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Yeah…Immaeatthat

Apr 09

Takeaways from stopping exercising.

If you are stuck in an unhealthy relationship with exercise, I wish I could give you a taste of what it feels like to not have to exercise everyday.  I know what it feels like to wake up and have an alarm going off inside your head that can only be quieted if you exercise x amount that day. 

And I know what it feels like to wake up and not have that alarm going off inside your head.  

I wish I could tell you to stop before you hurt your body beyond repair.  I wonder, if I would’ve found a healthier relationship with exercise earlier in life, would I still have so much back and knee pain now?

A few years ago I had made progress in my eating disorder by eating consistently throughout the day and stopping labeling foods as good or bad, but I was still working on not having to exercise.  So, as I’ve mentioned before, I did the hardest thing i’ve ever done (definitely harder than childbirth) and I committed to stopping exercising for 3 months.  I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it…not even Andrew.  I thought other people wouldn’t get it, since exercise is always always always talked about like such a good thing.  If someone could’ve had a peek inside my brain they would’ve seen the intense preoccupation with having to exercise and understood what I was going through.

So for 3 months, at the time I would normally be exercising, I would lay on my yoga mat in the backyard and I’d cry because it was so hard to not just get up and go exercise to numb away from how I was feeling – the stress of life, the stress in being in a body I felt uncomfortable with, etc.  But at this point I had realized I was asking exercise to give me something it couldn’t and I NEEDED a break from it to reset.  Hopefully the below can help you understand what I realized about exercise: 

Just to be clear, I’m not against exercise. But I am against exercising when you do it:

  • out of a place of fear because you think if you don’t your body will change
  • even when you’re sick or injured
  • as your only way to cope with stressful situations

If any of the above sounds like reasons you exercise, it may be worth taking some time away from movement.

  1. I don’t need exercise to manage my weight or make me feel good in my body.  And that fact brought and continues to bring me so much peace. It’s so interesting how now that my body is farther away from the thin ideal than it was before, I feel closer to it.  Taking a break from exercise allowed me to see that my body can manage my body size just fine without me micromanaging it through a certain amount of exercise. I used to think, “i’m bloated I HAVE to exercise, because that will make me feel better.” But now I realize, “you know what else will help you feel better? Not doing anything to fix the bloated feeling lol. Just going to sleep and waking up the next day will make the bloated feeling go away too because that is how a body works.” It is so nice to have had the experience of taking a break from exercise, because I now know that nothing drastic is going to happen to my body if I don’t feel like exercising for a while.  This is something so wonderful to experience and is more powerful for you to experience rather than just to have me telling you about it. 

    That said, I now realize that if you are having to rigidly exercise to stay at a certain size…you aren’t at the body size you’re meant to be at.  There’s a size for you where you don’t have to exercise obsessively or restrict your hunger in any way and that is NOT an unhealthy size for you to end up at.

  2. I was asking exercise to fix all my problems. I now realize I didn’t need to keep trying to become smaller (physically), I needed to start growing (mentally).  More and more exercise was never going to fix my feelings of inadequacy, but therapy, values work, and self-reflection did.  I was asking exercise to do something it wasn’t capable of doing and that is one of the reasons I think I kept doing more and more of it.  Going to more and more extremes.  Searching for something that wasn’t there to be found.  Exercising more was never going to help me feel more comfortable in my body or make me feel safe & accepted. 

If you are stuck in an eating disorder or exercise compulsion…I know how your brain works.  I know you read this and think, “But see!! You are exercising now, so you do have to exercise!!” But I’m here to say that how I think about movement is different now.  My movement now is done in a peaceful way that allows me to look forward to it and I no longer move in this punishing you-have-to-exercise-or-else type of way.  And I believe that taking a multi-month break from exercise is the number ONE thing that allowed me to get to a peaceful relationship with movement. 

If this post resonated with you, just know that I don’t gain anything by encouraging you stop exercising.  I don’t have some hidden agenda or financial gain to come from this.  I wouldn’t recommend this unless I really believed it could help you live a better life.  For more of my thoughts on having an unhealthy relationship with exercise, click here for more exercise compulsion posts.

48 comments on “Takeaways from stopping exercising.”

  1. Awesome post, Kylie! Looking at our motivation as to why we’re doing what we’re doing is something that is so easily overlooked. The chart about the things you were expecting exercise to do for you is so helpful. I think once we realize that it’s impossible for any one thing to completely fulfill & satisfy us, it’s a lot easier to start building a whole toolbox of coping strategies. Love your blog & am so thankful for everything you share!

  2. I used to run half marathons. One day I woke up and realized how much of my self-worth was tied to being a runner. And the saddest part is that it hurt my body; I have mild pelvic organ prolapse since I delivered my first child and I know now that running worsened my condition. I was scared to let go of my “sporty” identity and many people commented on me not running (some were way more disappointed than I thought was appropriate) but I’m so glad I did. It’s crazy how freeing it is to give up a rigorous exercise routine. I have so much more time and energy to do things that are really important to me and I found out how much I like walking with my dog and yoga. Thank you so much for writing your blog Kylie! It’s such a positive and empowering space for me.

    • Hey Alice, I too had an experience with someone being way more disappointed in my choice to stop running than I thought was appropriate. I’m glad you brought that up. It wasn’t a person who was important to me, but when I ran into him I was 8 months pregnant and he said, “looks like you haven’t been running lately.” And I just wanted to yell, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!!!” It was so weird and I ended up being super direct and saying I had exercise-type bulimia and he didn’t even care and made some other inappropriate joke. He’s a weird guy.

      So glad you’ve gotten to experience the freedom of giving up a rigid exercise routine. It’s a wonderful thing to let it go <3

  3. Thank you! I really needed this!

  4. “I now realize that if you are having to rigidly exercise to stay at a certain size…you aren’t at the body size you’re meant to be at.” — this really resonated with me. I wish I could go back to my 21 year old self who was obsessed with Weight Watchers and who would go to the gym at 9pm on a Thursday night (in college!) because she just couldn’t go to bed without exercising that day for fear of gaining back the weight. Many weight loss rollercoaster up and downs later I realize maybe my “goal weight” was just not realistic or heathy for me.Thanks for sharing!

  5. thank you for writing about this- for me, the self-imposed requirement to exercise weighed heavily on me every morning, and my entire self worth was wrapped up in how it went that day. one night, biking home from work, i took a spill and bruised my butt so badly i could barely stand up from a chair, much less run, or climb. this sidelining forced me to deal with my anxiety and perceptions of self worth and was a blessing-in-disguise that allowed me to get out of that 10yr rut. for anyone thinking about this, a break is totally worth it. some tips: line up some alternative activities to do instead, a hobby you’ve always wanted to try, explore some new coffee shops with some easy entertaining reading to breeze through.

  6. See, I am currently struggling with the complete opposite. I cannot get myself to exercise. It makes me feel emotionally exhausted to think of go exercising. I think a piece of it is my strange relationship with food that I am working through right now (restricting all day and then waking up in the middle of the night STARVING + eat… I am working through this right now!) I guess not fueling enough during the day has made exerting any extra energy seem so daunting and exhausting. Thank you, as always, for your posts and words of wisdom :) 

  7. P.S. Sorry for some of the spelling and grammar errors, just read through it again! :) 

  8. The exercise piece was always the hardest part of recovery for me. In this last leg of my recovery journey, I stopped exercising for 3-4 months. The difference was that it was my decision (not forced on me as it was in the past) and I got my period back. I was surprised that my body did not change that drastically and after awhile it was so nice to wake up every morning and not have the pressure of working out looming over my head. I’m exercising again and doing it in a much different way. When I feel those thoughts of how much, how long, should be about exercise creeping in, I take a break. I also realize I may need to stop exercise again to get pregnant, or else cut way back to just walking. I have my period but have a really short luteal phase. I get a little jealous when I see women conceiving who are running and working out however often they want, but that may not be right for my body. Compassion and kindness are my mantras right now. Also, something else I’m working on is making some new friends that are not obsessive about exercise. When I stopped exercise I realized that all of my friends I had met at exercise classes and their entire lives were focused on workouts and disordered eating. Any ideas about where to meet people who are focused on things other than “health”??

    • I hear you, Hillary. It can be a frustrating realization that you don’t have a body that can run half marathons and still continue to have a period. Everybody is different. For some running is wonderful. For others, not so much. Maybe look into picking up a (non-exercise) hobby for meeting people? I’ve had a couple friends use the app Meet Up to find book clubs/groups with similar interests.

  9. Thank you SO MUCH for this — so well said. It seems so counter-intuitive at times, to suggest that “clean eating” or “diligent exercise” could possibly be harmful to our health. It all comes back to that discussion of what the definition of health is. When we put our “health behaviors” into that context (which I think you have delineated very well) of whether we are doing it because we love our bodies or hate our bodies, it often changes things pretty dramatically. Exercising because we love our bodies means resting sometimes, whereas exercising because we hate our bodies means exercise is the goal, not the means for a full, vibrant life.

    • Oooo SO GOOD Alexandra! –> “Exercising because we love our bodies means resting sometimes, whereas exercising because we hate our bodies means exercise is the goal, not the means for a full, vibrant life.”

      Glad you commented!!

  10. Yesterday I went to a gentle yoga class. It was the first time I had done any sort of structured exercise for over a year. It was such a revelation to exercise because I felt like it and it felt good, not because I felt like I HAD to do it. I was so panicked in the beginning that quitting exercise would cause me to gain a bunch of weight. But I have found so much freedom this year. Just like you say, I realized I do not need exercise to manage my weight. Even with adding in fear foods (hello, ice cream!) and eating them way more often than I used to, AND not exercising, my body did not explode. I am not 10 sizes bigger. And even if I was, I think it would be worth this freedom that I have found. Yesterday while doing yoga poses in front of the mirror, I noticed the cellulite on my thighs, I felt how shaky my muscles were, and yet, I was just hit with thankfulness. I marveled at how amazing my body is, and at all the things it allows me to do on a daily basis. And I teared up and whispered, “Thank you, Father,” as I felt God’s presence and blessing and assurance that his grace is sufficient and my worth does not depend on my body.

    • Got chills reading this, Kelly. I know the feeling of that first post yoga experience after time away from movement. It makes for an emotional class full of gratitude! So glad you shared<3

  11. “That said, I now realize that if you are having to rigidly exercise to stay at a certain size…you aren’t at the body size you’re meant to be at.  There’s a size for you where you don’t have to exercise obsessively or restrict your hunger in any way and that is NOT an unhealthy size for you to end up at.”

    LOVE this!!!!  I found that exercising like a lunitic only meant I was hungry more.  It makes me sad how many mornings I drug myself out of bed when I wanted to be cuddling with my crew to accomplish nothing more than spin my wheels in the land of diet crazy!!  

    • Hi Jen, when you said “I found that exercising like a lunatic only means I was hungry more” reminded me of how people talk about how breastfeeding makes you lose weight because your body is using more energy to make milk. I find that so funny, because yes I will be using more energy to make another human’s food supply but I’m just going to be hungrier so I’ll be eating more.

      Glad you have found a way out of spinning your wheels in the land of diet craziness and I hope you’re getting in some cuddles now!

  12. Thank you for this. I’ve been really working hard through my recovery and the food part has always seemed a lot more manageable than the exercise component. I’ve been dieting since I was about 10/11, but I was doing sports since essentially age 6, so my identity is so wrapped up in my physical activity level.

    I appreciate you being so open and honest about your struggles with this and the importance of really truly listening and taking care of your body. I’m not quite sure when I’ll be ready to conquer the exercise component of my disorder, but there’s something so comforting about knowing of someone who’s done it and came out the other side :)

  13. Thank you so much for this post.  I definitely needed this today after having a total melt down after the gym this morning and not being able to do what I want to do with my work outs (currently recovering from HA).  
    What have you done and what suggestions do you have to improve self-worth?  I am really struggling with finding mine not tied to my body/work out routine.
    thank you again!

    • I think a huge first step is creating a SPACE for you to not tie you body/workout routine to your self worth. You create that space by decreasing exercise (or sounds like stopping exercise could be more appropriate if you don’t have a period). In this space you can start to identify your values and what is important to you. Here’s a podcast on values if you are interested. I can’t remember, but I don’t think the host says anything too diet mentality-y, but she’s not an ED professional so I can’t gaurentee it. http://holdingspace.podbean.com/e/how-to-define-your-values/

      Once you have your values identified be sure your actions are reflecting them.

    • I also recommend taking a break from the gym itself. In the beginning, it can be really hard to be in that familiar space, but not be able to what you want to do and watching others go all out. Maybe instead of the gym, go hang at a coffee shop for awhile. Or just go for a slow walk and listen to a podcast. I know it’s not easy. I always defined myself by how much I exercised and being small. Let me tell you though, getting my period again after 16 years (since I developed anorexia at 14) was so worth stopping exercise! I was so scared my body was broken and I had destroyed any chance of health and the possibility of a family. I’m working on finding friends and spaces to engage in that have nothing to do with workouts, maybe do the same? I find that what and who I surround myself with make a huge difference in how I see myself, especially at the beginning of this process. And just remember, you are not alone :)

  14. Your posts like these are the ones that REALLY spoke to me to begin with when I discovered your blog. I thought I KNEW the answer to health (more exercise, clean diet) and then when I discovered your post on exercise, I realized just how destructive I had become. Every thing you said in those post and this one could have been me a year or so ago. I definitely agree with an exercise break. A break from structured exercise also helped me learn that all of the catastrophic things I imagined would happen simply did not happen. It allowed me to understand I didn’t HAVE to be exercising so aggressively. It allowed me to discover many of the other passions I had and wanted to pursue, but never had the time to because I was always on some sort of training schedule. I can attest to the fact that while true, the body I have now is different than the one I had when I was obsessively exercising, but so is my brain. And that is SO MUCH better when compared to the physical changes!

  15. If I hadn’t been so bent on exercising enough to remain at a “normal” weight, I probably wouldn’t have been out bicycling on a fateful summer morning in 2005. I had a good pace going and didn’t want to stop to reach for my water bottle. When I reached across my body for the water, my bike tire went off the trail and I slid sideways. All of the force of the fall went into the leg I put down to stop myself, and I shattered my leg into 40-50 pieces. 8 hours of surgery, a rod, plates, screws, and pins repaired it, but needless to say, I couldn’t exercise for many months. Six months after my accident (when I had started bingeing again) I sought out therapy and was relieved to find that I wasn’t just weird, but had an eating disorder. I’ve never returned to that intensity of exercise, thankfully.

  16. So wonderfully said, Kylie! Especially this: “I was asking exercise to give me something it couldn’t”. That resonated with me… being enslaved to exercise but never being fulfilled from it is the worst. These days I pretty much just walk or do yoga when I feel like it and I feel so freeeee =D

  17. Kylie, I read a post you wrote similar to this about a year ago that encouraged me to stop exercising full stop for a few months after experiencing pretty severe back and knee pain. It was the best decision I’ve ever made and I made so much more progress in those couple of months in my eating disorder treatment than I had the years before.

  18. Love this post. I routinely take a week off from working out just to remind myself that literally nothing bad happens and in fact, I only get more excited about jumping back into working out because I start missing the movement. Also those weeks off always give me the perfect amount of rest and extra time to get other things done, and it always feels great.

  19. My dietician wants me to “break up with exercise”. I’m stressing about doing it. As of right now I’m not even close to doing it. All I do is hot yoga x days a week and walk around x miles in a day. I feel that is nothing compared to what I used to do. I feel if I stop I will gain so much weight. I don’t want to gain weight. She has already increased my calories and I’m almost at x cals a day. I haven’t had my period in 4 years. Ive been recovering from Anorexia and apparently I’m a compulsive exerciser too. I needed to see this. Reading everyone’s comments makes me feel not alone. Any extra tips would be awesome :-)

    -Rudi

    • I will say, I never got very far into recovery until I gave up exercise. My dietitian suggested it for years and I never wanted to listen, always believing that I could recover while still working out. It’s hard to hear, but your body is begging you for a break. If you are exercising and not getting a period, you are actually not doing anything good for your body. The thing that always made me think is when I would read about my bones. Trust me, you want strong bones to carry you through life! Once your body is working again you can learn how to exercise and still get a period, but you have to give it a break first. I know it’s hard. And maybe don’t talk about calories with your dietitian and try not to add them up on your own? The x calorie a day thing is so inaccurate! Most women need more than that to survive and have the energy to do all the things! Keep on keeping on and try to trust that all those catastrophic thoughts your brain wants to latch on to won’t happen. Ride the waves of anxiety and you will get to shore.

    • It’s not breaking up with exercise for forever. Rather, it’s taking a break so in the future you can have a healthy relationship with exercise and be able to move from a place of wanting to take care of your body instead of moving from a place of fear and exercise rules. I know how hard it is to stop. I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW. And I feel for you so much, Rudi. But I’m sure your dietitian is encouraging you towards what is best for you and our recovery. I hope you can take the plunge and take a break from exercise <3

  20. I took a couple breaks from exercise and now I exercise in moderation. I think the biggest thing taking a break from exercise helped me do was to realize what forms of movement I enjoyed and what types I did because I thought I should. I also learned that I don’t need to run to cope with bad feelings. In fact I don’t really run at all now because I get injured frequently and I’ve decided it’s not a good fit for me.

  21. This is an AWESOME post
    I am 51 years old and have compulsively exercised all of my life.
    I have osteoporosis and many issues and I have never been able to slow down.

    This really helped me tonight and made me think. I am finally in the best therapy I have been in, have allowed myself to gain some weight but am massively obsessed with exercise-its worse with the weight gain.

    this really helped.

    thank you
    A

  22. I just took a month-ish break from exercising (b/c i was NOT enjoying it anymore, like, at all..) and i feel so much better now. I workout a few times a week when my body feels like it and i’m doing a new to me exercise that i actually enjoy. So freeing!

  23. Ever since I started reading your blog over a year ago, I’ve considered quitting exercise for a moment howev r the mere thought of it stresses me and I immediately think “no. I can do this. I’ll just move when I want and don’t when I don’t want to.” Man it’s just not that simple and understand that now.

    I’m not sure you remember me from previous comments since they are infrequent but my journey to healing from my ED is a roller coaster and nowhere near finished.
    I found this blog because I had just had a baby and I was miserable. I wasn’t overjoyed to finally have my sweet boy in my arms (I am now of course) but instead obsessing over what to eat to get me back to My pre baby body. Even as I read your blog over the next few months, I still continued to purge and over exercise and not eat to satisfaction. In July, however, I finally stopped purging. Since then it’s been a roller coaster but seems to have leveled off a bit. I walk about two miles 4-6 times a week and I mostly eat what I crave. It’s hard sometimes since my mind tries to explain it away and I think “I can’t have x because I just had x.” It’s still difficult for me, dare I say impossible, to sit on the couch and eat what I want all without feel worthless. i still fear gaining weight. I exercise for fear of weight gain. I fear the judgement and comments of others. Does that make sense?

    Sorry for the book. I just had to say that someone. Thanks, Kylie, for all that you have done and keep on doing. You have helped change so many lives. ❤️

  24. Wow, this post could not have come at a better time! You write so eloquently and I relate so much to what you say about the internal alarm that goes off every day. I’ve been struggling with anorexia for over 7 years now, and exercise has been compulsive for the majority of those years. I know that I have osteopenia in my hips and spine, and the thought of it getting progressively worse is terrifying, but kicking the exercise habit is still such a challenge for me.
    I’m currently in a place where I know what I have to do and have so much motivation, but it is still outweighed by fear.

    Any tips for biting the bullet? I am so desperate to have a healthy relationship with exercise and my body, but these disordered behaviours are so habitual after 7 years of rigidity xxx

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