I’m currently struggling with exercise obsession. Sometimes I feel like if I don’t workout first thing in the morning it will ruin my day, and I won’t feel as good about myself during the rest of the day. Any tips on how to get rid of this mindset
Hi! Thank you for your email 😀And believe me, I have been there. Exercise is a fantastic way to live a long and healthy life, but it can quickly take over your life if you are using it to fill a hole. Granted there are worse ways to make yourself feel good – but if your entire day is colored around whether or not you trained, you need to reassess your relationship to it.
For me, I used to train 3-4 hours a day. And it was not steady, low intensity training – it was super intense and used to leave me unable to move from the couch. I kept this up for about six months, and then body parts started to go out. I destroyed my back (which has a tenuous grip on reality at the best of times) and I still cannot walk down steps without a lot of pain in my left knee. I wasn’t sleeping, and if I had to skip a workout for any reason I would get so anxious I would cry. I also had a fun habit of walking entire airports whilst on flight layovers, and would always choose to walk 2 or more hours instead of taking the subway 15 minutes to my destination. The amount of times I turned up at the gym with my suitcase either enroute to or from a red eye is astounding. My entire life was ruled around how much working out I could get in.
Ironically, I thought I was so fit. But mentally I was a mess. I was in a work environment where regular working out was held up as a sign of obvious health. Young women who train overly hard to maintain an extreme, tiny body size couldn’t possibly be unhealthy, they are killing it, and kicking goals!!!!! They are body goals!!! And this mind set is very damaging to wholeness and health. Whilst there are always exceptions, this mentality sets completely unrealistic and damaging standards that young women and men hold themselves to every day. I see it on social media, and I see it in the money made off athleisure and faddy workout classes. For a while I was a part of the problem. I played the game, and at my sickest, I was rewarded with high profile work. Now, at 26 I have long term injuries and hormonal issues. Was it all worth it?
What broke me free was the realization that it’s not what you do, it is how you do it. There was always a small voice in my mind telling me that this is not ok, my self worth should not be measured by how many hours I managed to fit in at the gym. That my time was not better spent googling how other “body goals” people worked out, and forcing myself to endure hours of pain that gave me a hollow high and numbness. I began to look into why I felt the need to so compulsively train. There are athletes out there who love to train. They happily spend hours training for a sporting event, and quite often achieve mind boggling physical feats. They also have coaches who ensure they get adequate recovery time, eat a huge amount to meet all of their nutritional bases and have to work hard to maintain a balance in their life. These people make up a very small amount of the population.
So begin to look into why you feel the need to work out so regularly. Personally, I noticed that exercise was filling a hole left by some previous experiences. Once I realized this, I eased back on the exercise, and unwittingly began to restrict my food to fill this hole. Once I realized that, I got into therapy and finally began to distance myself from the aspects in my work life and relationships that propelled me to hurt myself in this way. It was painful and took a long time, but I can honestly say that my level of self awareness is my shield in life. Now whenever the hole inside demands my attention I am capable of recognizing this, and mindfully not acting. I am comfortable sitting with it and acknowledging every aspect of it. This self preservation will always help you. Develop it.
Now, four or so years on I still have to keep an eye on my exercise levels. I discovered how much I enjoy lower intensity workouts, usually centered around friends. I go for long walks in nature, paddle board and swim in the ocean, sometimes go for a slow jog, stretch every night and do Pilates a couple of times a week. I don’t obsessively check my steps for the day. If I don’t feel like it, I do not do it. I no longer sacrifice sleep time for training. However with all of these balanced approaches to exercise, that voice is still there to hate on me if I decide not to work out. It is there when I go on a workout class booking binge, and is present when I inevitably do not go to any of those classes, because I hate loud, crowded, smelly rooms with aggressive people yelling at me about beach bodies.
But it is not what you do, it is how you do it. Life is too short to run the risk of stress fractures and missed periods. And it is too short to be miserable if you miss a workout. You are so much more than body goals. Training like your life depends on it needs to be de-championed. Those who have the platform to empower women (and men) need to start using it mindfully, and not for monetary gain or bragging rights. Spending your days in a gym does not make you fit, strong and empowered, if it is taking away from your sense of freedom and happiness.
Exercise to live an enjoyable long life, free of disease for as long as possible. Exercise to have fun. Do not exercise to find your sense of self worth.
I hope this helps!