Being Fit Without Letting Food and Exercise Control You

“Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.” ~Unknown

Most people associate fitness with nothing but positive connotations.

Exercising is the alleged solution to obesity and stress.

Eating fresh, local, healthy foods is the age old secret to a long and disease-free life.

But what most people don’t realize is that striving to live a healthy lifestyle can carry some seriously negative consequences if you don’t approach it wisely.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for eating right and exercising, but the moment your life begins to revolve around your fitness, then you’ve already lost.

Sacrificing Your Life to be Healthy

In my early attempts to build a healthy and fit body that I could be proud of, I ruined my life.

My entire life would be structured around my workouts. My meals were planned at exact intervals.

And if I missed any of my workouts or if my meals weren’t up to my standards, I would consider myself a failure and would get incredibly upset.

Back then I took an “all-or-nothing” approach to health and fitness. If I had one “bad” day of eating, then the entire week would be considered a waste.

It was bad.

My perfectionist approach to fitness began drawing attention.

I would go to parties and eat nothing but raw veggies and water. People would question me, stare at me for why I was being so phobic about food.  My own parents began getting frustrated with me because I would only eat certain foods.

My so-called dedication to fitness turned into an obsession, one that overtook my life.

All that exercising and healthy eating was meant to complement my life, not become it.

When You Take Fitness Too Far

When you weigh yourself every hour…

When you compensate the extra food you ate with even more exercising…

When you get angry because you missed your workout…

When you refuse to have cake at any wedding…

…then you’ve officially taken health and fitness too far.

Exercising and healthy eating are simply tools to help you live a happier and more fulfilling life. They are meant to make the things you enjoy doing even more enjoyable.

We all want to look good. We all want to be fit and healthy, but at what cost?

Finding the Middle Ground

If you want your life and fitness habits to work in synergy, then you need to find the middle ground.

The middle ground is where you can enjoy a piece of birthday cake without worrying about how it will make you look. It’s where you can miss a workout and not sweat it. It’s where you can go a day without weighing yourself.

But of course, finding the middle ground is no easy task.

Finding the middle ground isn’t so much about finding the perfect workout or diet as it is about forging the right mindset.

We all make mistakes. We all fail.

The most important thing to remember is how you failed. You must learn from your mistakes, as cliché as that sounds.

Find out what triggered you to overeat. Was it stress? If so, what’s causing that stress and what can you do to fix it?

Locate the root cause of your slip-ups and do your best to correct them.

A Life Worth Living

In this ultimate battle for health, in this pursuit of the perfect body, we sometimes fail to understand the true meaning of life and what’s really important.

Of course, everyone has different interpretations on the meaning of life, but I think we can all agree on one thing: life is meant to be enjoyed.

Right? If you’re not enjoying life, then what’s the point of living?

If all you think about is exercise and food and how certain things will affect your body, then you’re never going to truly enjoy the things that make you happy?

You’re not living your own life, but instead you’re living a life controlled by something as menial as eating.

That is not a life worth living.

What Is a Life Worth Living?

A life worth living is one where you can experience new foods without guilt. It’s one where you can pick up a fork and put it in your mouth without a care in world on how it’s going to make you look.

This is a life where you can go through the majority of your day without thinking about what time you’re going to the gym or whether you ate enough protein.

There’s just so much more to life than having an impeccable exercise and nutrition plan. When your life and fitness habits are working together in perfect harmony, you’ll find everything you do more enjoyable.

Food will taste better. Sleep will become more restful. And most importantly, an enormous load of stress and relief will be lifted off your shoulders.

How do you approach health and fitness? Do you control it or does it control you?

Photo by aarmono

About Keith Lai

Keith Lai is the author of the fitness blog FitMole. Getting the body of your dreams is no simple task, and that’s where Ketih comes in. He helps his readers execute the seemingly impossible task of losing weight, building muscle, and getting in the absolute best shape of your life

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  • bettina_rae22

    I really relate to this post. I was always very strict with food and exercising and it really did take the fun out of life. Ironically it wasnt til pregnancy and being the heaviest I’ve ever been that I started viewing my body in a positive way.

    Bettina @

  • I wish I could find the opposite of this post. Where do you find the motivation to get into a healthy life style? Because that’s where I’m stuck right now.

  • Paul Cruz

    I have been following Keith for a while. He has a great approach to fitness. This is the same approach I follow when giving dating advice to my clients!

  • I’m the kind of person that if I give myself too much rope, I will fall so hard off the wagon that it takes quite awhile to get back going. I think the key is to learn about yourself and work within those boundaries. Like, if I’m going to have a chocolate chip cookie, it better be the last one, or else I lose all self control. I’m better off not having the cookie or the birthday cake to begin with, that’s where I’m strongest. When I do give in, I’m pretty much done for.

  • Hey Meghan, I’d say just start with something small and manageable for you. Like, drinking more water every day for a week, or making yourself exercise for 15 minutes. Have one salad a day for a week or cut out eating out except for once a week. There are a million things you can do, baby step by baby step, and when you have a few smaller successes under your belt, you can start adding on to bigger ones. What do you think about those suggestions?

  • Emily

    I can totally relate to this post. I recently embarked on a 12-week transformation challenge through a personal trainer. I pre-planned and cooked every meal the night before, worked out specific muscle groups each day and checked in with my trainer every Sunday with pictures and a food journal. I realized that I was burned out, bored, and unhappy. Personally, if my life is off-balanced I get very anxious and stressed….I can never do too much of any one thing without feeling like the rest of my life is suffering. So after 6 weeks of doing the challenge, I stopped, took a huge step back to reflect, and decided to balance things out. Now, I make most of my meals, but I also take the opportunity to treat myself. I still hit the gym frequently, but I now take fun group exercise classes that make working out seem more fun 🙂 Everything in moderation, as they say!

  • TarzanJane

    I agree with some of the points in this article and disagree with others. If you are already fit, then I agree – you don’t need to obsess about everything you put on your fork and freak out if you miss one workout. However, if you are in a position where you need to lose a significant amount of weight then you need to adopt a healthy lifestyle, which includes monitoring your food intake and remaining consistent with your workouts. You can’t keep giving in to this piece of cake and that slice of pizza…people’s lives are full of events, parties, birthdays, holidays, etc. and you have to be able to say NO. I, for one, will always monitor what is on my fork. I can’t afford to go through life on a weight rollercoaster – so although I am not obsessive, I am diligent, dedicated and conscience of my food choices and exercise routines. I do not give in to every sweet that passes under my nose (wedding cake or otherwise) or I’ll be right back to square one and that is just not an option for me. I am happier and healthier now than I have been in my entire life and I am not missing out on any of the fun by skipping a piece of cake.

  • In one People Magazine’s “most beautiful people” issue (…or, at least I think it was that particular issue), comedian Aisha Tyler said something about the fact that she has no shame or guilt in enjoying a good burger, etc. which was: “When you’re on your death bed, you’re not going to say ‘I’m so glad I ate that salad!'” — and it made me laugh but could be oh so true for some people. This post sorta reminded me of when I read that page featuring her no-so-strict diet.

  • sarah

    I currently am battling with this. It started with good intentions of being healthy and fell way off the slippery slope. I measure every food item to the gram – eating out puts me in a panic. I have to workout everyday. And, there is no joy. I can recognize the need to change, but can’t seem to break out of the cycle. It is affecting my health, both mental and physical. Suggestions? My husband says “just eat,” but literally I can’t. If I do manage to force it down, I obsess and feel sick. I have started with a therapist – but so far, no results.

  • Read this very recent article about motivation for a healthy lifestyle:

  • Others are saying exactly what I thought as I read your post: (1) Everything in moderation is a good thing (2) And yet, all or nothing — I’m like that too. When I go for new habits, I am very strict in order to get the habit. Later (much later usually), I can relax a bit. That works for me. And, of course, that’s key. Do what works for you! (3) Doing things in baby steps is another critical point (and not in opposition to my comment about all or nothing.) I break down all my goals into pieces small enough that I can turn them into habits. I am then strict with those pieces.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.
    Best regards,

  • And one more thing. There is a joke that goes like this about going too far…

    A man recently turned 65 and had to choose a new primary care physician for his Medicare program.

    After two visits and exhaustive lab tests, the doctor said the man was doing “fairly well” for his age.

    A little concerned about that comment, the man couldn’t resist asking, “Do you think I will live to be 80?”

    The doctor asked: Do you drink alcoholic beverages?”

    “Oh no,” the man replied.

    “Do you go out late at night partying with friends?”
    “No, I usually go to bed early.”

    “Do you eat rib-eye steaks and barbecued ribs?”
    “No, my other doctor said that all red meat is unhealthy!”

    “Do you spend a lot of time in the sun, like playing golf, sailing, hiking, or bicycling?”

    “No, I don’t. My other doctor told me the sun can cause skin cancer.”

    “Do you gamble and drive fast cars?”

    “No. I don’t do any of those things.”

    The doctor looked at the man and said, “Then why do you care if you’re going to live to 80 or not?”

  • ituderevolution

    Beautiful post. I can definitely relate. I overtrained A LOT when I first got into fitness because I tried to “whip myself into shape”. I’ve found that a more holistic and sustainable approach filled with inspiration, loving kindness + patience has done more for my wellbeing that anything else.

  • DS

    OMG…this is exactly what I needed to read…even though I look physically toned according to every one but to me it’s never sufficient. I had taken my obsession to such levels that I couldnt even eat my own b’day cake without feeling guilty. Thanks a lot…it really made my day 🙂

  • The synchronicity of this post has me a little weepy. I’ve had a rocky few days with a ‘lifestyle’ plan I signed up for about a month ago and all it is doing is making me even more obsessed with health than I ever was before. In fact, I don’t feel healthy at all because of all the stress.

    Tossing and turning last night and up every hour, I made the decision to quit and never let someone tell me what is best for me again. I am still open to listening to others, but only after filtering through what I know to be true about myself. I have journaled all morning and feel so relieved and happy and now I read your post!

    Thank you for articulating what so many have and are experiencing. And I wish you very well in your own ‘life worth living!’

  • Great job on letting loose a little Emily. Even though being super strict with your health may lead to a better body, it usually doesn’t lead to a happier life.

  • Thanks Laurie and good luck to you too!

  • Thanks DS, appreciate it!

  • Ha that’s awesome

  • Thanks David. Definitely, when you start a new habit like exercising or a new diet…you can become obsessed with it. Take things slowly, be realistic with your goals, and hopefully you can minimize this “obsession.”

  • Thanks for the support Paul 🙂

  • You have to ask yourself why you want to achieve your goals. Why do you want to lose fat? Why do you want to build muscle? Why do you want to be healthy? If you want to lose fat because you want to look good, ask yourself why you want to look good. If you want to look good because it will help you feel more confident, ask yourself why do you want to be more confident.

    Keep peeling back the layers until you hit your emotional core. And remind yourself about this everyday. Post pictures of how you envision your success on walls, your phone, etc…

  • Right Rebecca, moderation is a skill that you need to master. Everyone has off days where they lose control completely, but you need to learn how to those triggers that cause you to get off-track. Once you can do that, there’s nothing stopping you from succeeding.

  • I would never regret the awesome food I ate on my deathbed 🙂

  • You have to realize that food is just food. It’s nothing special. You have to stop labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and begin to eat foods you enjoy, albeit in smaller amounts. Feel free to contact me.

  • Well if you have a significant amount of weight to lose, that means it will take a significant amount of time. And I don’t believe that it’s simply that simple to be 100% strict during this time. You’re transitioning from a period of bad eating to a period of good eating…it’s not very realistic to do this with an “all or nothing” approach.

  • Christina

    Love it!

  • I really appreciate your effort in making everyone’s life better. I try to do the same and here are my words.

    Regarding this specific post on health and eating. I think you got wrong guide from beginning or you guided yourself wrong. I am a Martial-Artist and I do live a healthy lifestyle and I don’t have any of those eating phobias and restrictions you mentioned. It is a false notion many body builders have about calories and protein powders. You never count calories if you are really concerned about. I practice and I eat whatever is available. You just need 3 times usual food (roti, rice, lentils etc) with some fruits everyday. A man who lives a healthy lifestyle will never ever eat veggies + water at a party, he will eat whatever is available there. I was like you but later was guided by a guru in right direction. The normal and general everyday food is more than enough to live a healthy life and opposite is also true, to live an unhealthy life, you avoid the ususal food and develop unusual habits like counting calories and protein (Protein powders kill the kidneys by overloading them). Dieting is another way to kill your human body system which many women follow.

    You are pretty right when you said:

    “This is a life where you can go through the majority of your day without
    thinking about what time you’re going to the gym or whether you ate
    enough protein”

    I have tried my best to not to give any negative message. I just felt like you were guided wrong like I misguided myself many years back and I never want anyone to go through the false beliefs I had gone through.

  • Atul


  • Kathy

    I asbolutely agree with your article. I’ve been there and wondered how my friends and family put up with my ranting.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and reminding us that life is more than a strick diet plan.

  • Krys

    Thank you. You’ve helped me lift a weight off my shoulders.

  • My pleasure to help!

  • Leona james

    Your blog is extremely brilliant especially the quality content is really appreciable.

  • Sesha

    WOW !! This is an amazing article. I love food but at the
    same time I love my workouts too. When i don’t anything according to my diet
    plan then i curse myself for several hours. Lately, I realize that i am not
    going out with my friends or wife to restaurants to enjoy beer or delicious
    food just because i think it will make me fat. I work out pretty much hardcore
    4 times a week and i don’t know why hate myself when I eat a slice of pizza or
    a burger. This article really helped me a lot. Is there anything else we can do
    to free our self with this guilt feeling without jeopardizing healthy lifestyle?

  • Christopher Rowley

    I’m not sure why anyone would vote “down” your comment. It’s a wonderful thing to consider – why worry your life away when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring? When it comes down to it, I don’t think I’ll be on my deathbed fretting over things like food or exercise; rather, I’ll be sorry I didn’t spend more time doing enjoyable things with others, and promoting peace, love, and joy.

    Thanks again for your enlightening comment.

  • It’s a joke, but of course, the best jokes are the ones with some truth. I write and speak about healthy eating and exercise, and eat well and exercise big time myself, but there is a lot to be said about living a balanced life in all ways. Moderation is a good thing.Thanks for your note.

  • Michelle

    Thanks for writing this post. I am currently struggling with letting my so-called “healthy” lifestyle control my life and it’s really hard. I bookmarked this so I can come back here and remind myself of this and hopefully start controlling my life properly, instead of letting food and exercise do that… I’ve recently lost 25 pounds in a healthy mindset but am stuck on the last 10 to go and I’ve found myself becoming more and more obsessive in my quest to “get to goal” and it’s driving me crazy – avoiding plans with friends, opting-out of work events with food, stressing and planning my food/exercise every day out by the hour and yes, lol, worrying about protein intake. I hope I can get back my moderate views soon so that my lifestyle is actually healthy again…

  • Michelle

    Hi Sarah, just wanted to say I am in the same boat. Sorry don’t have any answers for you since I am trying to figure it out too but thought it might help to know you’re not alone in these thoughts! I think it is a matter of “mind over matter” and just altering our thinking to think of it as a longterm thing (being healthy) than a short term thing, so we don’t have to feel guilty if we go out for dinner one night or something. I am trying to remember the “80/20” rule in this situation – eat good and exercise 80% of the time and 20% of the time give yourself freedom to do what you want. (I don’t mean exercise 80% of your time… I’m sure you get what I actually mean!) 🙂 Good luck.

  • Holly

    Hi Michelle, I know your post is from 5 months ago but I just read this article and your response is me 100% right now. How are you dealing? Are things getting a little less rigid for you now? I need to figure out a way to take it easy and stop obsessing over every meal, every workout, if I’m holding a bit of water (that always messes with me so bad). Let me know!

  • Think about your food

    Well, I do understand what it means to enjoy yourself, and to eat things without a care in the world.. Unfortunately, being vegan gives me a different perspective on food. I was diagnosed at 4 years old with Sensory Processing Disorder, and found out later in life that this neurological disorder I have suffered from is because of my parents and parents before them consuming Genetically Modifed Foods (GMO’s) which have literally altered my DNA. My younger sister has recently been diagnosed with SPD, but hers is much more severe and has impaired her motor skills and even stunted her growth. Our mother ate an even unhealthier diet when she was pregnant with her…

    The point is.. advice given my everyone to not feel guilty about what you eat, and to continue eating food without thinking of the consequences, well there are people like me, and millions of other children who are suffering from neurological disorders, autism, food allergies, and cancer because of the years of pesticides, chemicals, and GMO’s that have been consumed over generations. When you eat GMO’s, your body sees it as a foreign alien substance, and it actually reacts to it as a tumor/cancer.

    After all this has happened to me, I simply cannot support any company who abuses animals by keeping them in hazardous conditions (that spread viruses and e.coli to human consumers), kills their animals in painful and gruesome ways, and not to mention treats their employees terribly by not paying them minimum wage or compensating them for very frequent inuries. The labor unions used to mean something and protect factory workers, but this isn’t the case anymore. Some of these companies treat their animals the same way they they treat their employees. I want to support companies who take great care of their animals, produce, and workers. The dollar we spend helps support jobs- so why not provide more jobs for better companies?

    I do not eat anything that comes from animals- so unfortunately I cannot partake in birthday cakes. However, there are thousands of vegan cake recipes. My husband isn’t vegan, and I respect his choice, I just make sure that he eat organic, cruelty-free, antibiotic-free meat. It’s a little bit more expensive, but I always have a bowl of rice and cooked vegetables to help fill up his meal. Also, lots of fruit like bananas, apples, and oranges are his favorites.

    I do relate to this article a lot, and I do agree that making food or exercise shouldn’t be solely someone’s life. Perfectionism leads to such downfall, and if we make mistakes we have to just move on and not let it make us feel like that’s our only source of self-worth.

    However, I do hope that people have a small change of heart and be a little bit respectful and conscience of where their food came from… An animal did die to give you life, and that is a very serious fact that we can’t just pretend to not feel guilty about It wanted to live as much as you did, and unfortunately it had no way to save itself. So if you eat meat, just be thankful and appreciative. Don’t eat more than you need, try to fill up on rice, vegetables, fruits, if you can.

  • Charlottes Life

    I’m recovering from an eating disorder and this really helps the idea that I have to be healthy to be happy like working out every other day and when I miss one I feel crap is in fact UNHEALTHY

  • tommy

    I like alot of people LOVE fitness and healthy food it enables me to do the things i enjoy. It gives me confidence and makes me feel great.Putting healthy food in your mouth ALL THE TIME is so important it not only effects your body but also your mind and mood.This article is for people who dont understand how habits and lifestyles are formed and think eating a donut is living life.

  • Jack Sparrow

    Just read this and I feel the same way. Fitness and eating right are supposed to make everything else you do more enjoyable. I have a couple of friends that compete. One is a guy (bodybuilder). The other is a woman (bikini). And it has completely taken their lives over. It’s hard to be around them because all they want to talk about is the gym and food. There is way more to life than that. A good time to them is going out to eat. Don’t get me wrong I like doing that also, but when it is all you do. It has also turned them into egotistical maniacs. Always taking selfies and flexing in mirrors. Come on man… and always talking about how bad other people look. Don’t let yourself become like these two. I’ve seen it first hand and becoming obsessed with this can change you as a person. Thanks for reading and God bless.

  • Jamie

    Harder problem to solve when food/exercise is taking over your life, but you feel you need to maintain a strict diet and exercise regime to treat anxiety/depression

  • force263

    You obviously read the piece and translated it in a subjective way. It says you shouldn’t pass on EVERY cake at EVERY wedding. If workout/diet obsession is not an issue for you, great, this article probably wasn’t for you anyway. But this obsession IS A very real problem for some, and the part about considering yourself a failure if you didn’t do everything absolutely perfectly really hit home for me…and in those moments it’s easy to just toss any thoughts of working on it out the window completely.

    I just wonder why you even replied, unless you’re trying to prove to yourself that you’ve been doing it the “right way”.

  • B.Rex

    What do you mean
    “alleged solution to obesity and stress.”
    Exercise IS A solution to stress, movement cause we’re always on our asses in this day and age. I suggest you check your posts for pushing your own agenda mr meditate.

    Perhaps you should get out of the spiritual realm and come back to evolution.