Getting Past Exercise Obsession

Happy Monday!  I hope you had a great weekend.  We had a wonderful time here in NY.  On Saturday we went into the city with Rock and hung out at Chelsea Piers.  Some of you may remember our buddy Zach who has done several half marathons with us.  We got a chance to watch him play a hockey game.  He scored two goals and won the “player of the game” award.

ChelseaPiers

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On Sunday we loaded the car up as a family and went to Bear Mountain.  We visited the zoo and went to their Oktoberfest.  Fall foliage is at its peak in the Northeast and we had a great time touring around.

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We visited the bears at Bear Mountain!

This week I have a few posts on different attitudes/mindsets that can be unhealthy.  I have experienced all three of them and have spent years working to change my attitude and view point.  I wanted to share them with you and some ideas on how we can approach our lives in a much more positive and healthy way.

I have shared in the past that I was once a competitive figure skater.  At the age of 14 I moved to and lived at a training center.  Skating was my life and I was able to compete nationally and travel around the country as a competitor and as a performer.  It was a great life but there was a very unhealthy body image that comes along with this.  We were often scrutinized by our coaches and some judges, and there was an ideal “skinny” body type that people strove to have.

I have always had muscular legs and when I would stand in a ballet class and compare myself to some of the tinier girls, it would really upset me.  I spent years obsessed with getting “skinny” and eating an obsessively fat free diet.  It never occurred to me at the time that I was an athlete, that I had triple jumps that flew across the ice and I was a natural jumper.  To me, I just didn’t look the way I should.

Thus began an obsession of working out that followed me for a very long time.  I even spent a few years taking various diet pills.  I am embarrassed to admit that and considered not sharing.  But this is about my journey to a healthier life and if this strikes a chord with even one person, then mission accomplished.

Once I quit skating I wanted to stay in shape but also be thin.  I started running, taking yoga classes, other fitness classes, and doing at home work outs.  What started as a great way to continue being healthy and fit, quickly became an obsession.

I remember one night when we were living in NYC, Rock and I had been wanting to go to a particular barbecue restaurant for a long time.  We finally got a reservation and went and had a delicious dinner on a long awaited Friday night out.  We had these awesome chips with blue cheese dip and some incredible bbq.  After dinner we went home, and at 8:00pm I went to our spare bedroom and did an hour long workout.

Why did I do that?  Because I thought it would balance out the calories and fat I had just consumed.  Basically I killed what could have been an awesome date night.  I should have been sitting on the couch drinking a beer and enjoying a nice evening out with my significant other.  Instead I was worried about gaining weight from that one dinner I had.

The reality is, that one dinner wasn’t going to be the cause of weight gain and that one workout wasn’t going to be what kept me from gaining weight.   Our weight and our health are a culmination of choices we make over a long period of time.  Our choices of what we eat, how we exercise, and many other factors over the long run are what determines how “fit” we are.

A hard workout might feel good after a splurge meal, but it isn’t going to “reverse damage.”  While working out is a very important part of my life and I highly recommend that everyone finds some physical activity that they enjoy, I have found that what we eat and how much we eat plays a far greater role in our overall weight.  Exercising alone will not lead you down the path to fitness.  But a generally healthy diet will contribute greatly to this.

What I had finally figured out a few years ago is that it is all about balance.  By enjoying a bit of exercise and having a balanced diet that is mostly healthy but allows for some splurging in small amounts, you really can have it all.  And you don’t have to spend hours every day at the gym, or panic if you happen to choose a donut for breakfast instead of some oatmeal.

I personally love to run and I prefer to run long distances.  I would rather do a daily 7 miler and throw in a nice long run on the weekends because that is what makes me feel best.  I don’t do it because I feel like I have to or that it is the amount I need to erase the calories I have loaded in.  Sure it allows me to enjoy my splurges with a lot less guilt, but I never have to feel that panic again after a meal.  And if I do feel like I made a poor choice one day, I can comfortably decide that a nice run the following morning and healthier choices throughout the day will get me back on track.

It is important to make sure we try to find balance in all parts of our lives.  Balance in our work, our play, and eating can make us happier and erase all that negative noise we might have in the back of our heads.  Aim to eat intuitively.  Listen to your body when it comes to exercise as well as what your body needs for fuel.

Have you ever had an unhealthy exercise addiction?

21 thoughts on “Getting Past Exercise Obsession

  1. I believe a HUGE part of our country’s obsession with body image is how much the “ideal body” is plastered all over social media and ads. I blasted Under Armour on Twitter when they chose to use a “super model” in one of their ads and told them how disappointed in their use of someone they consider to be indicative of a healthy, fit woman. (Not to mention what a horrible attitude she tends to display in public.) As long as these big money corporations continue to use 5’10” women who maybe weigh 100 pounds, it will be a constant battle for girls and women to view themselves as beautiful no matter what their size. I hope that the next generation – like Mary – can see through all the bs and realize true beauty is not seen on the outside. Sorry about the rant. but this crap just grates on me. 🙂

    • I completely agree with you. I want Mary to grow up enjoying fitness and eating well because it is good for her. I hope she doesn’t find the obsession I did and can learn to just be happy with her. Hopefully we as parents can play a role in encouraging that.

  2. When I am training for a marathon I can get obsessed with getting in my miles and getting in my long run every week.
    Last year my goal was to run 50 5Ks between turning 50 and 51. A few times I thought about how crazy I was to be driving in rush hour traffic to get to my 3rd race of the week on a Wednesday.
    I don’t think these obsessions were un-healthy physically but they did take away time with family.
    I think I’m too lazy to be obsessed when I don’t have a specific goal in mind!

  3. So glad that you are talking about this. I sometimes worry that that the rise of marathon culture might give another avenue for people to indulge in these unhealthy obsessions. I am thankful that I found balance long before I ever came to long distance running. I never was an obsessive exerciser, but I did have some eating issues (due to food fears and control issues), and marathoning has actually helped me confront and deal with these issues more effectively than anything else in my life. I can’t be healthy and run if I don’t take care of myself.

    • So true. Rock says he loves when I am training for a marathon because I have to stick to a plan and can’t leave for 6 miles and come back 20 later. I sometimes worry when I coach young girls who had prior issues. I don’t want to see them going down the wrong track.

  4. I think this happens to so many people. I used to teach group fitness and would always hear women talking about what they ate the night before and trying to “push” further that day to work off the food from the night before. I’ve always been a big believer of just enjoying a balanced life. But, I can’t say I haven’t also been in this same mind frame. I used to feel very self conscious about my frame (I build muscle quick and I have bigger lhighs and butt). But I’ve found it just makes squatting and jumping that much easier! And ladies often use to ask me how to build their butt like mine when I was teaching Zumba lol! I figured it must all be in my head! Thanks for sharing your story and hooray for your new balanced outlook!

  5. love that you brought this topic to light, and i think it resonates with so many of us women who are dedicated to an active lifestyle and push ourselves to achieve running or workout-related goals. i definitely had years where i struggled with body image and made some unhealthy choices which i cringe to think about now, but changing my perspective on running and starting to train for longer races and marathons and take boot camps and realize just how strong and healthy my body is really helped me alter my mentality from obsessively working out just to be thin, to wanting to achieve certain goals and run because i LOVE it. i think we all have our own personal journey with this and the struggle for balance can be an ongoing thing, and it helps to know we’re not alone and have a community (like us healthy living bloggers) to support one another.

    • Thanks Shawna. Rock asked me if I was comfortable putting this out there and I had to really think about it. But I think it is so incredibly common that it is only fair to share my own mistakes and growth. Hopefully others will benefit from it.

  6. I was definitely guilty of some of these behaviors (like trying to cancel out a big meal with exercise), but now I’m a big believer in balance and your health as a result of cumulative behavior and habits. Thanks for sharing your struggles and your road to healthy! 🙂

  7. I think it’s a really hard balance to strike – because what runners see as training, lots of people see as excessive! Seen a really good crop top from DBA sports with a “You say obsessed, I say dedicated” slogan and I think it really is about finding the balance between the two. I guess it’s seeing running for running’s & performance’s sake rather than just as a means to cancel out food or something else – but I know if I don’t train, I miss my goals. I’ve struggled with this though and covered it earlier this year – http://thesegirlsdo.com/2015/02/19/exercise-addiction/ so it’s always a breath of fresh air to hear other people’s thoughts. An interesting point it threw up though is about priorities and what different people see as normal vs excessive. I’ve turned down drinks or dinner with non-running friends because I HAVE to train and I’ve committed to it, and then you get into an argument/heated debate with others and have to contend with comments about what you choose to spend your time doing. Whereas my running friends get it more. I mean I’m not saying it’s always perfect, because I know for a fact that I used to turn down going out for dinner because I wanted to eat what I have planned, but I have gradually realised that eating a pizza doesn’t make me gain 10lb overnight! (Also, this was a bit of a ramble because I always get a bit intense about this subject!) 🙂

    • Not a ramble at all. Thanks for sharing all of this! I think many of us struggle with this balance. Sure some may see it as obsessed but as long as it is mentally and physically healthy for you I think it is totally okay. Now that I am less obsessed with my weight, my friends see this far less as an obsession and much more as something they admire. Even as I ran 40+ per week during late pregnancy I got more admiration than sideways glances. My friends get it now and I think they see that I am in a much better place. But you are so right, that balance is awfully hard to find and a constant struggle.

  8. What a great post! I’ve also learned over time that keeping this balance is pretty important. Nowadays, I think that running and any type of exercise should first and foremost always be fun, but not make me feel stressed out! That it also improves my health and keeps me fit is a nice added bonus :). But it can certainly be hard to keep this in mind whenever we set goals for ourselves. Thanks for sharing this post, it’s a good reminder of what’s important! 🙂

    • You are so right. If it isn’t fun it isn’t worth it. I’m a huge fan of picking the exercise you like most so that you will stick with it. If you hate running it will never last and isn’t a good fit.

  9. When I first started running I became obsessed with running more and more and getting skinny so I could run faster. It lead to a pelvic stress fracture and a huge wake up call. That’s when I went back to school for nutrition and started helping myself and others have a balance. I’m so much happier now that I eat and exercise because it feels good and because I love it.

  10. I worry about my girls growing up thinking I run because of weight. But I am hoping that they see that I love it and I feel good because of it. We don’t own a scale and I never will because, well many different reasons. Balance is key in anything you do! Great post.

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