I haven't done any exercise in nearly two weeks and I am losing my mind.
Sounds dramatic right? well, despite my brother's totally misplaced theory that I am an uncrowned queen of the theatre, I find not being able to work out very troublesome.
I am a huge advocate of the mental health benefits of physical exercise. Moving more has helped me come off the medication I had spent the previous decade taking (you can read my full story here) & has taught me how strong, both emotionally & physically, I really am.
What I don't talk about much though is the other type of relationship that can grow between fitness & mental health: the fine line between a healthy regularity & obsession.
NB: I am not a doctor, nor a qualified professional of any kind. I speak from personal experience only & would always advise that should you feel at all concerned about any of the topics discussed, that you speak to a trusted friend or medical professional.
I am sick right now - currently off work with my third ear infection in eight weeks. My body is clearly screaming at me to slow down & undertake some serious rest. As a result, I have had the most inconsistent two months of training since I started moving more regularly 2.5 years ago. I have gone from four to five sessions a week to one if I am lucky. As soon as I think I am well enough to train, I get sick again. I know I need to rest, but I also know that I am wracked with guilt every day that I am not able to exercise.
I feel the guilt when I see others on social media killing it in the gym; when I make my food choices, wondering whether I deserve to eat this as I cannot burn it off; when I start to see the changes in my body that I consider to be me going backwards.
'But you are always shouting about the benefits of gentle movement and exercise not being a punishment' I hear you yell! Well you are right! I advocate this so strongly as I wish someone had done so to me to stop the way I am feeling right now.
Here is the thing:
Endorphines are addictive.
Seeing physical change is addictive.
Excelling is addictive.
But, at what point does this stop being self improvement & start being another way of restricting or punishing ourselves?
Some might say that obsessional is what the lazy call the dedicated. Well I am not so sure of that. I have a mental health condition, so yes, that makes me more vulnerable to detrimental patterns of behaviour but I see plenty of influencers & brands encouraging this level of commitment, citing failure otherwise.
I wrote last year about the trend of needing to 'beast' yourself at the gym. It now seems if you're not killing yourself, you're not doing it right. How on earth are we are supposed to build a healthy relationship with fitness when we are constantly being sold 30 session in 30 days gym passes or being told that punishment is the key to redemption? (I am looking at you Gym Box)
For me, I knew I had taken it too far when I got sick. I had always been concerned of what would happen when I couldn't exercise due to its mental health benefits. What I hadn't prepared myself for was the obsessional need to go back to it ASAP, even at the risk of my health.
When you are constantly surrounded by the elitist, inaccessible images of lean bodies forged in sweat & Protein Haus (don't even get me started on that 'Thigh Gap' debacle), it is incredibly hard to keep perspective of the other and far more important benefits of moving your body.
So this is a reminder to both me & you:
- It is ok to rest
- You never have to earn your food through exercise
- You never need to push yourself to the point of sickness or exhaustion to consider it exercise
- Move in ways that bring you joy not pain
- And ALWAYS be kind to yourself