Perhaps a more accurate title for this post would be “what happened when I stopped putting pressure on myself to exercise”. Because for the past month that’s exactly what I did.
I know, I know for someone who preaches exercise and just generally promotes an active lifestyle it seems pretty out of character to choose to be sedentary for a month. I suppose I have some explaining to do.
I’ve been very honest with you regarding my struggles surrounding food, but I’ve stayed away from vocalizing my issues around exercise. Partially because I’m still pretty in the thick of it, but also because I feared being called out as a hypocrite.
I find I’m much better able to sort through my thoughts and share them with you guys when it’s in hindsight, but this time I’m hoping that sharing my struggles as they happen can both inspire you but also recruit you to help me. I want you to know that my life certainly isn’t perfect and I definitely don’t have this whole health thing figured out.
I’m telling you this because lately I’ve been realizing that my relationship with exercise is far from healthy.
Exercise has been and I suspect will always be my vice. Learning to eat intuitively was a challenge but learning to move intuitively has proved to be one of my biggest obstacles.
I often find myself wishing I could just un-know information. Wishing away the number of calories burned while running, the benefits of strength training, how to build muscle and stick to a training plan. Yearning to get back to a time when exercising was something you just did, rather than part of some larger goal you’re trying to achieve.
But these days, I find it hard to let this information go. Suddenly, “only” working out 4 days a week riddles me with guilt and anxiety and irrational fears that even I can’t explain. Rather than celebrating the fact that I moved and challenged myself for 4 days, I focus on the 3 days that I didn’t.
Did I balance enough cardio to strength?
Am I stronger than I was last week?
Can I run a little further?
These kinds of thoughts wax and wane in my brain. When I think them through objectively I realize that the entire purpose of exercise (to keep me healthy and strong) are being entirely negated by my stress surrounding it.
It reached a point where exercise was just another thing on my to-do list adding pressure and anxiety to my life. It stopped being about moving my body, but whether I was meeting the expectation I set for myself as an active person.
Interestingly, these thoughts have nothing to do with how I look – thoughts that plagued me for many years in the past – but with whether I was living up to my brand. A brand that encourages movement and exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle.
But what I’m beginning to learn is that no amount of physical activity can help us tackle our mental health. Being healthy and in my case, inspiring others to be healthy requires that we support our mental health as much, if not more than our physical health. I’ve come to realize that my disordered relationship with exercise has been threatening my mental health. That I was putting my body first, and my brain second, forgetting entirely that they depend on each other to function at their best.
So what did I do? I stopped exercising. Entirely. With the exception of a few workouts here and there (you try going on vacation with Fit Foodie Finds…), I took exercise off my to-do list. I ditched the goals, and the expectations and gave myself permission to move if I wanted to, but with no plan dictating how to do that.
Having a dog prevented me from becoming entirely sedentary, but besides our daily walks I learned to embrace other ways of supporting my body. Instead of dragging myself to the gym, I read a book. Instead of forcing myself to go to a class, I sipped a new tea and took a nap. I did everything my body was telling me to do. I relaxed.
So what happened?
Everything. I put no specific timeline on myself for when I’d dip my toes back into working out but here I am a month later feeling invigorated and slightly more aware of how damn smart our bodies really are.
And for those of you wondering…
Here’s What DIDN’T Happen When I Stopped Working Out
I did not balloon or turn into a sloth whale (yes, this is what I imagined in my head). I don’t own a scale, but none of my clothes fit any differently and I still felt pretty bad-ass going bathing suit shopping.
I didn’t suddenly notice a new roll on my tummy or less definition in my arms. I didn’t have to go out and buy new jeans or spend the entire month wearing moo-moos.
In fact I feel a lot more comfortable in my body than I did before this experiment.
Here’s What DID Happen When I Stopped Working Out
I became a lot more aware of how great it feels to prioritize self-care. In some crazy way, taking that time that I normally allotted to working out and instead dedicated to doing what felt right to me made me a better person towards others. I was more attentive and patient because I felt less pressured or burdened.
I felt an overall contentment with my life. This one is kind of hard to explain, but I just felt like I was a lot more present and took a lot more enjoyment out of the small moments in life. Taking Rhett for a walk, cuddling and watching episodes of New Girl with C, meal prepping a couple meals for the week. I cherished these moments a lot more.
Taking the pressure off myself to do something I felt like I was supposed to be doing, made me realize how many other things I burden myself with because I feel some inexplicable sense of commitment. I’m someone who puts a lot of value in my word and also wants to do everything, all while doing it perfectly. Realizing that life doesn’t fall apart when you can’t get that workout in, also helped me come to terms with the fact that I can’t do it all, and I certainly can’t do it all perfectly.
And finally, I realized how much I really do love to move. After a couple of weeks off I went on a run and it felt amaaaazing. Today I went on a hike in Arizona and tomorrow may bring more of the same. But I also am getting comfortable with the idea that I don’t know what tomorrow will bring and if all it includes is a walk around the block, I’ll be happy with myself.
I’ll never be able to un-know everything I’ve absorbed regarding working out and the fitness world, but I certainly can become better at listening to my body’s cues. At understanding when it needs a HIIT workout, or when it needs a run. Or sometimes, a bath and a sleep-in is exactly what it needs.
I’m not changing my tune when it comes to exercise. It’s like brushing your teeth, you just have to do it. But you don’t have to torture yourself in the process. I think goals and fitness challenges are great. But just because your friend is training for a marathon and your boyfriend just completed Tough Mudder doesn’t mean that going on a 30 minute walk isn’t enough. You’re allowed to go to the gym one day and lift weights and not be on a training schedule. You can go on a run that is shorter and slower than your last and not feel like a failure.
Likewise, you can slow down, eat a piece of chocolate and go to bed early and still be doing as much good for your body as that muay thai-yoga-crossfit class.
Sometimes we all need a little kick in the pants to get moving, but it’s important to remember what you’re moving for. I realized that I what I truly prioritize is feeling great. Do I want to be strong? Of course. But I want to be strong enough to move a box without breaking my back or carry my future children. I don’t need to lift a 250lb barbell above my head and I don’t need to run a sub 4 hour marathon.
If lifting that barbell makes you feel great, then more power to ya! But in the same vein, if you want to do a strength class one day and a spin class the next and then never do either again, that’s totally cool too. You’re allowed to be inconsistent. You’re allowed to move for the sake of moving and not because you have to achieve a goal. It’s easy to get wrapped up in this idea that we need to exercise to meet or exceed a challenge. That if we’re not dry-heaving on the ground, the workout was worthless. But our workouts don’t need to be the most effective for them to be worthwhile.
This isn’t an excuse to stop moving or permission to become a couch potato. It’s just a reminder that we don’t all need to perform like professional athletes on a strict training schedule to get the benefits of exercise.
I guess what I really learned from this whole experiment was that our bodies are ridiculously-crazy-smart. In some weird-twisted way, I had to eliminate exercise entirely to realize it’s benefits. And I also had to take a break from it to remind myself how important it is to care for other aspects of our being.
In moving forward, exercise doesn’t feel like another thing on my to-do list. I have no idea how many times I’ve worked out this week and I don’t care how many times I workout next week. I’m not perfect and I know this won’t be an easy road, but I’m taking it day by day. I’m asking myself if I’m moving because it feels good and I want to or because I feel like I have to. If it’s the latter, it’s important that I assess how I could make a better use of my time.
What I’m trying not to do is feel guilty around exercise. To constantly remind myself that it doesn’t matter how much or how hard I worked but how it made me feel. This isn’t easy when you’re surrounded by people posting their latest #workoutgoals and fitspo images. But I’m going to give it my best shot.
I hope you’ll join me in trying to become more intuitive with our bodies and how we move them. Honestly, I could use as much support as I can get. But if the least I can do is get you to ask yourself whether this statement applies before your next workout then I’ll have done my job well. I certainly hope it resonates with you as much as it resonated with me:
“I’m working out because I love my body, not because I hate it.”
Let’s all give our bodies a little more love, because we’ve got one life to live and it’s the only one we’ve got!
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HannahMarch 16, 2016 at 10:44 am
What a well thought out post! As an Olympic hopeful it can be hard to find your identity outside of exercise. It’s engrained in our brains that we can never do enough, I totally understand the anxiety of feeling like you didn’t do enough.
Davida KugelmassMarch 21, 2016 at 11:33 am
It’s always nice to know I’m not alone! Thanks so much, Hannah <3
ZoeMarch 16, 2016 at 10:19 am
Going for two 30 minute walks a day with my dog is usually the best I can do. I’m grateful for this time, a time where I can smile, think clearly…and a time where I do not have to change my clothes, shower and reapply my makeup in order to get back to work. My reality is that extra time for sleeping and down time are more important to recharging my batteries than a yoga class…at least right now!
Davida KugelmassMarch 21, 2016 at 11:35 am
I couldn’t agree more, lady! On that note- we really do need to get a date on the books for a puppy playdate and catch-up time. I so look forward to these walks too and even more when I can enjoy it with a friend <3
LauraMarch 16, 2016 at 9:24 am
Your post is timely! I’m an exercise fanatic and started training for o sprint triathlon for my 55th bday and just tore my ACL, MCL and meniscus skiing so right now it’s only the pool and PT for me. I am an avid crack of dawn exerciser but have to admit I actually enjoy sleeping later and not rushing around! i like your approach to this and it will remind me that I don’t need to be fanatical. Love you recipes btw!
Davida KugelmassMarch 21, 2016 at 11:37 am
Life has a funny (and not so funny…) way of telling us when we need to slow down. Here’s to quick healing and a healthy journey forward. Thanks for sharing your story, Laura! xo
Em @ Love A LatteMarch 16, 2016 at 9:19 am
I used to be obsessed with getting in running miles. Having my son, Sage, really changed my outlook on exercise. For one I didn’t exercise hard throughout pregnancy and I still stayed very healthy (I ate really well) and I wasn’t able to exercise much once he was born because I was so exhausted. Again, I ate really healthy (but never deprived myself) and I felt fantastic. I definitely want to get back into running eventually but for the love of it, not because I have to. Great post!
Davida KugelmassMarch 21, 2016 at 11:36 am
I’ve loved following your journey as your own perspective with health and wellness have shifted. From running miles to running after Sage, you’ve always been someone I’ve admired for following their instincts about what feels right. Keep on doing you! Lots of love!
LexiMarch 16, 2016 at 9:12 am
This so resonates with me. So well put, D. <3
Davida KugelmassMarch 20, 2016 at 5:54 pm
Lots of love to you Lex! xoxo
Ashley @ Fit Mitten KitchenMarch 16, 2016 at 9:01 am
Ohhh yes >> “I’m someone who puts a lot of value in my word and also wants to do everything, all while doing it perfectly” The percentage that I relate to that statement is 1000% 🙂 Why are we so ridiculous with ourselves!? It’s like the constant struggle of understanding one’s self, and then trying to make positive changes to move onward and upward, but all while wanting to stay “true” to one’s self… whatever that means. I feel like I don’t have enough room in my brain for all of my thoughts… Okay I just semi-rambled there. But know I 100% have your back and am trying to figure out some of this crap myself 😉 <3
Davida KugelmassMarch 21, 2016 at 11:28 am
We got this lady! Wine always helps…LOL But for real, we don’t always have to be BETTER. I feel like my life is a constant struggle of accepting that it is more than okay to be average. That sometimes not improving and not ensuring that tomorrow be better than yesterday is far more admirable than pushing myself to be more. Ah well, at least we’ve got each other 😉
KaitlinMarch 16, 2016 at 8:50 am
this is such a great post and I can totally relate. I actually sat here reading your post thinking that maybe I need to re-asses my view and thoughts on working out, because some days I still workout because I “should” not because I want to! Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing!
Davida KugelmassMarch 21, 2016 at 11:23 am
Thank you for your support, lovely!
LeeMarch 16, 2016 at 8:34 am
1. New Girl makes the world go round. 2. I’d like you even more if you magically turned into a potato. SHIT. 3. Heart you.
Davida KugelmassMarch 20, 2016 at 5:54 pm
Then you’d have to call me spud :p
Marina @ A Dancer's Live-ItMarch 16, 2016 at 8:09 am
You summed up my entire relationship with exercise. Being a dancer, it’s so important for us to “cross-train”, but then it became an unhealthy obsession. This is so inspiring to me!! I’m still learning to listen to my body but now I don’t beat myself up for rest days like I used to. Thank you so much for this, it’s crazy to realize how much you have in common with others!
Davida KugelmassMarch 21, 2016 at 11:10 am
I’m so happy to hear you’re learning to be more compassionate with your body! It’s nice to know I’m not alone on this journey. Thanks for sharing, Marina!
dixya @ food, pleasure, and healthMarch 16, 2016 at 7:43 am
i am sure MANY of us will relate to this post..because this is a struggle i go through alot. in general, i enjoy being active but within the last few months, i have gained weight and i know its partly because of my relaxed eating habits and inconsistent working out. i did my best to listen to my body and allowed it do whatever it asked for but i realized that im tooooo relaxed which is why i started to watch what i eat closely and be consistent with workout. like you said, now i feel like exercising is part of my to do list rather than something i enjoy. im struggling to find the balance 🙁
Davida KugelmassMarch 21, 2016 at 11:19 am
I hear ya sister. I think it’s so important to focus on how you FEEL and not how you LOOK. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the two but I think back to when I was my skinniest and fittest and I felt miserable. I was in pain (physically) and mentally in a pretty tough, obsessive place. These days I’m certainly not as fit or as strong as I used to be but I’m sleeping well, my skin is better and I just feel like physically drained. These things matter more to me than abs. I think it’s all about perspective. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype that looking fit will bring us happiness and contentment when in reality we tend to look more confident and comfortable when we focus on feeling more confident and comfortable! Just some food for thought 🙂
SophieMarch 16, 2016 at 7:19 am
I absolutely love this post. I totally see why you would be hesitant to open up about this since, as you say, healthy living and thus exercise are part of your brand, but I think that this sort of mentality you’re working towards (how you feel rather than how hard you worked) is so important and healthy, and can benefit so many people who are feeling the same way. I struggled with this for ages because I’ve never EVER been athletically inclined, and yet I continually forced myself to run and sprint and strength train multiple times a week, knowing it was ‘good for me’ and wondering when I’d finally turn into someone who loved doing those things 😛 Whereas I’m happy as a clam walking or jogging or biking or doing yoga (all of which for ages I didn’t consider to be ‘real’ exercise), but I still occasionally catch myself thinking I’m lazy or ‘letting myself go’ and telling myself I should work harder.
But anyway – that’s my long-winded way of saying thank you for this post!
Davida KugelmassMarch 21, 2016 at 11:02 am
Thank YOU. It’s so nice to know I’m not alone. Walking and hiking bring me more joy than any other activity but for years I wrote them off as a form of exercise. I’m slowly but surely learning that moving your body in a way that you enjoy is far more important than how hard you work it!
LizMarch 16, 2016 at 6:57 am
It really is amazing how smart our bodies are about dictating and getting what they want! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It is really inspiring.
Davida KugelmassMarch 20, 2016 at 5:53 pm
Thank you for your support, Liz!