Are You Failing At Fitness? – Here’s WHY!

I grew up in a family where physical activity was encouraged but not enforced. I went through the litany of softball tryouts, backrolls, and back handsprings, serving a volleyball and swinging a field-hockey stick. Nothing stuck. Then I went off to private boarding school. It was an exemplary experience but a boarding school, to an undiagnosed compulsive overeater, is like inviting a strung-out addict into your cozy crack den. At boarding school food was plentiful, and nobody monitored, nobody policed, and nobody educated. It was a food “free for all”. I quickly became heavy and deconditioned from lack of exercise.

Then came college; nachos at midnight, bad draft beer, and for breakfast, “Big-Ass Cheese Biscuits” (capitalized because that really was their actual name). All of this “sport-eating” and sedentary living allowed the poundage to accumulate. I hit the gym 1-2 times a week (ok, on a good week that is).  But the passion for fitness came and went. I felt motivated when I was consumed with guilt thinking about something I had eaten the night before, or because my 80’s overalls weren’t fitting. I would head back to the university athletic center chanting, “ok, this time it is going to be different”. (Who expands out of 80’s overalls? Me, apparently.)

I was socked with the reality of my fitness failure when one afternoon a group of fellow students, and I, biked over to the gulf islands. At the end of the day, I was stuck so far back, I had to hitch a ride in the back of a  pick-up to catch up. – Not kidding. 

As college went on I got more and more out of shape with my frequency of workouts diminishing. Only being motivated by shame, failure was imminent. Don’t recognize “Shame Fitness?” Shame fitness is working out for the sole purpose of looking better, fitting into a particular article of clothing, or punishing oneself for eating like crap. A shallow pursuit destined to burn bright and fizzle fast.

If we are going to be fit and healthy for life, we must have the right “why” to the motivation behind why get our Nikes on and head out the front door.                                                                          

We have many experiences in life that shape our attitudes regarding fitness; some positive, some negative, some just plain inaccurate. But all these experiences are important in understanding why we feel the way we do toward the pursuit of fitness and exercise.

  • Did your parents encourage exercise?
  • Was your family active daily?
  • Were sports a part of part of growing up?
  • Did you ever have a negative experience regarding athletics? (didn’t make a team, or failed publicly)
  • Were you taught that fitness and exercise were part of general wellbeing?
  • Did you have any great mentors in your life that taught you healthy “Whys” regarding exercise?

As I entered chiropractic school, I was at an all time high of 234 pounds.  I was miserable. I decided my approach to getting fit had to have a stronger backbone of deeper substance. If all the reasons “why” I exercised had historically flopped, I had better get new “whys”.

I put a halt to doing “extended cardio” with the intent to burn massive calories I had ingested. I stopped thinking about working out as a way to “look better”. I disallowed all those “faulty whys” to act as motivators because I had recognized their end-game – FAILURE.


Faulty “whys” in the pursuit of fitness

  • Because I am soooooooo fat
  • Because I want to wear a bikini by summer
  • Because I feel guilty about the pizza I ate last night
  • Because it’s what people tell me I should do.
  • Because I want to look better than her or get back at him. 

“What is the problem with using these whys?”  Self-loathing is a pretty strong motivator, isn’t it?

Let me ask you this. What happens when you lose a few pounds? What happens when you look a little better in your jeans? The impetus for change will have been removed. Our deep subconscious puts a checkmark next to the box and says done. You have seen this in yourself, or at least in others. It is the classic “yo-yo”, and it can apply to eating, fitness, or any goal pursuit with crappy motivators backing intended outcomes.

Let me share with you the mental list that became the “carved in stone” reasons I stay consistent with fitness.

Healthy “whys” in the pursuit of fitness

  • I want to live a vibrant and full life, free of pain.
  • I want my options to remain open concerning being “able” to do and see anything I desire in my later acts of life!
  • I want to have deep, healing, restful sleep cycles at night. (exercise is essential for this)
  • I want to lower my risk of Cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • I want to lift little people, puppies and bags of soil until I am ninety.
  • I want to have the ability to save someone drowning in a calamitous undertow, not just look good standing on the beach.

Those that encourage you to “do that extra rep” so that you can look good in your sundress are selling you a bill of lies. They are empty promises. Do not get me wrong here. Do I periodically appreciate the reflection if hard work has been paying off? Of course! But the absence or presence of “svelteness” does not deter or encourage my pursuits. I still get up and go to the gym like I did yesterday, and the day before.



I remember a conversation with a good friend not too long ago. She was ribbing me that our arms looked the same, and she didn’t ever work out. Wasn’t I annoyed? My first reaction was the “girl-gut reaction…YESSSS” but that response very quickly shifted to “not at all” There are dozens of reasons I choose to be fit that have nothing to do with my appearance.

If you have had limited success with the consistent implementation of exercise into your life, maybe it is time to flesh out your whys. Are they faulty, or empty reasons that are inevitably linked with inconsistency? Is it time to focus on deeper, more meaningful reasons to stay fit? Time to ruminate on “whys” that are in it for the long haul? “Whys” that will pull you out the door into the bright sun no matter what?

Some other links that might be a help on this topic.

The Five Most Common Escape Routes Sabotaging Your Fitness Goals

Fallen Off The Workout Wagon, Again? 15 Scandalous Motivators To Stay Consistent With Your Workout

What are your Healthy “whys?” Please share in the comments section below. 

Title Photo Credit to exercise_1500x450

26 Responses

  1. Thank you for this! It really has helped! I also know that what you say is 100% true as in Psychology A Level we studied why diets don’t work and what you said here is essentially what we were taught 🙂

    1. Thanks for responding Beth. It’s putting it into practise that is the hard part right? I still have to remind myself often about what the healthy things to focus on are, but it gets easier and easier the more you build those neural pathways toward healthy WHYS!

    1. Thanks for responding Clare. Sometimes it’s hard not to get caught up in the wrong whys right? Appreciate your input.

  2. There is some great info here! Some of my “why’s” are because I feel so much better when I am making healthy choices, and because I love the feeling of being strong. My parents were pretty active during my childhood, and I definitely think that carried over into my views on an active and healthy lifestyle.

  3. I love your positive “whys” for exercise. I have been a fitness instructor for 30 years, and remind my participants never to waste energy comparing themselves to anyone else, or even to themselves at another age. Here’s to the pure fun and joy of movement!

    1. Pamela, that is awesome! I so appreciate a professional trainer hitting the psychology piece as well. Super great job girl!

  4. Great info and so true; I have only just realized this myself. For years, exercising and eating well was all about how I could look if I only just did it! It took some health issues to pop up and a few solid months of feeling extremely unwell to shift my mindset. I now eat clean and exercise to feel well and to build (and this time, maintain) a solid base of health for the future. Great to hear your story, too…very inspirational!

    1. Love this Christina! Way to get there. Sometimes those hard patches are what really seal the deal right?

  5. Great post. I like this healthy why, “I want my options to remain open concerning being “able” to do and see anything I desire in my later acts of life!” Well Said!!!

    1. Thanks Tammy! Don’t you love it when a sentence comes together? Love love love. 🙂 I appreciate you commenting.

  6. Hi Heather,
    What an inspiring post! My fitness routine has always been sporadic. Some months I exercise 3-5 times a week and then I’ll go a month and only exercise 1-2 times a week. sigh… I resonated most with options 2 & 5, so I’ll be focusing on them. Just wrote them down on a post-it note.


    1. Thanks Anna! Never know when something is going to hit someone in the right spot. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  7. Love this! We should always be careful to get or motives in check if we want true, lasting, sustainable results in our pursuits. It most definitely goes beyond fitness and health but why are we in the relationship we’re in, why are we working where we are, why are we unhappy (really)… 🙂

  8. My finding with fitness, diets etc. Is that it has to be something that you can attain for the rest of your life, which is why moderation is so important, not a fad diet, not a get fit in 3 weeks program, it has to be something that you get up and can feel excited about every single day.

  9. I work out because I want to look good- but I have been doing it so long that it is just habit. I am still making progress and not stagnant because I switch it up and focus on different things during the year (cutting/muscle gain)

    1. Good work Hayli. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong in wanting to look good from your workouts. But if it is your soul purpose you will be disappointed. Sounds like you have a nice balance of motivators.

  10. Great post, definitely resonates with my struggles. It made me realize I have some good why’s and some bad why’s. It also made me realize my focus has been mostly on the instant gratification vs long term and long lasting. Great insight to turn my thoughts around. Thanks Heather!!

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About Dr. Denniston

Dr. Denniston is a wellness strategist for elite leaders and their teams, bridging the connection between personal well-being and professional success. She provides custom solutions for burnout and stress and facilitates cohesive habit-training strategies that maximize vitality, productivity, and resilience.

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