I'm trying to think how I learned to moderate exercise. I think breaking my leg, being unable to walk, and going on short term disability really helped. LOL Not that I would recommend that method, but coming back from it, I realized that I could get that feel-good endorphin buzz from walking outdoors on a nice day, or 30 minutes of yoga, or 5 minutes of kettlebells. It didn't have to get to a "visions of your ancestors" level of exhaustion for me to experience the mood-boost and feelings of wellbeing. I could experience a similar but less dramatic "high" with much shorter and more mellow workouts. Of course, I didn't know that because I'd never consistently done workouts that were short or mellow.
Once I varied the workout methods and intensities more, I found that I got the best results if most workouts were a medium "phoning it in" level of intensity, just going through the motions without crushing or killing anything. A couple of workouts per week were even easier than that, stretching or mobility stuff. And maybe one workout every week or two was extremely challenging. This allowed me to be incredibly consistent for months and years without burning out, unlike those 8-week programs where every session was brutal and I usually ended up sick, injured, and exhausted. That is the opposite of healthy and fit! I moved like a rickety old person and had no enthusiasm for anything when I was overtrained. Every day was a monumental struggle.
Now, I really look forward to doing something fun every day. I know it will feel good, and I know it will give me energy, not take it away.
On that note, I used to think that there was no such thing as not having time for a workout. But if you prioritize other things in life more highly than formal exercise, it's a thing!
On workout indifference: Skipping a workout is a huge deal with dire consequences when we're operating from a fear and control perspective. But if you're used to doing what you enjoy every day, then it's just what you enjoy today. It doesn't carry any further meaning.
Skwigg, I have you to thank you for teaching me about moderate exercise. Thank you!!! It has saved me.
“It all counts” was news to me. I think I was exposed to too much gym culture nonsense. “That doesn’t count. That isn’t exercise.” They say it about everything from walking, to yoga, to yard work, to steady state cardio, to short workouts, to light weights, to no weights. Basically anything that doesn’t involve heavy lifting, HIIT cardio, and an hour in the gym is a waste of time. If you’re not going to push yourself until you throw up a lung, why even try? I totally bought into that mindset until I realized I got far better results being moderately active throughout the day.
I am continually amazed by just how LITTLE exercise is required for being even MORE fit, healthy, and energetic than when smashing it up regularly with long workouts, extra workouts, bonus cardio, metabolic finishers, fasted HIIT, all the things I did to myself in addition to restricting my food. If you want to feel like you've been hit by a bus, that's awesome. If you want to be genuinely rested, energetic, and enthusiastic, that's a whole different approach. Movement is a joy if the purpose is to play and have fun instead of trying to win an ass-kicking contest. Who knew? :-)
(I'm still adding relevant posts from the old site. I think having a big thread on moderating exercise where we can see these conversations in one place will be awesome.)
Hayley i stumbled across you diary as i am currently struggling with very similar issues to you. Waking up religiously at 4.30am to use my rowing machine before anyone else is awake etc. I have since stopped the rowing although the feelings of depression and anxiousness are overwhelming. Im still going a little yoga or something every day but the thoughts are still there. Just wanted to let you know you are not alone and i am going to follow this journal from now on. I also wanted to thank you for sharing. Reading others stories really helps me in trying to recover from my disordered eating over exercising life. The stuggle is real though and how overwhelming the feelings get sometimes are crazy. I love what you said about the social aspects too and this is my worst fear. Losing my friends because i cannot socialise due to my strict exercise routines and then constant exhaustion.
Thank you @skwigg and @happyme !! I’ll have to check the Blue Zones now!
You guys this is such imperative information for me to read right now. All of those things you mentioned Skwigg: chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, volatile moods, social isolation, strained relationships, constant pain, nagging injuries, weakened immune system, frequent illness, impaired healing, cold all the time, lethargic, worsening performance, not recovering properly, a super screwed up appetite, inability to recognize hunger and fullness except at the extremes, strong cravings, binge urges, water retention, bloating, muscle cramps and tremors, low blood pressure, dizziness, brain fog, an inability to cope with even small life challenges, fat GAIN, swollen hands and feet, and dragging through my day feeling like death...with the exception of insomnia at night (I crash hard at night) and dreading workouts (I STILL look forward to them) I'm slowly killing myself and my social life. My therapist says she's not giving up on me, but I can tell she's frustrated as hell. Again, I need to take this stuff over to my journal, but I think I can shed a thousand tears over this. I feel so incredibly lonely and alone and yet compelled to do things that keep me stuck in the same cycle. I just don't know how to break free..
Here's the thing @kslouf, walking counts. It is moderate physical activity according to government guidelines. If you're spending 20+ minutes per day walking, you have already met the guidelines for good health before you go anywhere near a gym or cardio machine. Having been one, I know that health/fitness extremists interpret guidelines extremely, any guideline. Give us even a loose suggestion of what's "ideal" and we're going to do it religiously, double it, add to it, even if it kills us.
I love that in the most recent guidelines, they even eliminated the 10-minute duration requirement. Research shows that it ALL counts.
Personally, I was more sedentary and in worse health when I exercised intensely for long durations. I'd accomplish that brutal hour or two of extreme effort, and then I would feel like road kill and mostly sit or lie down for the other 22-23 hours of the day. I was nearly sedentary thanks to my workout schedule!! How ironic. When I don't partake in long-duration, intense exercise, I'm active all day long and it feels fantastic. My Fitbit active minutes are often through the roof, with no formal cardio workout in sight, but I walk the dog, shovel snow, carry groceries, dance while I'm making dinner, trot up and down the stairs with loads of laundry, pace on the phone, and fidget incessantly. I'm a perpetual motion machine when I have the energy to be that. Very intense exercise still happens. I do enough heavy kettlebell swings. jump rope double-unders, and whatnot to have great aerobic capacity and a low resting heart rate, but I don't do enough to suffer any of the side-effects listed above.
I did read The Blue Zones @happyme. It's a great book. It definitely influenced my idea of a what it means to be a bad-ass old person. NO GYM, but I do want to be like a 90 year-old Sardinian who can carry a goat up a hill. :-)
Yes- everything @skwigg and @happyme said! I'm not quite as zen about it as they are, but I've gotten so much better about doing less. It really did take living through all the benefits of doing less to see how much better it is. Last year at around this time I had to quit ZGYM becuase I was so burnt out I was experiencing heart palpitations. I was doing every.single.workout at 200%. This time around, I'm modifying, I'm subbing out exercising, I'm choosing beginner workouts instead of advanced. I'm not getting burnt out and I still have plenty of energy to engage with my 3 kids the rest of the day..
This is a great post! Thank you!
My fear with reducing exercise is not being healthy. I’m fearful I won’t meet the “guidelines“ set for the amount of exercise to reduce disease (aka the government guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate cardio or 75 minutes of intense cardio per week). I guess I keep exercising to make sure I hit those minutes of intensity fearing that “just walking” isn’t high enough intensity, even though I have a dog and don’t own a car, so I do a lot of walking anyways.
Im not entirely sure where this fear comes from. Possibly always wanting to be perfect and meet standards? Whereever it’s from it’s causing all the same side effects everyone’s mentioned.
LOVE that, @happyme! It's true! And funny! My valiant efforts to "optimize" eating and training were totally counterproductive. Chilling out and doing it wrong? Super productive!
THIS. All of this. Basically, I go like this: Do the reverse of everything you hear and have done, and you're in business. Carbs make me leaner, not heavier. Exercise (or at least exercise like I do it - too much for too long and too often) makes me bigger, not smaller. Sleeping in is 10x better for my overall health and body composition than getting up early to work out is. Fasted ANYTHING is a recipe for weight gain.
Yeah, just turn everything you do/hear on its head and you'll get happy, healthy, lean and strong and it'll be not only easy but pleasant and comical.
Let’s discuss the negative effects of too much intense exercise. I feel like I am the human Google of this topic just from having lived it. I‘m sure others here like @sunshine and @happyme may have a thought or two on the downside of overtraining as well.
For me, too much intense exercise resulted in: chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia at night and falling asleep sitting up during the day, volatile moods, social isolation, strained relationships, constant pain, nagging injuries, weakened immune system, frequent illness, impaired healing, cold all the time, lethargic, worsening performance, dreading my workouts, not recovering properly, a super screwed up appetite, inability to recognize hunger and fullness except at the extremes, strong cravings, binge urges, water retention, bloating, muscle cramps and tremors, low blood pressure, dizziness, brain fog, an inability to cope with even small life challenges, fat GAIN, swollen hands and feet, and dragging through my day feeling like death.
For me, all of that was in full force at 2-3 hours of exercise per day, 6-7 days per week. Afterward, I would experience similar side-effects with far less exercise. What seemed like a conservative or reasonable amount of exercise for others was still too much for me. I quit running outdoors and doing any kind of machine cardio 12 years ago. Now, I walk throughout the day and I do short metabolic intervals in the ZGYM like jump rope and kettlebells. That’s it for cardio, and I vary the duration and intensity of all workouts so that most are medium intensity, a couple per week are easy, stretchy, recovery workouts, and one workout every week or two is full blast. NOT seven days a week full blast, or even the three intense 45-60 minute workouts per week I used to consider a minimum.
All of the the side effects listed above are reversed when I listen to my body and exercise to feel good versus out of obligation and fear. What’s dumb, is that all of my fear-based overdoing it did not result in fat loss. It didn’t make me lean, or strong, or happy. It only worsened and broke things.
Yes - that is exactly the issue, Skwigg. Everything I'm doing right now is fear-driven. Fear of gaining weight, fear of overeating, fear of people "finding out" how much I'm truly struggling but NEEDING friends and people for support. It's so helpful to read all of the positive benefits of taking time off from intense exercise, like the things you mentioned, as well as the negative effects of too much intense exercise (may have to google that unless we can get a discussion going here). It makes zero sense that I'm even continuing to exercise as much as I have been because my weight hasn't changed at all (or at least I'm guessing it hasn't - I don't weigh but go by appearance and how my clothes fit) - and if anything it's increased. I do have a regular period, but I'm sure my hormones are out of whack (although my blood work never reveals anything out of the ordinary).
I like how you said in the other thread that focusing on weight gain, taking pictures, and saying positive affirmations is actually not helpful and if I'm honest with myself, no one has commented or ditched me or said or done anything to make me think I'm a different person because of what I weigh. I socialize with the same group of moms that I see at my kids' school and their extracurricular activities now at my higher weight and no one has commented or treated me differently than when I was at one of my lowest weights either 3 years ago, 2 years ago, or 6 months ago. I'm the same person only I feel differently because I'm more self-conscious about my body. I also feel physically tired and more of a recluse because I just don't have the energy to go out and do things other than take my kids to and from school, hang out on the playground with the nannies, coach Girls on the Run (which I absolutely love) and take my kids to basketball, ninjas, swimming, or whatever. I'm finding the lack of connection and friendships to be so important right now and I think exercise is getting in my way. Not only is it physically taking its toll on my body, it's also mentally and emotionally wearing me down. Again, going back to the fear of everything - I can't stress about my vacation and lack of exercise because then I won't enjoy it at all, but I worry that if I can't exercise at all that I won't enjoy it.
This right here was very profound:
Facing the fear and letting it go does wonders for your actions moving forward.
Imagine if fear of weight gain is no longer the primary factor in your food decisions. Think about how things might change if you were eating to feel your best, to be healthy, to feel satisfied, to have energy, and to enjoy the food. It's a night and day difference from the panic and anxiety of a restriction mindset. In addition to reseting my hormones and metabolism, spending time at a higher weight reset my brain so that I was no longer driven by fear. In that regard, it's one of the best things that could have happened.
This is absolutely true! Fear of weight gain is what all of my food decisions rest upon or at least fear of overeating them and then gaining weight. I do want to eat to feel my best, be healthy, feel satisfied, have energy and enjoy my food. I actually do for the most part, but that's not to say there aren't still foods that are laced with fear- fear of being overeaten, etc.
Now I just have to figure out how to face those fears....
Prioritizing sleep in the morning over a dawn elliptical session is a good first step. Going on vacation and getting out of your normal routine could be really helpful too. Taking significant time completely off intense exercise is so enlightening. If you can manage it, the payoff is immense - better sleep, reduced appetite, fewer cravings, more energy, less water retention, lower weight, nagging little pains going away.
I actually think the thing I just posted about accepting a higher weight applies here, not because you're going to end up at a higher weight if you quit exercising, but because you lose the fear.
Fear is what's driving your current behaviors with exercise. Lose the fear and you lose the need to overtrain.
THIS! I feel like it's Christmas with all of these posts I'm finding. I've thought so much about how I can temper my exercise and it's a constant struggle. Again, something I should probably journal about but since the topic fits I figured I'd leave some of it here. I've at least quit getting up at 4:15am to use my elliptical for 30 mins, go back to bed, then wake up and go teach a class. However, I've replaced the early time with squeezing it in sometime later in the day. Basically I either end up teaching Jazzercise or going to Orange Theory and then most days I use my elliptical for 30 mins 1-2x. The details don't matter though...the fact is that I'm impeding any sort of recovery or gains because I'm not allowing for recovery. The point is, it's taking over my life. I'm crashing in bed around 8:30 or 9pm, waking up at 6 to get my kids ready for school and STILL feeling tired all the time. I have zero social life and am craving friendships but I'm too tired to go out in the evenings. It's a subject I broach with my therapist all the time and have made commitments to her that I'm exercising 1x a day. I thought by not waking up so damn early in the mornings I'd at least cut back to two sessions (one morning, one evening) but I'm somehow sneaking in extra sessions. Not only that, but we're headed to Utah for our annual ski trip with my parents and I'm trying to get myself into the mindset that this will be a great opportunity to rest and recover (not doing any formally structured exercise) and yet I'm terrified. I don't want to get to the point where I have to injure myself to learn that I won't blow up overnight or die or get pregnant if I can't exercise religiously. I hate that it's completely taken over my life and yet I don't know where to begin. Why can't one jazzercise class or one orange theory class be enough? Why can't I learn to trust that I'll be ok and won't blow up overnight or over a period of weeks even if I don't squeeze in not one, but two or even three exercise sessions in a day?!
The way I look at it, fun = consistency, consistency = results (both mental and physical). Doing boring "optimal" workouts with a high dread factor only produced boredom and dread. The mental and physical benefits just weren't there for me. So, fun is a worthy pursuit in its own right, and it's also the key to physique changes. If it's not fun, you're not going to keep doing it long enough to make a difference anyway.
The interesting thing about the physique changes, and I guess the mindset as well, is that they are not at all what I expected. Instead of my lifelong pursuit of body part goals, body fat percentages, goal weight, specific measurements, I'm now ok with just looking like I enjoy working out, which I do! Instead of that mindset of discipline, dedication, and punishment I thought I had to cultivate, it's more a mindset of playtime. My workouts are like recess from adult life. It's when I get to stand on my head, jump in the air, and act silly. It's phenomenally therapeutic.
At this point, I could never go back to grueling, traditional workout routines. You know, where you repeat the same three, hour-long workouts for a month, and then get three even worse ones. Ha! No. I'll be rolling around on the floor playing for 10 minutes instead, doing something new and fun every day, and my results will be better than when I was so hungry, tired, and bored.