What Happened When I Took a Break From Regular Exercise
Growing up, I wasn’t what you’d call an “athletic” kid. I loved to move, play and be outside, but my talents did not lie on the court or the field… or in the pool. I still participated in sports, but I didn’t love them and always felt a little shame about my less than stellar sports performances.
It wasn’t until high school, that I began to go to the gym instead of participate in organized sports. This was also around the time that I developed an eating disorder, so having an obsessive fitness routine was a huge part of my life. As I’ve recovered, I’ve grown to love working out, not as a punishment, but a celebration of my body and what it can do. It’s tough, it’s not always fun, but it feels damn good.
Working Out Became a Part of My Identity
However, with anything good, there’s usually a dark side too. Like with restrictive and disordered eating, fitness can become and unhealthy obsession too. Since I began working out regularly at the age of 17, I’ve been pretty disciplined. I can’t remember a week that I haven’t worked out at least once, and most weeks I’d be in the gym, at a fitness class or outside running at least four to six times a week.
All of this is pretty normal for an active person, but as I recovered from my disordered eating, I never closely examined the role fitness took in my life. Looking back, for a period of time, running became an obsessive, unhealthy behavior, that took the place of my obsessive food behaviors. Rather than bring joy in my life it, brought anxiety, stress and physical discomfort from over training. Being in shape and having a fitness routine felt like a huge part of my identity, especially as someone who called herself a “healthy living blogger.” I felt like a fraud if I wasn’t always setting new fitness goals and trying to improve my body in some way.
But Nothing Felt Good Enough
Overtime, instead of focusing on my own training or goals, I often felt woefully inadequate. Whatever I was doing never felt like enough. Suddenly running wasn’t enough, I had to do crossfit too. Being fast wasn’t enough, I had to be strong. Being fast and strong wasn’t enough I had to be flexible and balanced and lean and have endurance.
So often I’d lose sight of why I would be working out. For me, the times I’ve loved fitness the most have been when I’m able to challenge my own perception of my strength, enjoy the endorphins of a run, release stress, or enjoy the sense of community from a group fitness class. I allowed comparison and my perception of what I was “supposed” to be projecting as a “healthy blogger get in the way of enjoying what I loved about fitness and working out.
But this summer something different happened.
Over the winter, I completed the first Sweat With Kayla Guide (also known as BBG). There were a lot of great things about the program. It was challenging and affordable and a good way to workout during the winter. Even though I felt better after the workouts, they added more stress and anxiety than joy (the opposite of why I wanted to work out.) I felt like I was supposed to be seeing tons of “results” when truly my goal is just to feel good.
After that, I just started running before work. They were slow, short runs but they felt good. They made me happy and gave me time to think as I started my day.
…And then I met a boy. Over the summer, I got so caught up in working and spending quality time with my boyfriend and my friends that I kind of forgot about working out. We’d go biking together, one day we even rode 40 miles, we’d go to the beach, go for walks. I still rollerbladed when I had the time. But I just didn’t really care about having a fitness routine.
This wasn’t a deliberate decision to stop having an exercise routine. But out of this change, I gained a new perspective with my relationship to fitness.
Things I Learned When I Stopped Having a Fitness Routine
I didn’t gain weight
When I focused on just moving when it felt good versus having a routine, I didn’t gain any weight. It helped me realize that you don’t need to burn X amount of calories a day at the gym to “earn” any food. That’s just not how bodies work. Most of the time they want to stay in equilibrium. Now, I’m not a doctor or an expert in this field, but this has been my experience.
I Enjoyed Exercise More
When it stopped feeling like a thing on my to-do list, I enjoyed the movement and exercise I did get. It felt like a treat, and a way to clear my head. In short, it felt like how I want my fitness to feel. When I let go of “having” to do something and looking at it like it was my choice, exercise felt liberating.
I Cared Less About Food
Now I’m not sure if this is directly because I stopped having a fitness routine. It could be because I’ve been busy or because I’ve been distracted by a special someone, but I’ve cared a lot less about food. Obviously I still enjoy it and care about what goes into my body, but eating has felt more intuitive than it has since before I first had an eating disorder. I’ve had weeks where I’ve made homemade pizza 3 times in one week because that’s what I wanted and the sky didn’t crash down.
The healthy living blogger police didn’t take away my blog. And heck I was super happy. Knowing I can have a damn slice of pizza whenever I please makes me only want one slice instead of 5. Food stopped feeling “good” or “bad.” I craved greens, eggs, nuts, and produce and I also craved chocolate and ice cream. But when I didn’t put a limit on anything I craved ice cream a whole lot less.
I think the biggest takeaway I’ve learned from this summer is there aren’t any “right” ways to stay active and healthy if it’s working for you. If it makes you feel good and if it brings you joy, then it’s right for you. I’ve also learned that you can go through seasons of needing structure and seasons of needing freedom. And finally that your style of staying healthy and active does not make you a better or worse person, it doesn’t not define your value or your worth. Just because someone you admire goes to spin 6 times a week does not make them a better person. It means they’ve found what works for them.
As summer winds down and the air gets beautifully crisp, I’ve been craving more running and more blading. My routine is tightening up as I start this new chapter for my blog and I can sense that I’ll probably have more structure to when and how I workout. I’ll give it a whirl and adjust accordingly. I also enjoy the community of group fitness so I’m hoping to head to a couple studios that I like once a week. I haven’t done a race in a while and I think it could be to train again. We’ll see. But for now, I’m not going to worry, because I’ve realized that fitness is a tool for happiness if I use it wisely.
I’m off to go on a run while I listen to Harry Potter on audible for the 432nd time.
- Have you ever taken a break from exercise?
- What’s your favorite way to sweat right now?