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Yeah…Immaeatthat

Oct 28

Lessons learned from running again.

A couple months ago I put Jo to bed and mentioned to Andrew I was going to jog to the end of our street and back (a couple tenths of a mile). It was my first run in 3 years. (You can find more on my history with running here.) 

I enjoyed the couple of minutes I was moving and feeling fresh air in my lungs, but I noticed a couple things about me and running as I sprinkled in similar distanced runs over the next couple of months.  These were realization I hadn’t had when I was a runner for 8 years because I was so disconnected from my body.

The first thing I noticed was that post-run I felt disconnected from my hunger and fullness cues for the next several hours. Perhaps since exercise decreases ghrelin (our hunger hormone)? I had the realization that certain types of movement may disconnect you from your hunger and fullness cues and that may be reason enough to stay away from them.

A second thing I noticed about running was that to satisfy a running craving I didn’t need to run that much. A less-than-a-quarter-mile jog could be plenty to satisfy the craving/scratch the running itch. I’ve decided I like a teensy-tiny bit of running sprinkled throughout my life with multi-month long breaks in-between runs.  

The final aha moment from the runs was that I noticed I had poorer body image on the days I ran. I think a lot of this was because running has always messed with my GI system and made my stomach hurt/be bloated. When your stomach is irritated your attention naturally is drawn towards your stomach area, which isn’t really a part of my body I want to spend my day thinking much about. I already have anxiety that I feel a lot in my belly area, so I don’t need anything else in my life that hurts my stomach. Another strike against running (for me and my body).

When I was in my disordered eating and exercise days I found it hard to imagine a time when I wasn’t having to actively choose to not run, but now I don’t want to run. There are so many enjoyable ways to move a body and running doesn’t need to be part of my life anymore. For a long time my identity was tied up in being a runner and the most fit person and I’m glad that’s not me anymore. Now I’m a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, a small-business owner…all identities that are more meaningful to me than being a person who spends her morning running or stressing about not running.  Running for me always came from a place of self-hate and never brought me anything lasting, except lasting and unrelenting self-hate.

In summary, for me frequent running still hurts my knees and lower back and prevents me from feeling well enough to do other forms of movement that I like to feel well enough to do. The biggest thing I did to become an intuitive eater was to quit intense, gut-jostling, high-impact movement and instead shift to gentle movement such as walking, yoga and pilates. If I wouldn’t have cut out harsh exercise I wouldn’t have been able to break the restrict–>overeat–>exercise because I feel guilty about overeating–>restrict cycle.

Below is an activity that I mention in the course and I frequently do with clients to increase awareness about what types of movement are healthy for you. This web is assuming you’ve done the work to heal your relationship with movement and now movement is able to be done in a way that rejuvenates you, not numbs you out and away from your problems. That work may look like taking a multi-month break like I did to allow yourself to learn different and more healthy ways to cope with the discomforts of life. Just like emotional eating shouldn’t be one’s only coping mechanism in life…exercise shouldn’t be your only coping mechanism.  Exercise is not a solution for all mental health problems.

If you haven’t done the work to heal your relationship with exercise and you feel your need to take a break from movement but JUST CAN’T DO IT, here are links to a few past articles on compulsive exercise. Exercise isn’t good for everyone in every season of their life.  

Have you taken a break from exercise? What’d you learn? What type of movement harms your body? What type of movement makes you feel rejuvenated? Let me know if you make your own web!

34 comments on “Lessons learned from running again.”

  1. Hi Kylie, I took more than a year off from running (and a couple of months off from intentional movement completely) after reading a post you wrote. I also had back and knee problems and the time off really helped me sit with the discomfort I felt in my body and learn healthier coping mechanisms to deal with depression and anxiety. A couple of months ago, I went for a really short jog (trot) around my block that I found I really enjoyed. I am a little bit conflicted though. It is movement that I enjoy but I did have an incredible unhealthy relationship with it less than two years ago. I’m wondering if I should take some more time off just to make sure I’m in a healthier mindset and won’t let it take over my life again.

  2. Great post Kylie. Love the part about what is meaningful for you- such an important question to ask yourself when in recovery. Thank you 😊

  3. There have been times I ditched certain kind of movement at a time when it has started to feel off. When I was 18 I got really into ashtanga yoga and practiced a lot for few years. It felt really good in the start, but since it was about doing always the same exercise, always the “I should do it in the morning” ( when I am not that kind of a morning person xD I am more of a slow&gentle-movement morning person)  and all the other rules it began to go against my body. Now I also understand my practice wasn’t balanced since I wasn’t developing enough strength to support my joints but just strained my already hyper mobile body to be more flexible. I had a small injury which also made me derail from it. I don’t do that practice anymore and not even yoga that much, even tho I love stretching very much. Running also doesn’t work for me because it hurts my knees and feet very easily. I certainly have been going into it in a restrictive manner because I almost always feel more tense after than before running. 

    I am a dance student at the moment (and always been dancing a lot) so there is a lot of movement in my life. Still it is different than before…I have changed too. Somatic approach to body and movement have been a big deal for me. I think that having also different motives to move like being social, connecting to people, connecting to your body, learning new things, expressing yourself, brings other dimensions to movement. Now that I move so much I am not as thin as I was when I was more restrictive about my eating….I eat a lot! I am slowly coming to terms with that and letting go of the “I should be smaller some day” thoughts. For the longest time I always felt my thighs are too big, but now I am more embracing the thought “these thighs are thick and strong!”. And really I can’t really control my body type neither I should. 

    Long comment! Felt like writing haha

  4. I have learned that I love having a lot of variety in my life, both in general as well as with exercise (and food!). While most of my friends would prefer getting better at one sport, I found that I get bored or obsessive if I just have one way of being active, so what works best for me is to just change it up a lot! Last summer I took surfing lessons with some friends, this year I have joined a great gym for strength training and circuit classes, a few years ago I did an adult swimming course to learn how to do freestyle (I now love swimming in the ocean here) and some days I cycle to work. I also love to run — and fortunately have never had a mindset of excising as punishment or out of “guilt”. So to answer your question, I think finding new ways of movement make me feel rejuvenated! Variety is the spice of life in my case for sure ;)

  5. Thank you for this post! I am still trying to find my way back to movement. Yoga is about the only movement I have ever done from a place of self-care, so it has not felt triggering for me. But all other types have been so focused on changing my body size/shape that it is really difficult to do them regularly. I am dealing with major body image issues as my body changes due to health concerns. I really appreciate all that you do and share with the world. It reminds me to be more kind to myself. Thank you.

  6. I took more than a year off from running and just started easing back in about a month ago. I learned that I really do enjoy it. I’m not sure if I’ll ever run long distances again, but for now I’m enjoying the short runs very much!

  7. Taking time off from exercise was huge for my recovery at multiple different stages. It can be so easy to feel pressured by diet culture to move in ways we don’t really like—I always work with clients to find ways that are enjoyable, too! My hint is that most moving your body should be so enjoyable that you’re not thinking about your body’s “flaws,” calories, or anything else like that. It should be a celebration! 

  8. I recently began running, and so far, it’s been really good for me! Interestingly enough, walking is a huge trigger for me. A few years ago, I was obsessed… I forced myself to continue to walk (even just walking in place) for nearly x hours a day. Running feels intentional, and that feels good. I have an end point.

    One thing that really helps me with exercise is that if I want to “distract myself” to make it through, then it isn’t healthy for me. I want my intentional movement to focus on moving my body. Like, I want the movement part to be enjoyable, not the fact that I’m listening to my favorite music.

    • Hey Becca! So good–> “One thing that really helps me with exercise is that if I want to “distract myself” to make it through, then it isn’t healthy for me.” AGREED.

  9. This post is wonderful and important. How little we actually talk about the detailed feelings that come with trying a certain exercise again. I spent so many years of my life wrapped up in this identity of being a gym rat and runner when in reality I was experiencing debilitating pain. I was losing hours of my life at the gym. Recently, after 2 years,  I went back to a “gym gym” and I didn’t love it. I was reminded of the ghost of who I used to be and I didn’t feel like her anymore. Now, I’m someone who loves mindful movement and home. Yoga is a huge part of my life now, and I am not controlled by the movement. Thank you for sharing 😘 

    • “I was reminded of the ghost of who I used to be and I didn’t feel like her anymore.” –> Man, I can resonate with that. Thanks for reading, Kathryn<3

  10. This post totally resonated with me.
    I used to run because I felt that I had to. In 2011, I trained for a marathon, completed several half marathons after that, and felt that I needed to continue running even though it made me feel mentally and physically exhausted. Even though I was technically “recovered” from my eating disorder, I still equated a good long run to eating whatever I wanted. If I didn’t do a long run, then I couldn’t eat what I wanted. It was still so disordered.

    I stopped running partly by choice and partly because I didn’t have time. I was a new mom and found it hard to balance momming with working, spending time with my family and friends, and sleeping. Running just didn’t really fit it, but I felt SO guilty and like a slacker.

    Since then, I started really focusing on body positivity, and ways to find movement that make me happy but still let me enjoy all the other aspects of my life. Turns out I don’t like forcing myself to run long distances. I prefer walking, finding youtube workouts that fit my limited time frame and often limited energy level.

    A few months ago I started running again on a limited basis. My husband and I signed up for a 5k and I figured I should train a little bit. I do one 4 mile run a week and that’s it. I can’t imagine running any more than that, and I have no interest in extending my runs further or making them more frequent. Once a week is plenty for me, and who knows if I’ll actually want to continue running like that in the cold winter. If not, I’m not stressing about it. I really feel I’ve come a long long way with how I view movement, and it makes me a much happier person to not define ME with my activity level.

    As an aside, my parents are long distance runners. They spend most of their free time running. I know it makes them happy but I sometimes wonder whether it is still enjoyable for them, or if it’s something they feel they have to do. Every holiday or family dinner one of them makes a comment about how they are glad they ran X-amount of miles so they can enjoy dinner. I know they don’t realize that this is a trigger statement, and it used to bother me a lot. Over time, though, I have been able to give my husband a knowing look and continue on eating the way I want to eat (regardless of how I’ve moved or not moved that day) :)

  11. I’ve done a lot of work in recovery and with my therapist(s) around how I treat myself, and I’ve definitely fluctuated between an unhealthy relationship with exercise and a healthier relationship with movement. I still find that certain forms of exercise feel more like a duty or punishment (ahem, bootcamps. someone yelling at me to exercise just doesn’t do it for me), while others allow me to connect with nature and give me energy throughout the day. It’s definitely an exploration process (as everything in recovery is) to find out what works for you and what doesn’t.

    My sister recently suggested that I go to a workout class or for a run when I was dealing with a pretty difficult situation. I know her suggestion came from a place of concern, but YEARS of therapy kicked in, and her suggestion made me realize that distracting myself was the LAST thing I needed. I needed to sit in the discomfort and pain, lean on a friend for support, and not numb myself through food or exercise. Just another reason (one of SO MANY) that I give thanks for my recovery every single day.

  12. Running for me is very seasonal. This time of year I enjoy it because I enjoy being outside and enjoying the weather and fall decorations. Running in the summer (in 100 F weather) is not enjoyable so I pretty much avoid it. Occasionally on a cooler summer night I might get the urge, but I don’t push it. I have also ran a half marathon these past few years (with friends so it was a social thing) but found that the stress of training through the busy season (the half was in December) wasn’t worth it. It was too draining for me to have to juggle long runs vs. Christmas parties. I decided that it wasn’t worth it for me this year. I think that important part is being in tune with yourself enough to be able to acknowledge whether it is bringing you joy or stress.

    • Yep. Agreed! Good questions for anyone to ask themselves are:

      “Is this bringing me joy or stress?”

      “Am I doing this because I hate my body or because I want to care for it?”

  13. I find it interesting that you find your body image is lower on days you run. I struggle with body image issues, which I’m working with, but I feel amazing after a run. I feel beautiful and powerful, even when I’m gasping for air and sweaty and red.
    I’ve been reading a lot of RD blogs, most of which cover IE and I’ve wondered if maybe my running has had a negative impact on my life. After reading this post, it has clicked for me. I feel more in tune with my body when I’m regularly running and due to major issues with my entire lower body, I’m actually quite careful about running in general.
    Thank you for these posts, because you have really emphasized how it affects YOU, making it clear that perhaps running might be right for someone else. I think it is right for me. It is something I enjoy (I actually prefer long, slow runs, over 6 miles), though I’m careful to listen to my body and not overdo it, which is an amusing thought when I realize that I’ve ran a marathon.
    This is perhaps the first RD blog post that hasn’t left me wondering if I’m making the right choice by continuing to run. Thank you.

    • Hi Stephanie! Thanks for taking the time to comment! I think running will always be a complicated sport for me. It was the ED behavior I engaged in most and I totally get that isn’t everyone’s experience, so I do think running can be a joyful and life-giving movement for some!

  14. This post resonates with me so much. About three years ago, a mysterious running injury forced me to give up all forms of exercise for a year. At the time, I was really struggling with body image and exercise compulsion, and the idea of stopping all forms of exercise terrified me. I spend a few months heavily restricting my food, but through reading your blog, Robyn’s, and a few others, I decided I needed to let go. I remember crossing the street one day on my way home from work and thinking – “I’m so hungry, I don’t care that I can’t exercise I just need to eat.” It was terrifying, but slowly I allowed myself to eat until my body had enough energy instead of until I hit a certain limit that I perceived to be enough. I felt 1000% better and **surprise** didn’t gain any weight. Since then, I’ve found ways to reincorporate low intensity strength / resistance training (I don’t even break a sweat!) and nice walks when I can reflect or listen to podcasts amazing. Occasionally I crave higher intensity, so I’ll ride my bike. I’ve tried running once – all it did was bring back the pain and it was so much less enjoyable. I know the only way I was able to do it was exactly for the same reason you stated — you just totally disconnect from your body.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Anna! I feel super protective about keeping my body functioning and as pain-free as possible now. There’s many forms of movement I enjoy and that don’t hurt my body and I want to feel well enough to do them! That’s definitely another reason why running isn’t high on my list. So I hear you when you had the awareness about how all running did was “bring back the pain.” That’s a good reason to leave it in the past.

  15. Hey Kylie! I love love love this honesty and vulnerability. I, too, have taken breaks from exercise and certain types of movement before and found that it helped recenter my motives and made me appreciate what my body can do more. Also, I love this web activity! Will definitely try it out! I have a question about memberships. For me, I get bored with the same type of exercise and I really enjoy group classes but I find it hard to switch from studio to studio since they are very pricey. Have you tried Classpass before?

  16. The important point for me in all this is to really listen to your body and be honest with how various forms of exercise trigger you, or cause you harm.

    I also used to run when my eating was disordered in college and a little after. Recently…many years, two kids later…I had an itch to run. I never had a frank ED, but I made it a point to eat prior to any run. Even just as a ritual, nod to being well fueled.

    And I actually really, genuinely enjoyed it. But found my knees didn’t. There are some knee strengthening exercises I could do to make it safe for me, but I just haven’t gotten around to it, don’t remember consistently. So that’s kind of a bummer, but I’m glad I’m in a place where I can take it or leave it or try something different. Such a better place!

  17. I’m new to your site so compulsive exercising is quite a new concept for me, but I realize I might suffer from it. Not physically, because you know “life gets in the way.” But even framing it that way is telling. I usually feel so guilty when I don’t have time to exercise. I recently started running but soon discovered I need recovery days. I used to feel bad that that meant I wasn’t fit enough, especially since I’m not even running really long distances. But intentionally not exercising? Just the thought of it triggers fears of weight gain. But that’s been the repeating cycle for me it seems for the past 9 years.

    • Hi Rafia! Thanks for taking the time to comment:)

      So often even when people are taking a break from exercise they are guilt tripping themselves for not exercising. Is it truly a break if you are making yourself feel like crap? Setting an intentional goal of NOT exercising for a certain amount of time can be a nice rest and really physically healing to a tired body!

  18. I LOVE this post and you for writing it. I have a pretty healthy relationship with exercise and my body at this point, but to be honest with things like running, I still have certain limiting beliefs that I don’t even realize until I read posts like this. OF COURSE I can stop running after a quarter of a mile and YES it “counts.” There are no rules in movement, and the main priority is for it to feel good. Thank you for this reminder <3

  19. Thank you for the thoughtful post (and the links to some great backlog posts as well). I am recovering from compulsive exercise and am having trouble helping my “exercise buddies” understand that I’m not just taking a break and asking me over and over when I’m coming back. Do you have any words or phrases you use to gently help these people understand why I stopped without insulting the fact that they are still doing it? Thanks!!

    • Hi Christy! It’s hard when you’re surrounded by some people who are so unaware of the dark sides of exercise and have a hard time understanding how exercise affects you. It’s even harder if the person has the same mentality around exercise you’re trying to get away from and doesn’t view it as a problem. To just throw out some ideas…perhaps communicating to the friend that you’re trying to diversify the ways you care for yourself? Or explaining how much time thinking about manipulating your body size takes up in your life and you are wanting to try something new.

  20. What an awesome post as usual Kylie! I am glad you found a good way to incorporate running back into your life occasionally that was meaningful and honored your body’s wishes. The post that you linked about your story with exercise is probably in my top 3 fav blog posts of yours, it actually made me become a regular reader of yours.

    Right now, my favorite form of exercise is mountain biking. My dad and I go every week together. It’s great because it’s dangerous and I like that i have to tune in to the ground and my bike, it really distracts me from my life in a good way. Afterwards, we go out to get a few slices of pizza and some beer together. Like you said, exercise by itself isn’t a great coping mechanism, so what makes this great is that I also get to enjoy a great meal with my dad and talk about my life. Lots of ways to cope with stress (nature, exercise, family time, good meal, nice shower afterwards) all tied into a nice little Sunday morning ritual for us.

    Happy weekend to you and your family!

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