Strong not Skinny, the Best Reason to Exercise

Exercise should be about empowerment and strength and not losing weight

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

I have been exercising almost my entire life, although intermittently, and I think I finally figured out the best reason to exercise.

I started my fitness journey wanting to lose weight, and be skinny. I started following Kayle Itsines and her Bikini Body Guide. After a gap year, living in London, I gained some weight that I was desperate to lose.

I did lose weight, although it took a lot longer than I thought or hoped. It took at least a year for me to look in the mirror and be happy with what I saw. And I was happy, I think. Although, after seeing some results I think my motivation and passion for exercise started to wane. I began to exercise less and turned too quick snacks that did not fuel me.

But this year was different.

This year I decided I wasn’t going to exercise to be skinny anymore, I was going to exercise to be strong.


Motivation is a good kick-starter for exercise and although it comes and goes your reason for exercise should stay the same. And I don’t think the reason should be just to lose to weight.

Motivation is hard to find 10 months after you resolved to start getting fit. Many mornings after my 5:30 alarm goes, I struggle to get out of bed. Sometimes I don’t. I stay in bed and sleep in. But this does not happen often.

What gets me out of bed? This one thought, and it pretty much works every time:

I will feel better after working out, I will feel stronger, alert and awake and I won’t regret it.

Once I started focusing on how exercise made me feel, I found the motivation and will to exercise was easy to find. If my motivation and reasons are purely based on the way I want to look or think I will look after doing a workout, then I may not get out of bed. Because being skinny or losing weight takes time. The results are hard to see immediately, or even after a month. But if the result you are looking for is feeling great, then you will feel that result immediately and nothing can stop you because that feeling is great.

Strong is a feeling. It is empowering.

Skinny is not a feeling. It's an appearance.

Skinny is not healthy

Some of the skinniest people are not the most healthy. Starving yourself is not healthy. Treating food as a source of pain is not healthy. We need food to survive. Food is nourishment. It sustains life. Like plants need sunlight, we need food.

If eating as little as possible and then spending hours in the gym “burning calories” makes you skinny, then I don’t want to be skinny at all. I want to enjoy life. I want to eat all the food. I want to eat food that gives me energy and strength. I want nourishment.

Is exercising to be skinny healthy?

Like food, exercise is a form of nourishment for the brain and body. It nourishes our minds and keeps stress at bay. If we focus too much on being skinny then we may lose all the other benefits of exercise: reducing stress, endorphins, feeling strong. Exercise should not cause us stress, it should not be a desperate act to fit into those skinny pair of jeans.

Focusing on skinny undermines all the benefits of exercise.

If our primary source of motivation is to lose weight, we may miss the best reason to exercise, the benefits are so much more than just looking good they are feeling good too.

Strong is empowering

I feel strong after every workout. I feel strong after I run a race or complete a triathlon. And that feeling endures. It lasts for pretty much the whole day and even the whole week.

In August, I completed my first Olympic Triathlon- 1.5 km swim, 40km, and 10 km run. A quarter of an Ironman. It took me 4 hours to complete. I was probably in the bottom ten. But when I finished I couldn't stop smiling and dancing. I felt on top of the world. I had no idea my body was capable of such intense exercise and training. I could not believe I had just finished a grueling race. I felt so strong. I felt proud of myself for challenging my body and fell a little more in love with myself.

Being strong is empowering. I don’t feel the same way when I notice weight loss. I feel good and happy that I can see results but feeling strong after a grueling race, that feeling is pure joy.

I want to exercise to be strong and not skinny.

My exercise goals are strong inspired and not skinny: run 5 km in under 29 minutes, complete another Olympic Triathlon, complete a half marathon in under 2 and half hours, complete 5 pull-ups in a row.

In the end…

I am not perfect and I still take progress pictures and obsess over every bit of perceived fat. Which is not healthy and something I intend to work on. I am changing my motivation for exercise one workout at a time. I no longer take a progress picture every week and look desperately for “results” in order to fuel my motivation to keep going. If we don’t see any results, then what is the point of moving forward?

I may not see any results many weeks, but I can feel results. I can feel that I am stronger, that I run harder and faster, that I can almost do a full pull-up unassisted. And this is what keeps me going and enjoying exercise. I love the feeling I have after pushing myself in the gym, I love feeling strong.

I am a Lawyer, Writer, Reader and Traveller. From Johannesburg, South Africa. I am writing to find my voice. Fortune favours the brave.

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