You Will Never Be Brad Pitt: Exercise Shouldn’t Be Emotionally Exhausting

"Ball Preacher"-- A Brave Life's favorite exercise move.

My husband, Brian, relies primarily on the P90x home video workout program (see photo above) for his fitness needs. He told me he’s burned out from exercising.

“So take some time off, change up your schedule, or try something different,” I said.

“No, I’m mentally drained from exercising 5-6 days per week,” he replied.

“What do you mean?”

“What do you mean What do you mean? I’m emotionally exhausted from working out so often! What’s so hard to understand about that?”

“Do you mean your muscles are worn out, so it sucks that you can’t do the moves you’d like to do?”

His frustrated sigh told me the answer was no.

At this point Brian got angry. He hates when I don’t intuitively understand how he’s feeling and jump into compassionate Crisis Counselor mode. I’m naturally good at being an emotional caregiver with my therapy clients, but sometimes I run out of gas by the time I get home from work.

(“You’re like The Terminator with me,” he once said.)

“I’m emotionally exhausted from working out because I’ve been doing it for years and I still don’t look the way I want to. No matter what I do, nothing changes.”

“Aren’t you satisfied with being a lot healthier and stronger than you used to be? Isn’t that good enough?”


I was so, so sad for him. For me, exercise feels awesome even when it’s kicking my butt. It makes me feel confident and cared for, because when I’m physically active I know it’s an act of compassion toward myself.

But for my husband, exercise is a means to a very specific end: looking like Brad Pitt.

And unfortunately, I don’t think it’s in my husband’s genes to look this lean and cut. (That is, not unless he were a starved Prisoner of War with an ab rocker and pull-up bar in his prison cell.)

But before I get all “Ball Preacher” on you, I confess to not always having a healthy view of exercise. In fact, throughout most of my life, exercise was a torturous means to an end. I’m the only person in history who was on a high school track team yet hated running– but hey, doing school sports every year gave me an edge on my college applications. I also hated running in my early 20′s, but I was trying to lose weight since a couple of handsome men were seeing me naked in those days. (Oh, umm…hi, Mom!)

So maybe I DO understand what my husband means by “emotional exhaustion from exercise”. Maybe I’m not The Terminator.

But here’s a more recent photo of me joyfully jogging at night, after work, in freezing cold temperatures:

I wasn’t running to burn off 2 slices of pizza, or to beat someone at a race. I was running because the act in itself was liberating and gratifying.

Life is much more fun when you reward yourself with fancy exercise equipment rather than rely on it to reduce your own shame and self-hatred. (That’s what therapy and self-help books are for, not elliptical machines!) Check out my new toy, scheduled to arrive next week:

If I use my elliptical while watching really bad reality TV, does my improved heart health cancel out the loss of some brain cells?

Granted, exercise isn’t always fun. But if there’s a disconnect between your soul and your body– if you’re not able to experience the pure joy of being physically active, minus the mean voice in your head who tells you you’re fat and ugly– you’ll have to deal with the emotional exhaustion of trying to look like Brad Pitt.

Your Turn: Have you reached a turning point in what exercise and physical fitness mean for you?

 Photo Credit

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13 Responses to You Will Never Be Brad Pitt: Exercise Shouldn’t Be Emotionally Exhausting

  1. Pingback: Which Childhood Lie Is Holding You Back? | a brave life

  2. Hannah says:

    I just like the feeling of being and feeling strong and capable. I try to cling to that motivation above all the others when thoughts of getting thinner and looking hot get sneak in there.

  3. Brian says:


    Brad Pitt GETS slightly shorter, gains a little fat and looks less ripped. Than my goal of looking like him will be achieved.

  4. Sheryl says:

    The first time I had a gym membership I was in university and flirting with some seriously screwed up body image issues and the only goal I had was to lose weight. When I stopped caring so much about being thin I stopped going pretty quickly.

    The last time I had a gym membership, I started to lose weight albiet with a much better mindset. Six months in I realized that going to the gym had no effect whatsoever on the shape or size of my body … but it had a pretty big affect on how I felt. I had more energy and was able to do all these things that I was never able to do before, and started to enjoy working out for its own self.

    I’ve since slipped off the exercise wagon and am starting to think about finding ways that feel natural and good to me to incorporate it into my life a little more but with a way better mindset. For me, those past experiences have changed the way I see exercise: I can breathe easier, my back hurts less, I’m stronger and capable of doing more, and I end up feeling more in touch with my body when I’m moving around. It’s something I need to make more time for in my life, but having disentangled “weight” and “movement” in my mind has been a great start.

    • Kimberly says:

      Glad to hear you’ve experienced the joy of working out and being healthy. Sounds like you’ve come really far in terms of your mindset, which is a huge deal. :)

      I can relate to falling off the wagon, so I decided to splurge on an elliptical machine– it’s a way to ensure that I stay active despite the brutally cold weather outside, my bad knee, and my desire to watch every single documentary available on Netflix!

  5. Jenner says:

    This is why I stopped hating myself and learned to love “exercise” that I actually ENJOY. Like you, for a long time exercise was an often-brutal, boring, cringe-inducing means to an end for me. I like to exercise. I like those endorphins. I love to sweat. All of it. But, it could also be frustrating and there was a lot of berating myself: you’re not doing enough, you’re not achieving results. So I just…stopped. It was madness, and I was tired of feeling so drained by something I was doing, ostensibly, to make myself feel good.

    And then I discovered that I’m much happier when I’m doing the things I actually enjoy and want to do: yoga, walking with my dog, dancing like a fool in my house when no one else is there. No, I will never look like Heidi Klum. But it’s fine, I don’t want to. I want to do what I like to do because it feels good. I guess it’s a more intuitive approach. I remember reading somewhere (I’m too lazy to look it up right now, ha) that pursuing physical activity we don’t enjoy can actually have deleterious effects on the psyche and well-being. Makes sense, right? I found a lot of freedom after reading this article. I haven’t raked myself over the coals for hating the gym or Zumba since!

    • Kimberly says:

      Yes, it is SO important to find activities that are actually enjoyable for you, even if it means going out of your way to make sacrifices that increase the likelihood of your success. (My god, Elliptical machines ain’t cheap!) Besides, self-inflicted torture doesn’t tend to inspire people to love and care for their bodies.

      Hope you enjoy lots of yoga, dog walking and bad dance moves in the years to come!

  6. Your one and only FIL says:

    Nice equipment Kim (don’t take that the wrong way…I meant the exercise machine). There seems to be a measure of unrealistic expectations that we all have for ourselves that often lead to bad emotional situations. The following excerpt from Sunday’s Sermon (Nancy’s version), contains a funny run on those unhealthy expectations (picture her delivering the lines about the “body-shaper”).

    Luke 4: 14-21 and First Corinthians 12:12-31
    “The Offering”
    When you listen to today’s scriptures, do you get the sense that God is offering you something you’re not really interested in? It’s like Jesus standing at the door knocking in the middle of your busy day and your busy life. You look through the peep hole and see this guy on the other side saying, “Open up, I’ve got something for you, it’s absolutely free–a gift.” And you’re thinking, go away I don’t need any, whatever you’re selling I don’t want it. Then you kind of come to your senses…”Uh…what kind of gifts? Did I win the lottery? Are you from Publishers Clearinghouse? Do you have one of those big checks for me?” “NO, says Jesus! Just open up. I have good gifts that you need–gifts of the Holy Spirit!” You can’t help responding: “Gifts from the Holy–huh???”
    But that is exactly what God is offering here—good gifts from a good God for the common good. Yet maybe, there’s a hitch here. The gift of good news that Jesus brings requires bad news before it becomes good news.

    What is striking, if you listen closely, is that this good news is only good if you are willing to admit what is hard in your life, what is lacking, what has been most difficult. It is not “good news” in general, but rather good news for the poor. It is not just release, but release to those who are captive, sight to those who are blind, freedom to those who are oppressed.

    Do you see what I mean? God offers words of comfort, but such words only mean something to those living with discomfort. How do you think we hear those words today?
    We spend so much time acting as if we have it all together. We spend so much money trying to look better, get fitter, appear younger. There is so much pressure on us externally from the culture at large and internally from ourselves to not need anything or anyone that it makes you wonder if Jesus’ message has any value or can find any purchase among today’s listeners.

    I mean, who needs Jesus when we have Jenny Craig? Who needs Jesus when we have miracle drugs for everything and anything that ails us—even if the side effects are worse than what ails us? And who needs Jesus, when I can get this new body shaper being advertized? All I have to do is put it on this body of mine and all of my fat and my rolls will go away, I will lose inches immediately and if I wear it only 10 minutes a day, in a month I will look like a young Raquel Welch (My husband can’t wait!).

    Except for one thing: the stories we tell ourselves about being perfect, the commercials we pay attention to telling us that we really can have it all, the ads that promise us that if we just purchase this product we’ll never feel insecure again – these are all false. And deep down we know it–even if they promise to triple the offer if we order in the next ten minutes.

    • Kimberly says:

      Pretty much! Media makes things a lot worse. But also, it’s troubling that developing young people don’t seem to have a chance at escaping body image issues because their parents don’t have the tools, healthy lifestyle patterns to model, or positive self image themselves to combat what the world tells their kids. Growing up I wish I was better prepared to rise above inevitable moments of self doubt and inferiority. It’s something to be learned over time, but it’s also something that must be deliberately taught, beginning in youth.

      Truthfully, my personal awakening on this issue came when Brian and I got engaged. I was like, I’m about to be someone’s wife and a mother– responsibilities I take VERY seriously. I don’t want to waste any more time in my adulthood worrying about my thighs!

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