I took a month off exercising and here's how I feel about it


I hurt my foot a little bit recently.

I didn't think it was much at first: I run a lot and jump about a lot and twinges happen in my calves or ankle occasionally, but it's never been anything that a good stretch and a long sit down with a foam roller couldn't solve.

Andso, having assumed it was just a little niggle, I kept running and jumping and dancing and long story short I couldn't walk for three weeks without a pretty distinctive limp. Nothing major, I'm sure, but still painful, something to pay attention to, and something to stop exercising for. 

For the last three years, I can't remember a time where I've had a break from exercise longer than a couple of weeks. And really, when I was very disordered, I can't remember a time when I had a break in exercising longer than a couple of days. Back then I didn't let anything get in the way. I'd get up earlier than my boyfriend on the weekends to go running. I'd suggest a high intensity workout when we went away. I'd flake on plans with friends so I could go to the gym. Secretive, compulsive, all-consuming- all the telltale signs of addiction- but this was all in the name of health, right? 

For a quite a while, once I had given up working out specifically for weightloss, I considered myself to have a healthy relationship with exercise, but I was still faux-intuitive about it- still looking at the calorie count on Strava, still clocking up my steps each day, still doing the mini calculations in my head of x number of biscuits = x number of star jumps I'd have to do. I was kind of semi-conscious of it at the time, but with some more work and some more reflection, I got to the place I am now, where I feel that I have a genuinely good relationship with exercise. I exercise, in a way that feels good to me, between 2-4 times a week, and none of it with the intention of toning up or losing weight, but because I enjoy it.

But when I hurt my foot, that made me reevaluate. Up until now, I've challenged myself mentally to take a break from exercise- to go easy on the workouts when I was trying to get my period back, to prioritise resting over running when I was tired, to cut down on time at the gym when in an effort to establish a healthy relationship with exercise but I've been lucky enough up to this point that I've not been forced to take a break from exercise because of a physical obstruction. And because I've never had to stop exercising for a prolonged period of time, I've never had to confront the disordered thoughts that come with resting. Having this (minor!) injury had made me rethink it all.

I won't lie and say I didn't feel guilty, that I didn't feel a little anxious, that it didn't play on my mind, that I didn't try to push myself to go to an exercise class even though I knew it would do more harm than good. But it's been a couple of months now and whilst I've since had a diagnosis (shout-out to you, tendonitis), and it's getting better, whenever those disordered  thoughts push their unwelcome way back in (and it happens, dudes! Those neural pathways are strong) I've had to actively tackle them, in a few different ways, so I can feel genuinely OK about taking some time off exercising.

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I'm doing what I can, rather than what I want to

I want to run, so, so, so badly. I want to be wind in my hair, listening to Springsteen, galavanting around my neighbour type of running (I know that really it would be slightly muggy breeze on my sweat-soaked fringe, but it's a nice metaphor) but I know, rationally, that it's the worst thing I can do for myself right now. Like I said, I like moving around, so it's still important to me to find some kind of movement that fits my current needs so recently I've been swimming, stretching and doing some body weight exercises in front of Desperate Housewives (ironic, eh?). It's all low-intensity stuff, and for me, doesn't release the same kind of endorphin rush I'm used to with a run or a combat class, but it's the best form of selfcare I can do right now.

Mind over matter

Running is not only the worst thing I can do for myself physically right now, but also mentally. To submit to those disordered thoughts, the ones that say I need to run 5k because I just ate cake, to reinforce the idea that pain is better than resting and that burning calories trumps everything else, even my physical health, is not something I want to do. A rational relationship with exercise is something that I've worked so hard to achieve, and I won't throw that all away now, just because my brain's telling me I should hit the treadmill.

Making peace with the fact that my body might change

Your life changes, your habits change, your routine changes, your needs change. My needs and my priorities have changed because of this little injury, and it might just be that my body changes too to reflect that. I've worked to accept that and I've promised myself that I won't try to 'get my body back' once my foot is recovered. That's not who I am now: it's not where my priorities are. My body never left, dudes! And even though I love it and it's been working hard to get me back on form, it's literally the least remarkable thing about me (or at least I bloody hope so).

Continuing to eat intuitively and not second guessing it

I used to use exercise as a way to 'cancel out' food- my own form of purging, an x mile run when I ate x amount of x food. But even though I haven't really been able to exercise, I feel like my relationship with food is so stable now that it hasn't even crossed my mind as I ate a choc ice with my best pal and a cupcake at work and an extra hunk of bread after dinner. I've made the promise to myself that I'll keep honouring my hunger, no matter what that looks like, even if it's more or less or equal to what I was eating when I was exercising more intensively. I don't use exercise as an exchange for food, I've got biological  and  emotional needs that need meeting, and I don't earn the right to eat what I want through working out.

I hope this helps you if you're going through anything similar, emotionally or physically!