5 Signs Your Relationship With Exercise Is Extremely Toxic

Working out is not always good for you.

women holding yoga equipment, smiling Standret / Shutterstock

Our social media feeds are often flooded with workout videos, gym-obsessed influencers, and #fitnessgoals. You can barely do one scroll without seeing some model flashing their unattainable abs or showing their juice cleanse.

It’s easy to think that this lifestyle is the key to happiness and fortune. Just do crazy daily workouts and eat kale for every meal in order to look like some smiling Instagram gym selfie in real life, right?


Exercise is something that should be fulfilling, but when we’re living in a society that pits us against each other, it’s easy for fitness to become unhealthy.

Toxic fitness culture has made working out into some kind of competition of who can look the slimmest or have the best body. It makes us feel like we have to push ourselves past our limits and prioritize fitness above everything else in our lives.

It can have damaging effects on our body image and our fitness, but, most importantly, it can ruin our relationship with ourselves. 

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When you have an unhealthy relationship with fitness, you’re not your best self. You’re unnecessarily critiquing your body and stopping yourself from truly loving your workouts.

It’s not that you need to give up working out, it’s just that you need to adjust your mindset so you feel good about yourself and overcome your body image issues. Recognizing unhealthy fitness habits is the first step in improving your exercise routine and increasing your self-love.

Here are 5 signs of an unhealthy relationship with exercise:

1. You use exercise to punish yourself for food choices

If you’re using exercise as a way to compensate for that slice of pizza you ate last night or to justify having a cookie later, you’re in it for the wrong reason.


Obsessively worrying about whether you’ve burned enough calories in order to make up for how you feed your body is toxic. Nourishing your body is not something to be punished for. As long as you're maintaining a generally healthy diet, a few treats here and there will not drastically alter your fitness goals.

Your diet and exercise are not enemies — they should be working together to make you feel good. 

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2. You feel guilty when you skip a workout

Sometimes plans get in the way or you’re not in the mood to work out, but this shouldn’t make you feel bad about yourself or think you’ve failed in some way. If you feel like exercise is mandatory or feel anxious when you don’t find time to work out, your fitness habits are not healthy.


Forcing yourself to work out to avoid these feelings only creates more compulsive fitness habits. It’s important to accept that your body needs breaks. A healthy exercise schedule should be used to make you feel good, even on your days off. 

3. You rearrange plans to exercise

Do you cancel plans last minute or reschedule just to fit your gym sessions in? If so, you might need to reevaluate your relationship with exercise.

Exercise should be used to supplement a joyful life with friends and family, not take over your entire routine.

If your friends can only meet at a time when you usually go for a run, you should skip your workout and spend time with people you love instead. Having close personal relationships is far more fulfilling than any fitness goal.


Plus, it’s scientifically proven that having strong social bonds decreases your health risks. 

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4. You’re trying to change specific body parts

Obsessively wanting to alter how you look is not good for your mind or body! Ultimately, your fitness goal should be to feel good, not look a certain way.

Everyone is unique, and what you see on social media or in magazines isn’t necessarily possible for your body. Everyone’s body is designed to weigh within a certain weight range, so believing you can drastically transform your look is inaccurate.


It’s also impossible to spot-reduce fat, so don’t be fooled by tiny waist workout videos! Exercise is for your insides, and your worth is not based on a number on the scale. 

5. You exercise even when injured or unwell

We all have to dig deep to find the motivation to work out sometimes. But when does forcing yourself to exercise cross a line?

Toxic fitness culture online is often based on pushing your body to the extreme, and not giving up even if you’re tired or in pain. But there’s nothing healthy about exercising when you’re fatigued or injured. In fact, it will only prevent you from achieving long-term fitness goals by burning you out.


Rest is just as important as activity in a fitness routine. Recovery days allow your body to repair muscle tissue and rebuild glycogen levels so you can get the most out of your workouts.

Listen to your body! If your brain is telling you to take a rest, you probably need to.

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Alice Kelly is YourTango’s Deputy News and Entertainment Editor. Her work covers all things social justice, pop culture, and human interest.