Recovery question – exercise addiction/overanalyzing/always counting calories or exercise

Hi Izzy,
I have a question since I know you suffered from a severe exercise addiction when you had your ed. Im still not fully recovered, but I’m weight restored and live a normal life so I guess I’d say Im very close to recovery. However, I also had a very serious problem with excessive movement when I was at my worst stages in the illness. Today I’m quite sedentary since I study full time, and I don’t get anxiety for moving/not moving, but the problem is that I still think about how/when/how much I move and will move almost all the time!! I don’t know why because I doesn’t make me move more or less, it’s just like I’m always analyzing it even though it makes no sense at all and it’s completely unnecessary.. Its like “Now I’m sitting down, now I’m standing, now I’m walking, now I’m dancing etc..” and it is so frustrating and I just want to be normal like I was before my ed when I never had a though about the daily movement. Was this ever a problem for you? If so, how did you stop thinking about your movement?

Hello,

First off i am so sorry it has taken me so long to reply to your comment. Maybe you have managed to find some tactics that have worked for you to overcome this problem.

I never struggled with this exact problem, however i did have thoughts like “i am not moving/exercising enough”, i would compare my exercise/movement to others, if i saw others moving when i wasn’t i would feel anxiety – example if i was sitting on the train and i saw people standing i would begin to feel very guilty and anxious – as well as just trying to move as much as possible. At my worst i did count the hours i was activity and the hours i was still/sitting each day and only allowed myself X hours each day to actually sit or rest.

Your problem sounds alot like how i was with calorie counting…. i was always counting calories in my head and would count the calories of other people’s food as well as my own food. I did reach a stage where the amount of calories i guesstimated my food didn’t bother me, i.e whether it was 300kcal or 600kcal didn’t matter, i would still eat it… but i couldn’t stop counting. It was frustrating… to not be able to get rid of those thoughts or stop constantly counting calories… always analyzing.

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However, i no longer do that and only ever talk about calories in food if i am asked questions regarding it or if someone asks me to guess how many calories are in their food (because they know i study nutrition. However i usually answer that it really doesn’t matter how many calories are in their meal.) So i believe that you can overcome that analyzing of exercising and moving you do everyday.

My best tip is to try to focus on living life and doing things you enjoy each day. The more you focus on living life or working on projects, school work, doing hobbies you enjoy the less time you have to sit and think and analyze. The more you focus on life, the less time and space your eating disorder thoughts have to take up.

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However, it might be at the end of the day that the analyzing thoughts creep in and take up your time. Then i would suggest maybe 1) writing or journalling, 2) maybe reading a book – something to distract yourself so you don’t just think. But also 3) maybe ask yourself why you analyze your exercise/movement everyday…. what does it give you?

Trying to change your thoughts. This is the most important, just like when it comes to eating disorder habits or behaviours, you need to change them…. you can’t just mask over the problem or try to distract yourself. But actually change the thoughts…. which does take time and only YOU can do it. Each time you begin to analyze/think about your exercising and moving, change your thoughts…. think about something else. Maybe think about things you are grateful for in your life, maybe goals you have or what you want to do in the future/the weekend etc or even just counting sheep if it is during the night time.  It is like all negative thoughts or habits, the more you allow them to take up space – the more space they will take up. (Or even like negative or manipulative friends… give them your hand and they’ll take your whole arm. It is the same with intrusive thoughts.)

If i am honest, i am not fully sure how i overcame certain thoughts or mindsets. Somethings just happened naturally as i began to focus on life, example with the calorie counting. It wasn’t that i actively tried to change the thoughts… i just didn’t have time or energy to count calories. I had school work to focus on, i had friends and family, i had my blog to focus on as well as doing things i enjoyed. So from time to time  i would catch myself sitting at the table counting calories in the food my family and my self were eating, but i would just stop those thoughts at once. Overtime those thoughts stopped.

Some thoughts may never fully fade, however if they don’t control your life or impact your life negatively then it is often ok that they just appear from time to time. But it sounds like the thoughts you have take up alot of time and energy and i would recommend you try to work on them…. to atleast make them lessen and fade so that it is not an everyday analyzing.

I really wish i could give you better advice or some more concrete tips, but what works for people is so individual. And the mind and thoughts can be complicated. However i do believe that those thoughts and analyzing can fade and lessen even if they may not be completely gone forever (or maybe they will!!), you just need to work on changing the thoughts and focusing on other things in your life.

 

 

(If you struggle with always counting calories then i have some posts HERE [from my previous blog] which might help you.)

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Less workouts, more health?

During winter when it gets colder and darker my motivation for most things dwindles alot. Everything is harder and takes alot more motivation to do compared to in the summer, not to mention that i feel more tired and more anxious and when it is 4pm and it is dark and cold outside all i want to do is go to sleep. I know i am not alone in feeling this way.

However with the dark and cold and with the tiredness and anxiety i have also lost my appetite which of course leads to even less energy along with sleeping problems so my energy levels are not where they should be. All of this has left me working out, or atleast going to the gym less than i usually do. But you know what, i actually feel stronger and healthier even though i am working out less. Because when i do go to the gym it is because i feel fully motivated to do it and not just “because it fits into my schedule”, but because i have actively chosen to take myself to the gym because i want to lift weights. But also i have alot more recovery time between my workouts as it is not an everyday thing.

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Whenever i write about finding health and balance i mention that you need to find YOUR balance. But also be aware that balance can vary during different life stages… that sometimes you have more time to workout and other times you have less. Sometimes you have more time to plan meals and eat nutritious and other times you eat out more often. Sometimes you can sleep 8-10 hours each night and other times you only manage 6-7 hours, but you need to find YOUR balance at the stage in life you are in right now.

And for me, my balance with working out is going to the gym 3-4 times a week and then trying to go for walks the rest of the days. For me it is important to do some form of daily exercise not jus for my mental health but because it is therapeutic and for the sake of my CF. If i do no exercise at all my CF health decreases rapidly which was noted when i ended up sick with 2 different bacteria and had no energy to workout or even go for walks for c.a 2 weeks and that affected my CF health ALOT, and only now… weeks later have i managed to increase my lung function from those 2-3 weeks of no/little exercise.

Daily exercise is something i recommend to everybody as long as you are physically capable of it anyway. However physical exercise doesn’t have to be going to the gym everyday or going for a run everyday, it can infact be going for a walk or doing yoga or stretching or playing tennis with friends. It doesn’t have to be an intense and sweaty session each time which many think… just moving and using your body everyday is what is recommended.

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Some times in your life you have more energy, more time and more motivation to workout and then you workout more often and other times you have less time, less motivation, less energy and then you workout less. But trying to do some form of exercise everyday is recommended even if its just a 20 minute walk during your lunch break!

At the moment going to the gym less often is what is healthiest for me in my current life situation. Instead i feel like i need to save energy for other things in my life and like i usually say, if you can’t eat enough for your exercise level then you either need to eat more or exercise less… and well, when i have no appetite that results in exercising less as i don’t have the energy to do more. But that’s ok…. that’s how it is during autumn and winter!

Does anyone else feel this way during winter and autumn?

Also, do you listen to your body and workout less when you don’t feel motivated or do you force yourself to the gym anyway just out of habit?

I can say from experience that sometimes the best thing you can do for your health – if you come from a history of eating disorders and exercise addiction is actually to rest more! Don’t underestimate the importance of rest!! 

Working out for health or for performance

Recently I’ve been thinking alot about exercise and why people exercise. 

First off, if you are an elite you most likely aren’t working out for health reasons but for performance. Just like if you have a serious exercise goal you want to reach then you might not listen to your body, you might push past your limits to reach that goal. You might skip sleep, maybe not eat enough or maybe eat more than you need for example if you are bulking of doing strongman training. Just because you are exercising doesn’t mean it’s going to make you healthy… infact if you over train without eniugh rest time or push your body incredibly hard you are more likely to get sick or injured but people do it anyway to reach their fitness or exercise goal. 
In my current university course we’ve been reading alot about exercise and one of the recurring topics is daily exercise and movement for health. 

To be healthy it is recommended c.a 10 000 steps a day or c.a 30-60 minutes of activity and movement. To be healthy, daily movement is what is recommended. For example if you just do 30-60 minutes at the gym or go out running but then for the rest of the 23 hours you are still then you’ll get better at what you do but if you want to be optimally healthy it would be best to do maybe 20 minutes of walking 3 times a day or atleast combine the gym visit with movement throughout the day for example taking stairs, walking, cleaning etc 

I’m the type of person who does 40-60 minutes at the gym and usually I walk there and sometimes walk home but for c.a 22 hours a day i am still. Though somedays there is extra moment such as walking to the store and food shopping, cleaning and meal prepping as well as always taking th3 stairs. I would say I’m active but am so lazy because I can honestly spend 3 hours in bed just watching series even if I am rather restless.


What I wanted to get at though is that if your aim with exercise is to be healthy then the recommendation is daily movement . It’s better to be active throughout the whole day than to just do 40 minutes at the gym and nothing else. HOWEVER it’s better you go to the gym than doing nothing at all.

 But you would be surprised what being active throughout the day and moving a little every hour can do for your health. For example if you have a desk job, get up and walk to your colleagues or get up and fill your water bottle every hour!

And to those who do have an active job, then you don’t have to go to the gym everyday unless you have a performance goal you want to reach. But if you workout for health reasons then just having an active job and strength training a few times a week is enough (i.e having muscles and doing some form of resistance training is so important especially the older you get!).

Working out should also be fun but I think it’s important to ask yourself whether you are working out for a goal or whether it’s for health reasons? Because if its for health reasons (but in actuality you do it to compensate for eating or because you feel guilty) then you dont need to do both a 2 hour walk/run and strength training in the same day to be healthy.

Workout to be functional. So that you can live life, have strength and stamina and energy. 

ALSO I need to note. That if your workouts leave you feeling absaloutly exhausted and you don’t do anything apart from workout because you are so tired then you aren’t working out for health reasons. When I was exercising due to guilt and compulsion I would be so exhausted for the rest of the day that I wouldn’t even meet friends or clean or anything as I would be so tired. But now when I exercise for health reasons I have energy to do so much more… I have energy to socialize, to clean, to go for walks, to do things apart from just study and workout.  


But ALSO I know that I don’t have to go to the gym everyday. Going for a walk is enough and resting is important!!!

Also note, if your goal is example to run a marathon then you might not do as much “regular” exercise the days you do a long run but then you’re working towards a goal and not health reasons!

Exercise addiction – my story & advice

If you love exercising it often requires more willpower to not exercise than it does to go workout.  Many would find this hard to believe. But just like with anything, if you love it you want to do more of it/have more of it… example if you find a new series you want to watch you might spend a whole day/week watching the series, for those who love exercise they want to do it as often as they can.

The important thing though is to find a balance with exercise. Because exercise is good and something everyone should be doing (of course, individual situations such as when you are sick, injured or in recovery then exercise would just do more harm than good. And in those types of situations exercise is not recommended.), but too much exercise might just lead to negative consequences such as lower immune system so you get colds more often, you can injure yourself if you don’t recover and get enough rest. But also exercise is a stressor, it stresses your muscles, nerves and your brain so if you are constantly exercising without giving your muscles and brain a time to rest you can go into “overdrive” and burnout with problems such as restless legs, insomnia, anxiety, depression, loss of appetite/eating too much, extreme fatigue etc

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In the past i suffered from exercise addiction. Some say that is not a real thing, but for me it was very real. I would purposely set my alarm for 5 or 6am in the morning, get up and stand/move and then for the rest of the day i would be standing, moving, walking, running, exercising until around 11pm or 12am when i would finally allow myself to lie down in my bed, and even then i would begin shaking my legs and moving, anything to not be still. I was terrified of being still, terrified of sitting. I genuinely thought that if i sat down i would gain weight and balloon up. I have had many arguments with my family as they couldn’t get me to sit down, i refused to travel or sit in the car longer than 30 minutes so would refuse to go anywhere that was longer than 30 minutes drive away. I refused to go to the cinema as it would mean sitting for 90-120 minutes, i never sat on public transport and not even when extremely tired would i rest. It was a compulsion, obsession and my exercise was done out of fear, anxiety and guilt, it was not something i liked doing but something i thought i had to do. Those years of compulsive exercise have lead to me having injuries in present time, both in my hip, knees and back as i used to stand in weird places to not get seen as well as hunching over alot as my back muscles couldn’t keep me straight, but also i did alot of walking and running in the wrong form of shoes which is something i deeply regret as i can get alot of pain in my knees and hips now a days from that.

Eventually with the help of treatment and my family i learnt that sitting and resting was ok and i began to get better at resting. But then i began working out again and due to school related anxiety and stress i began to abuse exercise again and it wasnt something i did consciously… it just happened. It went from 30 minutes running to eventually doing 1,5-2 hours of cardio everyday as i thought that was the only thing that counted as exercise. Eventually from 2013 when i began to strength train i have worked on that golden balance with exercise. Trying to find what works for me and what i have now realised is that balance varies over time…. sometimes in my life going to the gym 6 times a week is balance that works, other times 3-4 times a week is balance as i have other more important things in my life. Sometimes balance with exercise is just leaving the house, going out for a walk and other times it is running and doing crossfit style workouts. It all depends on my life situation. But also remembering to always listen to my body… to do what i enjoy and what I want to do. It is easy to scroll through social media and see all these people doing tough workouts and working out daily and forget to realise that that is presumably their job… to film their workouts, share their workouts and just be an online workout inspiration. Whereas i have school, school assignments and other things in my life that take up my time. But also everyone is different, i have injuries that prevent me from doing squats or heavy deadlifts, but i can do other forms of exercise instead i don’t need to squat just because it seems like everyone else is doing squats.

Finding balance with exercise is hard and it takes time. It is all about listening to your body asking yourself if you really want to exercise. And if you do, what form of exercise… maybe it is just yoga, maybe it is running, maybe it is HIIT, maybe it is stretch or swimming… it can vary. You DONT have to go to the gym or have a really tough sweat session to call it a workout.

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What saddens me is to see people who are in the same situation i was a few years ago. To see people who never seem to rest, always at the gym, always tired, always working out…. i just want to reach out to them and tell them that it is ok to rest, it is ok to skip a workout. Nothing bad will happen if you don’t workout for a few days or a week or two. Your muscles won’t break down and disappear, you won’t suddenly gain 5kg fat, and yes… you can still eat even if you don’t workout.

Many don’t see overexercising as a problem because one of the biggest problems in society is that people DON’T exercise enough. Now  a days people are far too still, they sit almost 24/7 and eat too much processed food, and that is an epidemic with many health problems. And it is only a small percent of people who are overexercising, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem that needs help. What i have also noticed is that all the health recommendation and all the news about needing to walk 10 000 steps a day, get up every 60 minutes, move, walk, sit less…. all of that information is being followed by the people who already workout… by the people who are already active and suddenly they are trying to fit in more steps, more workouts and more movement into their already active lifestyle, while those who actually need to follow the advice don’t. It’s tough when there are 2 such extremes and both are problematic.

In the future i want to help both those who over exercise and need to learn to rest as well as those who don’t move at all and need to find a sport they enjoy doing and get more active!

If you are struggling with overexercising or want to know more about my story, below are some links to previous posts which you can read.

How i stopped overexercising (written in 2012, so i have made alot of changes and different mindset since then!)

Masterpost of exercising and exercising in recovery. How to find balance with exercise.

The importance of rest and my exercise addiction

Resting doesn’t mean you are fat or lazy – answer

Links about over exercising

 

If you need any advice you can always comment below and i can try my best to help 🙂

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