By Nia Shanks – How many minutes of rigorous exercise do you think you’d have to perform to burn off the calories from three cookies?

Who cares. That’s a stupid question.

“Three cookies have 539.71 calories. You’d have to do a gazillion burpees and hoola-hoop for 29 minutes to burn it off.”

You’ve seen the charts corresponding to the most recent holiday-time treats that show the amount of calories for certain foods and how many minutes of certain exercises you’d have to perform to burn it off. “You ate it, now negate it!” they shout.

In this sense, exercise is punishment for eating. You have to earn or work off your treats and meals.

No. Just no.

Let me tell you a story.

Years ago before a feast, like Thanksgiving, I’d do extra workouts to “earn” my upcoming meal. And on the day of the big family event I’d go for a long walk to burn calories knowing I was going to consume more than usual later in the day. “I’m earning my food!” I’d exclaim as I power walked the neighborhood.

The other afternoon before an early family Thanksgiving celebration as I stepped outside with my dog I recalled those previous years when those walks were, essentially, punishment for the food I was going to consume later in the day. I was burning calories to earn all of the tasty food I was going to eat.

But no more.

Exercise is Not Punishment

Moving your body should never be done as punishment and you do not have to earn your food. Some even add “because you’re not a dog” to that statement but I disagree. I don’t make my dog earn his food either. I feed him because I love him and I’m a responsible canine-mom.

Now my pre-Thanksgiving walk is not done for the sake of burning calories. Exercise is not punishment.

I go for these walks because I know it’s good to move my body. It allows me to clear my mind, enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, watch the turkey vultures (there are dozens of them here) cut through the stiff breeze searching for an afternoon snack, and laugh at my dog as he stares down neighborhood squirrels and hikes his leg on every stop sign and fire hydrant.

These walks make me feel good and I enjoy them. That is why I do them.

I don’t do anything out of the ordinary before or after any special occasion.

Want ideas you can practice to avoid the “exercise as punishment” mentality?

Go about business as usual following an eating style that works for you (such as The Diet That Has No Name) and move your body in a way that you enjoy. This can be in the form of total body strength training workouts, yoga, hiking, rock climbing, spinning, or whatever you enjoy.

And how about instead of panicking over how many calories we’ll consume on Thanksgiving and causing ourselves unnecessary stress we, instead, be grateful we have an abundance of food to enjoy and people to share it with. Let’s get absorbed in the moment when everyone is around the table talking, laughing, and doing the goofy things that makes your family unique (we all have them!). Stop obsessing over how many carbs you’re eating and immerse yourself in the moment.

We’d be best served to not obsess over a single meal and instead focus on what we do the other 364 days of the year because what we do on those days are what have the greatest impact; not a single meal, no matter how large and calorie laden it may be.

A few meals isn’t worth obsessing over. It’s the things we do over and over for the long-term that matter most.

Good and Bad Reasons to Exercise

Exercise is good for you, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Consider the following a litmus test of sorts whether you’re reason for exercising is acceptable or not.

Acceptable Reasons to Exercise:

There are numerous other good reasons to move your body, but you get the idea.

Unacceptable Reasons to Exercise:

  • Punishment
  • To “earn” food
  • To work off a large meal
  • Because you over indulged
  • Because you hate how you look

If you currently work out for the unacceptable reasons, make it a goal to choose one of the better ones listed above. Before each workout ask, Why am I doing this? Make sure it’s a good reason. Vow to no longer punish yourself with exercise. (Check out You Don’t Know Fit for more information and to find your fit formula.)

Remember, it’s not about a few meals. Focus instead on what you can do well the additional 360+ days of the year because those matter most. If you want some ideas you can refer to the article 5 Principles of Health and Fitness for Those Who are Tired of All The Nonsense.

This story originally appeared on Nia’s site and is republished on Women You Should Know with her express permission.

Nia_ShanksAbout The Author

Nia Shanks is a writer and coach. She helps women discover and reach their potential through an empowering approach to health, fitness, and life. Join the Lift Like a Girl revolution at her website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.