Everyone talks about getting strong, eating enough and healthy food and doing high intensity interval training (HIIT) to shed some extra weight. Influencers on social media are claiming that they've overcome the fear of food and that they finally eat normal and don't feel guilty anymore about eating that muffin. But no-one talks about the guilt people develop by missing one of their gym sessions. So isn't the obsession just shifting focus? Are we replacing the food obsession with exercise obsession?
Constant Stress for your body
HIIT is everywhere. New gyms focusing on fast and intense interval training are booming and everyone wants to be a member - F45, Orange Theory, Crossfit, Bootcamps, Spinning Studios etc. The system is easy; You get your heart rate up in a short period of time and your body will burn extra calories on the so called after burn. So while you are already back at your desk, you are still burning calories. People are hooked, cause now they don't need to spend so much time in the gym anymore.
But what if you are doing these classes every day? What if you read online that HIIT is the only way to shed fat so you start replacing some of your lower intensity training with HIIT? Is that really going to be beneficial for your body in the long run?
Let me tell you, it is not! I recently shared an article about less is sometimes more on my facebook page (if you haven't read it you can read it here). Basically by pushing your heart rate up to your maximum several days a week or even daily puts your body under constant stress. Your body does not have the time anymore for recovery and sooner or later you'll overload your body. This can result in injuries or wreak havoc your adrenal system (I'm not going to dive into this topic as this would fill another blog post. Maybe another time.). If you don't give your body time to recover (your muscles need at least 48hrs to recover and build) you won't see the results you wish for.
Constant Stress for your mind
Most people see and understand that your body might be under constant stress . But what gets forgotten in all this "strong is the new skinny" movement is the stress on your mind. People get hooked with the gym, which isn't a bad thing per se, but once it gets into your mind you have to start being careful.
The #fitspos on social media make you believe that you have to workout everyday to stay fit and strong. They ask you whether you have workout out today or whether you are going to break a sweat later that day. This puts a lot of pressure on us and we start to feel guilty if we haven't been to the gym yet. And that's where being active is not so healthy anymore.
Symptoms you are HIITing the gym too often
Here are some typical symptoms which show that you might be too obsessive about exercising and being active. (and yes, there are people who just can't sit still and chill at the beach. But if you ask them whether they like to play a card game instead of going running, they'd say yes - they just want to do something, but they are not obsessive about being active)
- You get sick regularly
- Your joints hurt
- You have regular injuries
- Your muscles feel sore all the time (even if you have given them a break)
- You are out of breath just walking up the stairs
- You feel tired and worn out
- Your period stopped or is irregular (there can be other symptoms for it, but overexercising can disrupt your hormones)
- You feel sad/depressed
- You have huge sugar cravings
- You gain weight
(all these symptoms can have other causes as well and I advice you to consult with a health professional should you experience any of these)
Signs in your mind
- You feel guilty because you missed one of your gym sessions
- You feel guilty going on holidays because you can't workout for a week
- You skip social gatherings because you still need to fit in your workout
- Your workouts are running your life
- You have a constant need of being active
- You exercise even if you are sick/hurt
- You exercise more than once a day
- You check constantly how many steps you have done today
Believe me, I've been (or sometimes still are) experiencing not only the body signs but also the mind signs. It's not easy to commit that you are obsessive with exercising because we all tend to see exercise as a good thing. Everyone tells us to move and be active. But once it has an impact on your health, you need to step back and rationally look at yourself.
Things you can do
If you have connected your body symptoms, such as injuries, irregular period, mood swings with your exercise regime, you have to stop doing high intense workouts for a while. I know that this is very difficult for someone who goes to the gym regularly, but there is no other way. It doesn't mean you become a couch potato. But you have to switch to low intense workouts such as walking, soft yoga classes or maybe swimming. Your body needs time to recover and this is only possible if you are not adding stress.
If you feel that your mind is caught up in the exercise wheel, you have to train your mind to not feel guilty if you miss a workout. There are a few strategies I can recommend
- Learn more about the importance of recovery and that your muscles are actually growing when you give them time. This might help you to be at ease with having one or two more rest days a week.
- Learn to distinct between laziness and your body being in need of rest. Sometimes it's hard to say whether we are just too lazy to workout or whether our body is telling us that we need to take it easy today. Start listening to your body.
- Find something you love to do in place of going to the gym. Maybe you can start journaling, read a book, start meditating, go out with a friend. If you have been excessive exercising for a while, you forget what else you can do.
- Just force yourself of doing nothing. This might seem hard at the beginning, but once you allow your body to rest, you'll feel better and you'll also see that one, two, three days without any exercise are not going to ruin your efforts. (the magic happens anyway in the kitchen ;))
It took me about a year to get from 4-5 HIIT to just 1 per week and to enjoy a restorative yoga class instead of pushing my heart rate to 170. I go for long walks instead of doing 100 burpees and I try to stick with at least 1 complete rest day where I'm doing nothing (usually Sunday). I'm still feeling the obsession of exercising but step by step I'm trying to find my own balance. It's not happening overnight and you might have fall backs, but that's ok. It's the journey that counts.
I think obsessive exercising is a very important topic, which we do not talk about enough yet. It's all about eating right and fueling our bodies, but that excessive exercising can cause mental illnesses is swept under the carpet. I'm working hard on this and it's not easy. It's a similar struggle as breaking out of the food prison. It occupies your mind, it runs your days and keeps you from enjoying every minute of your life. So please, if you see yourself in one of the points above, think about which significance exercising has in your life and be honest with yourself.
We cannot start replacing one obsession with another one, and believe me, there are thousands of other areas your mind can get caught in (might talk about Orthorexia in another post). I know balance is a wide used word, but it's one of the keys to a healthy lifestyle. Whether it is a balanced diet, a balanced workout regime or a good work-life balance, balance gives your mind calmness and time to rest.
I'd love to hear from you and your own experiences with obsessive exercising and how you manage it. Leave me a comment below or share this post with people you might profit from it.
Nurture your happiness