fitness Live

To The Woman Addicted to Working Out

March 24, 2017

A year ago I shared this post on the blog about what happened when I stopped working out for a month.

I alluded to it in the post, but chose not to get into too much detail about my history with overexercising and how deep my disordered thought patterns had gone. I think it all still felt a little too fresh and real and per usual, I needed some extra time to process everything before I could share my experiences.

I finally feel like I’m in a good place with my body. A really good place. This doesn’t mean I’m immune to insecurities or feeling like my jeans fit a little too tight some days, but I no longer let that dictate my life. I think how you react to these thoughts, that are normal and human, is truly what’s indicative of recovery.

Because for many years of my life I let these thoughts and subsequent actions dictate my entire life.

But let’s rewind.

I’m 23 and staring at myself in the mirror in a tight-fighting dress and I begin to cry. I told C I wasn’t going out that night because I was “too fat”. I was 114 lbs and at the smallest I had ever been. I had a flat tummy, lean legs and what many girls would have defined as “fit”. I, however, could not see any of this. What I saw in the mirror was someone completely different. I saw someone who was inadequate. Who lacked willpower. Who everyone would be staring at for not have worked out that day.

Yes, I know this sounds crazy. But all I could see in the mirror was the girl who skipped her workout that day because well, life happened. I couldn’t get to the gym and therefore could not wear the tight-fitting dress and subsequently would never be able to attend the party that night. This was how messed up my thought-patterns were. And we haven’t even tackled the headspace of not being able to drink because I hadn’t worked out…

Clearly, I was in a pretty bad place.

But of course, I was the only one who couldn’t see it. No matter what people said to me or probing questions that were thrown my way, I did not see anything wrong with my behavior. I mean I worked out (albeit A LOT), I ate healthy and it maybe isn’t the worst thing in the world that I didn’t want to drink or party.

On the conventional health scale, I was off-the-charts. On the mental health scale, I was a whopping zero.

At that point in my life, there was nothing that anyone could say to me that would make me realize how bad things had gotten. I needed to learn that lesson for myself.

That lesson came a few months later when I did some major damage to my knee while running on a treadmill. I was in denial for a while. The pain was excruciating, but I ignored it. If I couldn’t run, I would jump. If I couldn’t jump, I would lift. I did whatever I could tolerate until a physiotherapist finally told me that if I ever wanted to live pain-free again, I would have to take a break. A long break.

What I see now that I couldn’t then was that she saw me struggling. She saw the issue as far deeper than knee pain. She saw the girl who cried into the mirror and whose life revolved around exercise. Perhaps she had been one of those girls. Perhaps you are one of those girls. If so, I hope this post speaks to you.

to the woman 3

Life is not about what is on your workout plan for that day. It’s not BBG or TIU or how many miles you ran. You are not defined by your ability to push your body to its limits. Your strength is not measured in curls or deadlifts. And you are not defined by your body.

It’s easy for me to say this now after 5 years recovering both physically and eventually, mentally from the awful place I was in. If you are in it now, I see you. I feel you. I was you. I know exactly how you are feeling and I know you fear what will happen when you let go of the reigns.

But those chains you grip are doing you more harm than good.

If your life revolves around exercise, I can assure you that other areas of your life will suffer. You will lose friendships, miss out on relationships, burn your adrenals and potentially have long-term health consequences that I’m only now just learning about.

What is challenging about being addicted to exercise is similar to the obstacles of having an eating disorder. It’s not as though you can go cold turkey on food or exercise and continue to live your life without them. It is a drug you will never quit, but instead have to learn to live with in a far more moderate and kinder fashion.

This is the hardest part of recovery. Redefining your limits. Learning what it means to listen to your body. Accepting that moving is simply enough and that some days even this isn’t possible.

So how did I get from the girl crying in front of the mirror to the girl writing to you now? Honestly, it took a lot of work. I shed a lot of tears and I learned to vocalize all of my fears.

First things first, I took a break. Actually, I took several breaks. For someone who is addicted to exercise, the thought of not working out is terrifying. To me “not working out” meant doing a power flow. It meant going on a light run. It did not mean rest. But rest is what you need. Whether you’re injured or are feeling the mental effects of burnout, my biggest piece of advice to you is to SLOOOOOOOW DOWN. Be kinder to yourself. Go on a walk, take a nap. Drink some tea. Find other things in your life that bring you joy and do those.

Secondly, talk about it. Maybe it’s with a friend or a therapist (I highly recommend you seek professional help btw) or maybe it’s with the entire internet. One of the most healing pieces of my journey, was you guys. Talking about life outside the gym, my changing body and discovering other areas of joy beyond the gym with you was a huge help in being where I am now. I’ve quoted my friend Natasha Adamo about this more times than I can count, but “you don’t need to be healed to help”. I’m still not fully healed, but helping any of you has helped to heal me.

Lastly, educate yourself on the long-term impacts of overexercise. Learn what adrenal fatigue means. Check to see if your hormones are out of whack and truly listen to the signs of your body. My knee pain, turned into leg pain and then turned into back pain. I ended up in the hospital after passing out several times from a combination of adrenal fatigue, b12 deficiency and severe pain. All induced by overexercise. What I would do to give back that flat tummy to avoid all of these experiences…

walking-in-sf

Eventually you will get to a place where you can move intuitively, but only once you learn that exercise must come from a place of love and not from a place of hate.

You will have to rediscover what feels good for your body and you will have to be humble in your pursuits. It’s not always about pushing yourself to extremes, but about listening closely to what your body needs. Oftentimes your strength is shown not in how much you work out, but when you choose not to.

This is where I’m at these days. I have seasons of my life when I workout more than others. I don’t follow a plan, but I listen instead to what my body needs. Most of the time it’s a walk. I walk a lot. It feels so so good and I’ve never come back after a walk feeling worse than when I left.

Sometimes I need to sweat it out. Sometimes I need some death trap pilates equipment that makes walking a real challenge for the next 3 days. And sometimes I want to spin my heart out at SoulCycle. But if life gets the best of me and I need to relax on the couch, instead of working out, that’s cool too.

I gave up a lot when I quit my obsessive exercise, but what I got in return is priceless. I had room for friendships, instead of long runs. I learned all about hormones (and subsequently what NOT to do), which also introduced me to the world of green beauty. I discovered what self-compassion meant instead of numbing my pain with anti-inflammatories. I had room in my head to think about things besides when my next workout would be, which meant I could finally start living my life instead of planning it.

When I look back on pictures of that girl, I don’t see someone who was fit. I see someone who was sad. Who lost her identity in her body instead of using it as a tool to create the life she wanted.

My story ends happily. But there are so many young women out there who are struggling. I hope I can speak to that girl staring back at you in the mirror. I hope she hears me when I say that you are NOT your body. That the gym will never give you the love you are seeking. That you have so much to offer the world so it’s time to start exploring what that means.

I also want her to know that it’s okay to take a break. And that eventually you will find a more moderate way to move your body. Movement that is rooted in compassion and not manipulation.

So if you’re that girl. I’m sending you the biggest hug. I know how you feel, but I also know that with a little patience and a lot of love, you will be okay. There is so much more to life than reps, weights and runs. I’m so excited for you to uncover what that means.

Much love,

D

P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about my exercise philosophy and how I move my body, check out my latest YouTube video HERE.

to-the-woman

*pictures courtesy of Bettina Bogar or me

No questions – just your thoughts.

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  • Reply
    Heather @Lunging Through Life
    March 24, 2017 at 7:22 am

    I hate that you had to go through so much to realize what was going on, but I’m glad you shared this story to help others. Overexercising is real and so many people don’t believe it.
    Heather @Lunging Through Life recently posted…Friday Favorites: March 24, 2016

  • Reply
    Kelly S
    March 24, 2017 at 10:12 am

    Love this! I used to be the same way too…and after a lot of time (and some therapy)…I improved. It has been over 8 years and I still have the urge and temptation, but I’ve learned to live more balanced and healthy.

    Great post- thank you! 🙂

  • Reply
    Audrey
    March 24, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Thank you for sharing this! It’s so important to realize there is a healthy balance even with exercise. It’s something I’m still learning to balance as well.

  • Reply
    dixya @food, pleasure, and health
    March 24, 2017 at 11:05 am

    i went through that phase briefly in college as well…and now i work out as i please and its been great 🙂
    dixya @food, pleasure, and health recently posted…10 Effortless Ways to Eat Better Everyday

  • Reply
    Casey
    March 24, 2017 at 11:40 am

    This is a great post and I can relate!
    You mention a few times several things you’re learning more about lately–adrenal fatigue, hormones & hormone imbalance, etc.–do you have suggestions for good starting points to learn more about these? Article links or books maybe?

  • Reply
    Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious
    March 24, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    What a personal and raw post. Kudos to you for opening up about this and sharing. I think many women struggle with this, but it’s not talked about as much as eating disorders. Very important to get it out there!
    Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious recently posted…This Is Life 1

  • Reply
    Victoria
    March 24, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    Girl I LOVED this post so much! I, too, have over exercised in a period of my life. It took my amazing sister questioning my need to work out twice in a day or only take one rest day to truly see it, but I finally did. Just like with my eating, I exercise intuitively now and damn does it feel amazing! Thank YOU to sharing your story, it will help so many! XOXO
    Victoria recently posted…You Don’t Understand Unless You’ve Experienced It

  • Reply
    Ashley | Fit Mitten Kitchen
    March 24, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    So in love with everything about this post. Three years ago I was definitely that girl. But I would say about two years ago I slowly started to realize I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I wanted a life again that didn’t crumble when I missed a workout. I needed better relationships and more happiness. > “This is the hardest part of recovery. Redefining your limits.” Exactly. Giving yourself (new) purpose, being more than okay with not working out every day, and giving yourself permission to do what you know in your heart is right for your health. REST.

    Thank you as always for sharing, Davida! <3

  • Reply
    Jen
    March 24, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    Isn’t the other side just all kinds of amazing? Vulnerable, honest blog posts are the best. Love this one.

  • Reply
    Miley
    March 24, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Letting go of my eating disorder was the hardest, most worthwhile thing I have done in all my twenty-three years. I feel so disconnected from that broken, exhausted sixteen-year-old girl I once was. So much love for you & this post, Davida! <3

  • Reply
    Karlie
    March 24, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    You are amazing Davida <3
    Karlie recently posted…Sweet Potato Tempeh Soul Bowl

  • Reply
    Max
    March 24, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Hi Davida! Thank you so much for sharing! Lately I have been struggling as well – I absolutely love running (long walks/hikes are also a fav!) and lately I increased my running load a little bit. I don’t think I obsess about it – I mean I look forward to my runs of course, and I try my best to properly fuel myself for those runs. That is where the worry sets in – how do I know if I am getting enough? I do not want to cause hormonal stress and/or adrenal fatigue, and I hope that with proper nutrition I will be able to avoid these things. But then again, how do I know that I am eating enough? With all of the low-carb, low-fat, paleo, ketogenic, etc. etc. fads out there, it starts to confuse me and then I do not know what to believe. I get in a lot of miles per week and therefore I believe I should be focusing on carbs, but also get in enough fat and protein of course. But this is also hard because I see/hear so many other women (and men) try to avoid carbs. Any advice? Is it possible to avoid adrenal fatigue and hormonal stress with proper nutrition?

  • Reply
    Sarah
    March 24, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    Thank you for this post. I am struggling with exercise addiction still even though I am doing better eating wise in my recovery and at a healthy weight. There is part of me still holding on to control, and I still have a very distorted view of myself. I know I will find freedom, but I have to work for it. So thank you for showing me it is possible <3
    P.s. loving your podcasts!
    Sarah recently posted…Struggling With Body Image

  • Reply
    Danielle @ Wild Coast Tales
    March 25, 2017 at 12:10 am

    Ah I feel you and I love this post! And man I struggle with this so much. I find it so hard to draw the line between loving endurance sports and running versus too much exercise. Getting injured forced me to slow down (for a bit!) but I also just love being on the move, outside and exploring. These past few months have really forced me to confront a lot of these issues I was honestly ignoring while training for marathons. I couldn’t agree more – having professional advice – whether that be from a physiotherapist or an awesome nutritionist (both of which I saw this week!) have been hugely beneficial.
    Danielle @ Wild Coast Tales recently posted…The best gluten-free and dairy-free hiking snacks

  • Reply
    Kris Kelbrants
    March 25, 2017 at 11:11 am

    Davida,
    Thanks so much for your post. I too am a recovering exercise addict, which still rears its ugly ugly head weekly. Your words ring true when you said you found so much more time for friendships and your other contributions to the world. I just published a book about my journey with my mom and starting my blogging presence. It’s been an incredible exeperience of facing those demons and lifestyle I was living. God bless and I’m with ya in the battle sistah!
    Kris

  • Reply
    Erin @ Erin's Inside Job
    March 26, 2017 at 10:49 am

    Great post. I can relate to so much of this and recovery is definitely way better on this side. Sometimes it takes reaching that bottom to realize what matters and what needs to change. It’s not always an easy road back, but the return is immeasurable. Keep up the great work!
    Erin @ Erin’s Inside Job recently posted…Five Things Friday #130

  • Reply
    Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets
    March 29, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    I love when you get all vulnerable and raw. Rock on (or walk) with yo’ bad self.
    Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets recently posted…Week in Review: The Tiny Human Takes Over (#76)

  • Reply
    Chelsea's Healthy Kitchen
    March 30, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Love this post Davida! I was in the same place as you at roughly the same time 5 years ago and I can attest to how much it sucks the life out of you. I’m glad you’ve found your happy place and can now share your learnings with others! <3

  • Reply
    jerry
    March 30, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    I bet you didn’t realize there’s others that share the same experiences as you. Look at how you’ve opened up the door for communication and healing for so many people.

  • Reply
    Angel
    April 4, 2017 at 10:40 am

    Hi Davida, I think no one should let insecurities dictate their life.  It’s good to hear that you are now in a good place and that you are satisfied with your body. I had my issues back in the days but now I feel pretty well about myself and my body. Everything that you do you need to do in small steps and mustn’t overburden yourself. Angel

  • Reply
    Julia @ Drops of Jules
    May 19, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    You are a blessing to this world. Thank you for sharing this. I’m much further along in my recovery than I ever thought I’d be, but these reminders still do me a world of good.
    Julia @ Drops of Jules recently posted…I become mean when I’m unhappy with myself.

  • Reply
    Dave
    May 28, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    Can exercise addition be a bad thing though?

  • Reply
    Shagalov
    June 22, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you for sharing this post! It’s so important to realize there is a healthy balance even with exercise. It’s something I’m still learning to balance as well.

    Thanks again for this helpful post.

  • Reply
    Branch Chain Amino Acid
    August 17, 2017 at 6:17 am

    Nutritional supplements helps the body to be fit by providing dietary vitamins that some foods can’t give.

  • Reply
    Amber @ Bloom Nutrition Therapy
    September 20, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    This is so great and inspiring! I definitely was that girl at one point, too. I decided in March of this past year that I was no longer going to be putting so much pressure on myself. I had been a chronic dieter and exerciser for more than a decade. At 30 years old, the physical repercussions finally stared catching up to me. I suffered from amenorrhea, extreme exhaustion and hair loss. It was hard for me to admit it was my “health habits” that were actually causing me so much distress. In stopping my exercise compulsion, I finally got my life (and health) back!
    Amber @ Bloom Nutrition Therapy recently posted…If I Lived On An Island… (A Meditation for Body Acceptance)

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