When did exercise become punishment for eating?

It started with a simple request from one of my editors: Would I be willing to put together a list of beloved holiday treats and how many minutes of exercise it would take to burn them off?

For the most part, I’ll take any assignment that comes across my desk. It’s both a fun challenge and necessary evil of being a writer—to make the money that pays your electricity bill, you have to be willing to churn out articles about anything and everything.

But this time, on principle, I turned it down. I refuse to be a foot soldier in the war on Christmas cookies.

These “X food equals Y exercise” stories seem to pop up like weeds starting in Halloween: You want to eat that fun-size bag of M&Ms? You’ll have to jump rope for six minutes! It continues through Thanksgiving and Christmas—even my handlers at Competitor.com published an infographic last week outlining how many minutes of running it would take to burn off two glasses of red wine (18.5 minutes for the curious). It doesn’t stop until Jan.1, when the barrage of “new year, new you” sentiments takes the limelight.

When did exercise become punishment for eating?

If I sat down at a summer barbecue and said, “This ice cream sundae is delicious, but I’ll have to run 6 miles just to burn it off. And that hot dog? Another 3 miles,” my friends would take me aside and lovingly express concern for my eating disorder. Yet come holiday season, we’re flooded with memes and “helpful” articles detailing how many wind sprints we’re supposed to do after indulging in a sugar cookie.

I run because I like running, not because I hate myself for eating cheese instead of crudités at the company holiday party. When I look at a plate of my mom’s special Christmas cookies, I don’t want to feel a compulsion to break out into a round of burpees. And I’m sure as hell not running 18.5 minutes after having two glasses of wine. I tried that once in college; it didn’t end well.

During the holidays, we gather around a feast with friends and family to share love, laughter and pie. We swap cookies and candies for no particular reason other than the fact that it’s the holidays! We put candy in our advent calendars and chocolate coins in our Hanukkah gelts. A holiday season without a few treats is like going to Paris and not looking at the Eiffel Tower—it just doesn’t make sense. If I have to “pay” for it with exercise, I’ll write an IOU and deal with it during the spring marathon season.

Just eat the damn cookie. Go for a run. Do what makes you merry this holiday season, because we could all use a little more joy and a little less guilt these days.

Exercise is fun. So is eating. Find a healthy balance of both over the course of the year, and we’ll all be fine.

RELATED: Out There: The Holidays, A Time to Eat


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). Susan lives and trains in Salt Lake City, Utah with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete husband. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke.