How I overcame my addiction to exercise

Photo: supplied.

It’s 6am. I’m on the treadmill at the gym. It’s dark, cold and dreary. Winter is so depressing, but I’m determined. If I can just get more toned, have thinner thighs, finally get abs like the girls in those fitness magazines, then I’ll be happy. My boyfriend will love me more. I’ll be good enough. Just. Keep. Pushing. My body is screaming at me to stop. I feel dizzy and my lungs are burning, but my mind shouts even louder. I push through and torture myself with 5 sets of heavy squats instead of the prescribed 3. I’m better than that. Go hard or go home right?

Back in the day, when I hit the gym, I only had one speed: All out. If I didn’t feel like I was dying when I finished a class, jumped off the treadmill or finished a weights routine I would think ‘well, that was a waste of time’.

Needless to say, this pattern didn’t end well. Every few months I would experience extreme fatigue that would force me to slow down. I’d listen to my body and do more gentle exercise, but the second I felt more energetic I was straight back into my crazy routine, even though I knew this pattern was unsustainable and not good for my overall health.

I was addicted to exercise. I chased the post-workout high and anything less than that I didn’t warrant as a ‘workout’. At this time in my life I was also suffering from an eating disorder and hadn’t had a period in years.

From the outside I looked like the ‘perfect picture of health’ but inside my body and mind told a different story. I knew I needed to create a healthier relationship with exercise in order to restore my weight, heal my mind, and regain my period, and the first thing that needed to change was my workout intensity. Here’s exactly how I regained a balance exercise routine and the intensity I stick to on a weekly basis.

I stopped running like a tiger was chasing me

Exercising to burn off a certain food, or escape an emotion puts your body in a stressed-out state. Add a high intensity workout to the mix and you’re only adding fuel to the fire and creating a biochemical shitstorm that leads to intense fatigue, poor recovery, potential injury (I had my fair share of stress fractures), a depressed immune system, and of course zero hormones or sex drive. The question I had to ask myself was this: How do I make exercise- an activity I really enjoy- one that’s more sensible?

The answer for me was more mindful movement

I started to engage my senses when I was exercising. If I went for a walk I took notice of what was around me, what the air smelled like and how my hair felt in the breeze. I would stop to take a picture of something pretty, or pat a cute dog. In essence I became fully engaged in what I was doing, never rushing, with no expectations of setting a “personal best”.

I also stopped when I was tired

This sounds like common-sense but is not so obvious for those who’ve previously pushed themselves to the extreme. I thought tiredness meant weakness, but I was SO wrong. I started to recognise that my body was trying to communicate to me for years to slow down and I continually ignored it. When I finally listened, I had more energy than I’d ever experienced, and could be productive in other areas of my life whilst till enjoying a bit of exercise.

Then, I decided to quit the gym

Something I never thought I’d do, but it was a place that never ‘sparked joy’ - as Marie Kondo would say. It always reminded me of the days I pushed too hard and I needed a clean slate to start exercising in more balanced ways again. So, I started Pilates, Yoga, and going for walks instead. When I was eventually ready, I joined a studio that ran group exercise classes, and the community environment and friendships I have built there have been amazing.

Photo: supplied.

This whole process took me years, but I can now honestly say that I have a very healthy and balanced relationship with exercise. My hormones are happy (I got my period back after a decade of it being MIA), and I workout to have fun. When I was in the depths of my eating disorder, suffering from hypothalamic amenorrhea, and terrible fatigue, I never thought this would be possible – but it is. And now I get to help so many women find and achieve this balance for themselves, which I must say, is even more rewarding.

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