Yes, it is healthy to workout regularly. To name a few benefits: improved sleep, greater ability to focus and concentrate, decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, improved strength… I could go on and on with what seems like an endless list of benefits. At the same time, these benefits seem to be overshadowed by the “need” to exercise throughout anorexia recovery and once recovered.
Towards the end of my weight restoration, I began to use fitness as a way to add on the last few pounds that I had to gain. My goal was to become stronger (which was something I hadn’t felt in years), while also ensuring that whatever weight I was gaining was muscle. Couple things wrong with this “logic:” first and foremost, I STILL wasn’t eating nearly enough to gain muscle from the workouts I was doing. I decided to add in weight training, which of course was too high of an intensity for my body to handle at the time. My body was using what muscle I had left to fuel my work outs, rather than using food as its source of energy. Simply put: my work outs were “eating away” at my muscle, rather than a complex carb source that I should have fueled it with prior to even entering the gym.
Secondly, what started as a truthful and genuine intention to “become stronger” quickly turned into an obsession. In all honesty, sometimes I still struggle with exercise and giving my body a break when it needs one. Of course, years later and after being weight restored, the gym doesn’t feel like a prison or something I don’t enjoy. I have the energy needed to get me through my work out based on appropriate nourishment, and also have a plan in place to allow for muscle groups to get a break throughout the week. That being said, it can be very easy for the passion and “want” for exercise to quickly turn into something that feels like an obligation.
As always, self-awareness plays a HUGE role in identifying whether exercise is becoming an obligation for you. Here’s my best advice: don’t go to the gym on a day you had planned to go (the catch: this means you also cannot “make up” for missing this day over the weekend or by doing a double workout in one day). Ask yourself how you’re feeling throughout the day. Is there guilt? Are you feeling anxious? Are you finding ways to compensate for NOT going to the gym (such as restricting or finding ways to walk in excess as you’re running errands)? Be honest with yourself about the impact that skipping a day from the gym had on your emotions and thoughts.
What are your priorities?
It’s okay to love working out! I know I do. I go regularly because I love the way it makes me feel and accomplishing new goals. However, it’s important to also keep your priorities in check, and recognize when working out is getting in the way. Example: I spent Thanksgiving with my boyfriend’s family for four days in Ohio this year. He asked me if I was going to bring any workout clothes or gym shoes (his relatives have a pretty sick gym in their basement). Even just two years ago, I would have most definitely set aside time each day to still get a workout in. Now? I care far too much about spending time with him and his family, versus isolating myself in a basement with nothing but gym equipment. Plus, it would be pretty hard to drink wine and workout at the same time.
Ask yourself if you’re willing to set aside important commitments, fun events, social outings, or time with your loved one for the gym. Like I said, it’s more than okay to love working out. However, what are you giving up, in order to give into exercise anxiety?
Find a workout you actually enjoy!
Part of the “need” to workout I think comes from the emphasis that health magazines or fitness models/athletes place on very specific routines in order to achieve a very specific body. So when we miss a day at a gym filled with weights or a squat rack, we may feel the need to STILL find a way to do an extra workout at a later point in the week. This creates a very habitual mindset where we start to believe that there is only one right way to work out if we want our bodies to meet unrealistic demands.
This is where we’re wrong! When we’re fixated on one way to exercise, then we’re ignoring all of the other ways that we could get our bodies moving. Yoga, hiking, horse back riding, surfing, swimming, jogging, dancing. Again, the list is limitless. When we find something we enjoy, we’re more likely back in the mindset of “wanting” to work out versus “needing” to. It no longer feels like an obligation, and we also are not bound to the same thing day after day, week after week. Get active, ENJOY getting active, and switch things up while doing so!