My feelings about exercise have evolved over the years. From about 9 years old until my mid-20s, I was a competitive track athlete, so working out was simply a way to reach my goal, which was to win. I was incredibly motivated, but it mostly came from a fear of losing, not because I necessarily enjoyed exercising, and definitely not because I wanted to lose weight. I remember saying that I couldn't imagine how people worked out every day just for health or fitness without the motivation and intense pressure to win that was constantly with me.
Once my competitive days were behind me, I found myself looking for challenges to stay motivated. That's when I started running marathons. I loved the structure of training for a race of that distance, and the feeling of accomplishment when I finished. I also loved the fact that I could eat whatever the hell I wanted and weight was still falling off of me! I became sort of obsessed...I would read books about marathons, I was a frequent contributor to online marathon message boards, and I talked about marathons probably more than my friends or family cared to hear about them. I would say that running was my meditation, that it was how I stayed sane, and I would shutter at the thought that I could get injured and it could all be taken away from me.
And then it happened. After my third marathon, I had pain in my right hip that wouldn't go away. Three years and two surgeries later, I'm still not right. Even though it's been a huge pain having to deal with this, in some ways it's been a good thing. Despite the fact that I was no longer trying to win, I was still in that competitive mindset that I'd always known, and being injured forced me out of my comfort zone and into a world I never understood...people who work out without the motivation of winning.
Needless to say, I don't find it as easy to motivate myself to exercise, and as a result I don't do it as often either. I'm still doing something active at least 3 days a week, but that pales in comparison to my previous routine of 5-6 days/week. In all honesty, it's been a difficult transition, and I'm still trying to figure it out, but I'm trying to approach exercise with an intuitive eating approach...focus on what feels good, and you'll be more likely to do it. Even though I don't particularly enjoy sitting on an exercise bike or sweating on an elliptical, I feel damn good when I'm done, and that's what motivates me to keep going.
Now that I don't have the pressure of winning, however, I'm not nearly as psycho about my exercise routine. I used to stress about working out to stay thin, but even that's mostly faded. What I've realized is that exercising will make you feel hungrier, and if you're truly an intuitive eater who listens to your body and eats when you're hungry, then you'll eat more anyway, which kills the whole weight loss theory.
The bottom line is that exercise feels good and makes your body function better (unless you run a few too many marathons!), and if you focus on how you actually feel during and after a workout, you'll want to make it a part of your routine. I equate it to brushing my teeth...it's not a particularly enjoyable activity, but you know you'll feel better after you do it, so you make it a regular thing.
The trick is finding something you don't mind doing. Like I said, I don't particularly enjoy the bike or elliptical, but I've realized that I can tolerate them if they're broken up into smaller increments, so I'll do 15-25 minutes on one, and then another 15-25 minutes on the other. Trashy reality TV doesn't hurt either ;-) On the weekends, I might go for a walk or a hike instead. I might not sweat as much as when I'm on a stationary machine in a gym, but I'll go crazy and never stick with exercising if that's all I allow myself to do. I find that doing something that's lower intensity but different and enjoyable is better than forcing yourself to do high intensity exercise for a few weeks and then stopping altogether.
Also, try to get away from the "all or nothing" mentality. On days when I don't have enough time to do a full workout, I used to forgo exercising altogether because I felt like there was no point. Now I realize that it's better to do 20 minutes of exercise than no exercise at all. You'll still feel the benefits of the workout, and that's what it's all about!
The bottom line, just like with eating, is to listen to your body and do what feels good. You might say "Well, sitting on the couch with a box of chocolates and a glass of wine feels pretty damn good!", but if you focus on how you feel after this activity vs. after exercising, I'm certain I know which one you would choose to do more regularly.
So, listen to your gut and exercise your butt! ;-)