Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Feeling Stuck with Exercise

I am one of those weird people who loves exercise.  It is an escape and a huge release of energy for me.

I have been pretty active my whole life.  In high school, it wasn't uncommon for me to go from cheerleading practice, to soccer practice, to a gymnastics lesson in one day.

In college, I would go for runs or take a workout class every couple of days.  Until recently, I had a very healthy relationship with exercise.  I did it because I enjoyed it, I did it in moderation but also pushed myself when it felt good.

Over the past several years, my exercise habits changed - I increased the frequency of my workouts a lot and my sessions became longer and more intense.  About five years ago, I started running distances over three miles.  That grew to five miles, then six to seven miles.  Rather than every other day, I started exercising every day.  I stopped going to the fun dance classes I loved and opted for more intense sweat sessions.  I made sure I worked out for at least an hour each time.

Each time I worked out, the goal was purely to burn as many calories as possible.  The thought of "wasting time" with recreational exercise was frightening.  If I had an intense session that morning, only then would I allow myself to do something easy like yoga at night.  I became addicted to exercise.

When I was undereating, this was obviously a major problem. I tend to freak out when I am forced to make big changes all at once.  I love routine.  So the option of eating more and cutting back on exercise  completely was NOT an option.  But now that I am used to a new set of eating habits and have toned down the length and frequency of my workouts, I think I am ready to evaluate whether even more cut backs are necessary.

At the height of my exercise addiction, I would workout for about 60-90 minutes a day seven days a week (most of this was intense cardio).  Now I workout 45-60 minutes a day six days a week (a mixture of moderate-intense cardio, walking, and weight training).  I don't get bent out of shape if I can't get a planned workout in, but I do still feel slightly uncomfortable.  The point is that I have made changes, but I question whether I should make a second phase of changes.

I realized that this was something I needed to think about when I returned from my trip.  Maybe because I realized that life is too short to spend it in a gym and the body is fragile and should be treated kindly.  Maybe because I realized that it was nice to not plan my days around exercise and maybe I could live more of my life on a "vacation" of sorts...

I also had the realization that no matter how much I love exercise, I think that some of the reasons I do it so often are not because of that enjoyment.  I think that it has become such a normal part of my routine, I haven't questioned my motives and I haven't thought enough about whether it makes me a happier person.

Sometimes I have a hard time articulating this reasoning clearly.  So I am going to make a list of why I think I may need to change my exercise habits.  And then I will make a list of why I feel like maybe I shouldn't.  This is a technique my dad taught me when I used to freak out about decisions as a kid.

Ok, a list of why I should workout less:
  • Now that my metabolism is working, I need to eat so much to feel satisfied.  This is annoying and sometimes it is hard to make sure I am eating enough.
  • I worry that my body may be getting run down.  My muscles are often sore or tired.
  • I workout in the morning, and sometimes I'd rather sleep in.
  • Deep down I am afraid that if I stop exercising, I will gain more weight, when I was hoping that I had reached my set point (I know, I know, this is a red flag).
  • I may be doing more harm than good, maybe we aren't meant to be so active? This article suggests I may still be overdoing it.
  • I want to be able to trust my body to manage itself without me forcing exercise upon it.  I am afraid that I am still not there yet and may need to do this to get there.

Now a list of why my current exercise habits are fine as is:
  • A lot of people exercise every day and I am not nearly as active as athletes or models.
  • I enjoy the early mornings and I love being up and about.
  • I feel energized after my workouts now, not exhausted like I used to.
  • My muscles get plenty of rest because I sit at a desk job all day when I am not active.
  • I take one rest day a week, and I don't work out intensely every day anymore - so I am getting plenty of rest.
  • I don't have any injuries, and I don't want to lose my stamina.
  • I feel a little guilty and weird when I don't exercise, I don't want to feel like that.

Or maybe I am just over thinking this.  The "intuitive exercise" thing is difficult when your habits are so engrained into your everyday life.  I just don't want to hurt myself anymore at all, so I think it is worth taking a deeper look.  Experimenting with cutting back seems like a good idea, but I am so paralyzed by routine and fear.

Anyone have advice or experiences to share?


  1. I DO NOT think that comparing yourself to others is a good thing! I don't think that a lot of people exercise everyday and that you don't do it nearly as often as athletes or models are good reasons AT ALL.
    I just don't think you're exercising for the right reasons at all! especially with your past history of eating disorder AND how you mentioned your muscles are often tired and sore. exercising should be for health, and overdoing it is not only mentally unhealthy but also physically so

    1. Ha! You are not afraid to hold back. I respect your honesty - deep down I know something isn't right, which is why I am questioning my motives and why I wrote this post. Comparing to others is never good, but I don't want it to seem like that that is what motivates me to workout, when really I use it as an excuse to continue with my routine - which may be detrimental to my health. I decided to take today as a rest day and plan to start taking rest days at least twice a week now, in addition to cutting back the length of my workouts and my mileage. I just want to make sure I am not clinging to exercise as a way to hold on some of the old me...

    2. i think that is a good start!
      I think a good point of reference is also what doctors like to recommend for health benefits. different organizations recommend different things, but most of them are about 30 minutes of moderate activity, 5 days a week

    3. Good point. I have always done well taking instructions from science and doctors, so sticking with the official recommendation is a good strategy for me.