Have you experienced a weight plateau? Are your hormones out of whack? Have your energy levels dropped?
If so (or even if not), you may want to stop working out.
Yeah, you read that right. Quit forcing yourself to jog every morning. Cancel your gym membership. Relish in that extra hour of sleep you would miss if you were waking up to work out.
There is such thing as too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to exercise. Living a sedentary life is not what I’m advocating; don’t get me wrong. But forcing yourself to exert all extra energy for the sake of health is not the right path either.
For a long time I told myself otherwise. I was a slave to my workout routine. That’s what disordered eating and body-image issues will do to you.
Anyone recovering from an eating disorder has their vice. For me, eating more was the easy part. Loosening up my exercise habits was far harder. If I didn’t work out, how would I keep myself from ballooning up with all the “extra” calories I was eating?
It was my fear of weight gain and the sense of control I got from exercise that kept me on this same cycle for years.
I know that I’m not the only one to have experienced this. Many women (and men) who have been influenced by diet culture have this same mindset- regardless of whether their condition is considered an addiction or disorder.
The scary thing is that overdoing exercise actually has the opposite effect of what you might expect. Working our bodies too hard puts them into stress mode. Here are some signs of overexercising to watch out for:
– Weight gain: While physical activity stimulates metabolism, too much can stall it. This is exacerbated if you are food intake is not meeting your body’s caloric needs. As a result, the body enters starvation mode, holding onto any excess fat and water weight.
– Loss of appetite: A direct result of a sluggish metabolism is a decrease in hunger. While you may see this as a positive thing, your body does not. If you listen to your hunger cues and refrain from eating regular meals, you will continue to damage your metabolism, making it harder to reverse.
– Fatigue: Exercise is supposed to make us feel more energized, not less. If you find that it’s a struggle to get through the day, you might be working out too much.
– Constipation: When the body is under stress, the digestive system becomes impacted. Excess sweating can lead to dehydration, making matters even worse. Natural physical activity keeps things moving but forced movement can bind you up.
– Brittle hair/hair loss: Expending too much energy causes an increase in testosterone and a decrease in estrogen, which can lead to hair issues like premature baldness and damaged locks.
– Amenorrhea: This is a fancy name for the loss of a normal menstrual cycle. It is also hormone-related and can be very dangerous if experienced long-term.
– Other signs of hormone imbalance (irregular hair growth, decrease in libido, inability to regulate body temperature)
Physical symptoms aside, you can still be “healthy” and suffer from an unhealthy relationship with exercise. I have experienced it myself and witnessed it in others.
Check for these psychosocial cues that your workouts are taking over your life:
– Experiencing anxiety when you do not or cannot work out
– Scheduling social events around exercise times/refusing invitations due to your exercise schedule
– Rigidity around the type of workout you do (because some don’t meet your standards)
– Avoidance of working out with others for fear that they will hold you back
It’s no fun skipping a night out with friends because you have to get up early the next morning for a gym sesh. The self-shaming that comes with a “rest day” is also something I’d rather live without.
For these reasons and more, I chose to forego “traditional exercise” in favor of something more intuitive. I quit formal exercise, choosing instead to move when and only when I felt like it. This is mainly made up of walking and yoga- no grueling cardio machines or weight routines.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that revamping my approach to exercise is one of the best things I’ve ever done.
It’s not easy for me- in fact, I face challenges quite regularly. But I try to push past them in the larger interest of my physical and mental health. There are ways to be active and healthy if you are able to find a moderate, balanced method.
Here are my tips for doing so:
-Make natural physical activity a part of your life- walk or bike rather than driving, take the stairs, stand more than you sit
– Find workouts that don’t feel like exercise (like dance classes, hiking with friends, or indoor rock climbing)
– Participate in activities that don’t focus on calorie burn or weight loss (like gentle yoga, leisurely walks, tai chi)
If you think that your workout regimen might be less than ideal, dare yourself to evaluate it in a new light. You might find that saying goodbye to your customs will give you a new freedom- and maybe a regained sense of health and wholeness.
Image: Wikimedia Commons