diet to one that focuses on quality rather than on calories and that keeps me feeling slim and energized regardless of the amount of exercise I have time for. I encourage you to find the balance that feels good for YOU, and this may start with thinking outside of the “calorie burning box.”


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