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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EmilyNovember 13, 2017 at 8:16 pm
LOVE this post! I’ve had to greatly reduce my exercise because of knee injuries (most likely from too much running and jumping) over the past few months. I’m started to come to terms with less and less intense exercise (hasn’t happened over night. hello anxiety!), but the fear of not healing is still haunting me. I’ve also completely lost my appetite. I have to force feed myself to get in even the minimal amount of “healthy” calories. Did this ever happen to you? Asking for a friend!
NathalieNovember 21, 2017 at 2:23 pm
I can so relate to your post, Emily. Also recovering from a knee injury, which was preceded by an adductor injury from which I’ve been suffering since October last year (still feeling the consequences from the latter, but getting there slowly but surely). All thanks to gym… (always wanted to go faster or heavier, pushed by a PT). Hardest part (mentally) is that I cannot drive the car right now and am, like, ‘trapped’ at home, plus I had to stop horse riding already for over a year now, the only sport that I have been doing for almost 15 years.
I’ve been recovering from anorexia since a couple of years. But this year, due to all these injuries, I had to make huge steps in order to improve my diet to be sure to take in a sufficient amount of proteins. Of course, anxiety is just around the corner. The fear of becoming like a balloon haunts me every day. The ‘scary’ is that I do not encounter a lot of troubles gaining weight…
(PS: sorry for any mistakes… not a native English speaker)
Marshall EvansOctober 24, 2017 at 11:00 am
It is very important to exercise at home because we don’t always have time for the gym. And while I’m not a big fan of posting yoga poses, I still encourage others, especially girls, to do yoga to get stronger and more flexible.
ErinJuly 31, 2017 at 4:35 pm
What a great post! It really resonates with what I often find myself struggling with. I’ve been able to get past exercising for the purpose of weightloss, but I still find myself worried about doing the “right” exercise for the “right” amount of time in order to achieve maximum health.
I’m constantly googling the reccomendations from the government, public health etc. About how long to work out and how intensely, and then obsessing about whether or not I’m achieving it. I’m afraid if I don’t, it will affect my health in the future. Any thoughts on how you marry intuitive exercise (which I love the idea of!) to these kinds of things??
Thanks so much for your post!! <3
StaceyMay 18, 2017 at 2:35 pm
This post was like what my mind has been screaming and torturing my body with !! I’m on 7 days of exercise and o hate it lol!! I’m wondering since your post is a year olds what have you been up to since her you still maintaining non-exercise weeks and have you gained any weight from it? Or feel any different ?
Davida @ The Healthy MavenMay 23, 2017 at 6:06 pm
Here’s an updated post, Stacey:https://www.thehealthymaven.com/2017/03/exercise-addiction.html You shouldn’t have to hate exercise. Find ways that feel food to move and add to your life, not take away from it!
Niki WilsonMay 10, 2017 at 2:56 am
“I’m working out because I love my body, not because I hate it.” Girl, you are goals.You really inspired me to work out.I was so much in a need of a motivational post like this.thanks for sharing : ) xoxo <3
Davida @ The Healthy MavenMay 23, 2017 at 5:40 pm
of course. I’m so happy this could resonate with you!
TaraMarch 24, 2017 at 2:33 pm
Hi, I so love your post, actually your whole blog is wonderful! I am not an exercise fanatic!!!! So this was kind of foreign to me. That being said, I do realize t he importance of movement throughout the day. Right now my priorities are not sitting too long and saving my energy to “play” with my daughter! Unlike myself, she is a total mover and shaker! My workout is practicing soccer, and training for cross country running with her. I think it is important to prioritize exercise and movement as it fits into your lifestyle and not o be too hard on yourself.
Jessica DallidayMarch 9, 2017 at 10:11 pm
I absolutely loved this post (and your blog)! This post especially resonates with me and my personal journey with food and exercise and it’s comforting to know that others are having similar struggles. I couldn’t agree more with all of your points and have encountered very similar results- I was so surprised to realize how smart our bodies are and that we really need to listen to them instead of constantly pushing them. It’s been a tough process but I am getting better everyday. Thank you so much for sharing this personal message, it’s helped me a lot and I so many others alike! ❤
Davida @ The Healthy MavenMarch 11, 2017 at 4:21 pm
Thank you, Jessica! I’m so happy this could resonate with you. Too often we have to learn this lesson the hard way but we’re better for it in the long run. Here’s to listening to our bodies!
TamaraMarch 9, 2017 at 3:00 pm
This is presented from a non-competitive-athlete perspective on exercise routines, but it really resonates with experiences I’ve had as a competitive runner, and especially coping with situations in which my athletic goals and relationship to training routines is disrupted by prolonged chronic injuries. I like the comparison between intuitive eating and intuitive exercise, the thoughts about disassociating guilt from exercise, and just generally enjoy your honest and balanced perspective.
SriramJanuary 17, 2017 at 12:37 pm
I had been ditching myself for not hitting the gym in the past month. That was so depressing and made me Google it out for any positive thoughts around it. And bingo I found your article right on top.
Trust me this is my first reply to a blog post ever in my life. It was so relaxing reading it and feeling so light.
DahliaJanuary 3, 2017 at 8:07 pm
Literally just binge-read some of your blog posts and this is my favorite so far. Was thinking similar thoughts today about exercise. At the end of the day, I would also beat myself up when I didn’t work-out. I’ve had enough self-guilt! Ready to move on!
Having a puppy definitely helps and gets me moving!
All the best, Dahlia
Davida @ The Healthy MavenJanuary 11, 2017 at 12:26 am
Oh Dahlia, I’m so happy this resonated with you. It’s been really wonderful learning to move from a place of love, instead of hate. I hope you’re learning to embrace the same mentality! xo
JerryE.LindsaySeptember 6, 2016 at 7:45 am
Hi Davida ,
I love this post! I’m finishing up a graduate degree in exercise physiology and I really enjoy exercise and how it makes my body feel. That makes it a lot easier to go on a hike, hop on a bike, or go for a run around a new place. Eating well and exercising regularly is something I totally struggle with . And I always appreciate posts like this that motivate me to really think about what I’m putting into my body. I am glad this post could reignite some fitness motivation. To stay healthy maybe eat fruits as much as one can or try to get home cooked food. Yoga definately helps to stay focus and good health as well.
Thanks For Sharing
Joan J. CarriganAugust 18, 2016 at 11:33 am
Thanks so much for the great article! I was dumped hard from a friend’s horse a month ago and probably pulled a muscle in my groin area which caused pain enough to make me limp around for the first three weeks. The soreness is almost gone so I am at that stage where I think I can start exercising again but don’t want to blow it and have to start all over again. I am going to print out this article and read it everyday until I can get back to my regular exercise – cycling. (I started biking a year ago and really love it, lost 30 pounds and feel great at 61! And I have been riding horses for 3 decades so it was just one of those things with the horse.) Thanks again for all the great advise!