Exercise gives us endorphins, and it’s a beautiful thing, really!
Having a shit day? Get that anger out, girl.
Trouble processing emotions and feel stuck? Get yo’ ass moving and see things much more clearly.
Need to transition from “part one” of your day to “part two”? Exercise is my preferred way to do it!
It’s a valid method of moving through and processing emotions. After all, emotions bring energy with them, and it needs to continue onward—lest it stay with us.
But, when do we transition from using exercise to benefit our emotional and physical well-being to using it as a scapegoat, distraction, or projection of negative emotions towards ourselves?
When does our use of exercise turn from healthy to unhealthy?
When we’re not aware of our motivations.
Without awareness of WHY we’re exercising, we may be distracting ourselves from more deeply rooted items that need our attention.
More often than not, addressing these underlying matters is what will truly lead to contentment. Exercise is simply a band-aid.
If this sounds familiar to the use of food—either via eating or restriction—you’re right. Many women use both exercise and food as coping mechanisms, but it’s helpful to look at them in isolation.
How do you know if your use of exercise is beneficial and healthy?
Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”
If the honest answer(s) is derived from a negative place, then we need another game plan. Examples include:
shame for food choices
disgust with your body as it is today
to build a body to please others
to distract yourself from issues at home, work, relationships, etc.
to prove your worthiness by being an athlete
to prove your worthiness by changing your body
to prove your worthiness by working harder than everyone else
to convince yourself that you’re moving towards greater fulfillment, when what you’re really seeking is deeper connection with yourself and/or others
to receive love, attention, or validation from others
Positive, healthy reasons to engage in exercise may include:
to challenge yourself and prove that you can do hard things. The key here is to ensure you’re doing this for yourself, not to prove anything to others
to build strength, endurance, or power in your body so that you’re a more capable human
to build parts of your body based on your own aesthetic preferences, while understanding that this has zero impact on your worth as a human
to calm or reset your mind
to get out of your head and into your body
because it’s enjoyable AF
These will look different for everyone, and each list can continue in perpetuity.
The key is to be completely honest with ourselves when we look at our intentions, and oftentimes, this awareness is only heightened when we’re forced to take a break.
Health concerns, injuries, and various other life circumstances will force us to pause, to change our exercise routines, or to perhaps stop them altogether.
This can be challenging, humbling, and frustrating as all hell.
We may even find ourselves in a full-blown identity crisis if exercise—especially of the intense of competition variety—has become part of who we are.
While this may sound miserable, we can use situations like this to our advantage.
We can use them as opportunities to face ourselves, to show ourselves compassion and grace, and to identify what we truly need.
I found myself in this situation in during the Spring of 2018 when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. I had been feeling terrible for months, and that diagnosis was the wakeup call I needed to finally take a step back from my intense exercise regimen and REST.
My 4-5 times per week CrossFit habit changed to leisurely walks and some weightlifting three times per week.
I didn’t become a couch potato by any means—as my body didn’t warrant that protocol—so I was shocked to discover my discomfort with zero intense exercise.
No chasing the clock.
No pushing my body to the point of complete exhaustion.
No competing with others in class.
No using exercise to get my brain to work because I was too exhausted and overworked for it to function normally on its own.
Rather, I was forced to sit with the discomfort.
And I pondered.
Why is this so uncomfortable for me?
What have I been avoiding?
What am I really doing it all for?
Some of the answers that came up included:
avoidance & denial of feeling physically unwell when not exercising, as the endorphins made me feel better for the hours after a workout.
identifying with going “all out” during every workout, otherwise I felt like a wimp, pansy, and average.
proving my worth to the world by pushing myself harder than others.
an inability to show myself grace when I’m not good at something. To not push to be better was unacceptable in my eyes, even when it wasn’t making me any happier or fulfilled in the long-run.
making myself feel accomplished in an area I’m comfortable with—physical activity—so that I could placate my avoidance of things I’m uncomfortable with: business ventures and some areas of relationships.
We’re pretty great at rationalizing our choices and projecting them as healthy to the outside world.
After all, very few people—if any—truly know our motivations behind our seemingly healthy exercise habits.
WE are the ones with the answers. We may be the only ones seeing all the cards.
Therefore, it’s our responsibility to ourselves to be honest about where we are & where we really want to go.
If any of this sounds familiar, consider taking the uncomfortable route. Consider sitting with the discomfort, rather than running (quite literally) from it.
Take a break—ideally a couple months—from the intense exercise you’re used to and allow yourself the opportunity to uncover what’s lurking beneath the surface.
You can always return to your current exercising ways if you so choose—perhaps in a different format, cadence, or intensity—and you’ll be doing so from a much more positive and life-enhancing place.
Don’t let something with so much life-promoting & enjoyment potential become your worst enemy simply because you’re replacing one form of discomfort for another.