How To Stop Exercising Too Much
You might be wondering why someone would want to stop exercising too much, and if you are then you need to read my posts on Adrenal Dysfunction and Hormones. This post is a long one, but I really want to explain my history with exercise before I dive into some tips on How To Stop Exercising Too Much.
I’ve had an interesting relationship with exercise. When I first began working out at a gym, I was in high school and it started out innocent enough. I got a gym pass and started running on the treadmill for an hour a few days a week. I already had body image issues and unhealthy eating habits at this point and when I noticed that I began losing weight, I wondered how much weight I could lose if I exercised more and ate less. And so began my struggle with anorexia, disordered eating and exercise addiction.
I began working out everyday for 1-2 hours and restricted what and how much I ate. My morning included a small bowl of oat bran with an apple and cinnamon, lunch was either a peanut butter banana sandwich or a tuna sandwich and often I skipped dinner because I was at work and my family wouldn’t know. Sometimes I’d eat grapes and maybe some cottage cheese for protein. I easily ate under 1000 calories a day all while working out for 2 hours everyday. That workout included running on the treadmill and doing sprint and hill intervals the whole hour. Some days I would add 30 minutes on the elliptical and then I always alternated between upper body and lower body strength training exercises. You can imagine how depleted my body became.
Over the years I’ve learned about health and nutrition and have turned into a foodie that loves to cook and nourish my body. When I discovered my Amenorrhea was caused by Adrenal Dysfunction and my restrictive disordered eating and over exercising, I backed off the exercise right away. I’d been training for a marathon that I’d signed up for later that summer. I decided to quit, as I tend to be an all or nothing type, and started practicing yoga. Deep down I figured if I lowered cortisol I could lose more weight. I had some major metabolic damage from all the stress my body had been under for years and I began to struggle even more with binge eating at this time. This instead lead to rapid weight gain for me (although I wasn’t that big but had terrible body dysmorphia) and even worse body image. This won’t happen for everyone that stops excessive exercising and it really depends on their own metabolic health as well as many other contributing factors.
I ended up jumping back into exercise after a few months to try to lose the weight I’d gained, as I felt so uncomfortable in my body at this point. It wasn’t just any exercise either. I started Crossfit a few days a week and that quickly turned into 5 days a week. At the time I was also eating a very low carb Paleo diet, as I was doing a Candida cleanse. I was taking bio-identical hormones (estradiol and progesterone) to help get my cycle back and after 8 months of Crossfit and a year of taking the hormones, there was still no sign of a period. I finally realized that I needed to stop the crazy exercise again or I wouldn’t get my period back. I quit and went back to yoga and the following month I got my period for the first time since coming off the birth control pill. I fell in love with yoga and practiced up to 5 times a week. It gave me a different more grounded and calming high than “exercise” did. I started to feel good with better energy and felt like I wanted to try exercising again. I started out with an 8 week bootcamp the yoga studio was offering 2x per week and this felt good to my body.
I was feeling much better about myself and body image, although I had gained a bit of weight again since I’d quit Crossfit. I recently graduated as a holistic nutritionist and was looking at launching my business. I hate to admit it but that disordered voice inside my head started to make me feel that I needed to “look the part.” It told me that people wouldn’t take me as seriously if I wasn’t lean enough, so I joined Orange Theory and did that for a few months. Anyone that doesn’t know, Orange theory is an intense hour workout that involves half of it running intervals on the treadmill and the other half doing interval style strength training. Talk about pumping out the cortisol for a whole hour. Since I’d become more in tune with my body, I found it much too intense for me.
I quit and decided to try Crossfit again but with a different approach. I would do 2-3 days a week and pay attention to how I felt. If I slept bad I would skip the workout and I was also making sure to eat enough calories and carbs. I did this for about 3 months and felt not bad. At the 3 month point I decided to join a box gym to save some money, as I’d signed up for the Functional Diagnostic Nutrition course. I truly love heavy lifting and olympic weight lifting, so I started following a heavy strength training program 3-4 days a week. After 6 weeks I started to notice my ability to recover decrease and I just felt weaker overall. I was no longer making progress with increasing the weight on my lifts and I began struggling with major insomnia.
I was waking up early in the morning and could not fall back asleep. This made me think that I had high cortisol, so I decreased my workouts to two times per week and went back to yoga. This didn’t help and shortly after I ran a Saliva Hormone Panel on myself to find out that I was actually in phase 3 Hypothalmic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis Dysfunction (Adrenal Fatigue) with low cortisol throughout the day and elevated in the evening. My body was unable to maintain my blood sugar throughout the night and was spiking adrenaline and cortisol at night to help increase it. This is why I was waking up so early, and to remedy this I began having a snack of fat and protein before bed. This worked like a charm!
I quit the gym and bought a monthly yoga pass again, but didn’t quit working out completely. I started following a body weight strength training program at home that looking back now, was actually pretty tough. I was afraid to quit exercising completely and just do yoga (like yoga’s not tough, right?!), because I didn’t want to lose the muscle mass I’d built. The other big reason is the last time I quit exercising I got really depressed. I find exercising boosts my mood and makes me feel awesome…….until it doesn’t. The last time I quit and just practiced yoga I initially fell into the worst depression I’ve ever experienced. I’m talking thoughts of ending my life came into my head one night. That was my rock bottom and the next morning I began to claw myself out of that dark pit of despair I’d found myself in. It was a long journey but I wasn’t ever going back there, ever.
I knew that I was in a much different place than I had been though, and that it wasn’t just the lack of exercise that lead to that depression. I had some major nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, underactive thyroid, neurotransmitter deficiencies, gut dysfunction and probably worst of all, my mindset was in a bad place. Since then I’d worked to build my health and overcome the mindset obstacles.
Over the years I’d worked on my body image and over time I wasn’t exercising to be thin anymore. I truly loved being strong, I loved how it made me feel and gave me confidence. That being said, when I got really honest with myself I knew deep down there was still a bit of fear around gaining fat if I didn’t strength train. I was always looking for reasons to support why I should exercise. I read articles and blog posts about why strength training is so important for our health, bone and muscle mass. I even remember looking up articles about exercising with “Adrenal Fatigue.” Don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely not knocking strength training but depending on the status of some people’s health, they may need to take a break from it. The truth is, I wasn’t truly listening to my body like I thought I was. I was ignoring the heavy feeling in my legs I always had and the chronic fatigue. I was also ignoring the knowledge that when you’re in phase 3 HPA Axis Dysfunction you shouldn’t be doing any sort of structured exercise. Period. Exercise is a stress and we need to reduce as many stressors as we can to allow the HPA Axis to repair. We cannot build muscle or burn fat effectively in this phase. We might be able to force ourselves for a bit but it never lasts and we always suffer from more metabolic damage. That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t move. Movement is important, but gentle movement like walking and restorative yoga, not intense exercise.
I share this story because I know that I’m not the only one to struggle with stopping exercise in order to allow our body to heal. Whether we have adrenal issues, hormonal issues, an autoimmune disease or are trying to overcome an eating disorder, disordered eating and/or exercise addiction. Our HPA Axis needs to be healthy in order for the rest of the body systems to be healthy. It’s not just about diet and exercise anymore. There’s so much more to health than fitness, and being thin does not equate to being healthy. This is one of the biggest fallacies out there. In fact a lot of really fit and slim people are struggling with HPA Axis Dysfunction, digestive issues, excess oxidation, liver toxicity, and intestinal barrier dysfunction and don’t even know it.
At the end of October I stopped going to yoga classes and doing my bodyweight strength training routine that I was following. I was in the last stages of completing the Functional Diagnostic Nutrition course I was taking and wanted to focus and have as much time in the evenings as possible, so I could finish before the new year. I decided to try Piyo, a cross between yoga and pilates, as it was being touted as being good for adrenal fatigue. I got the DVD’s and calendar, which calls for 6 days a week. The workouts are 20 to 30 minutes, although there were a couple over 30 minutes, but I would just stop at the 30 minute mark. I didn’t have to get up earlier as the workouts were short enough to fit in, as long as I’d prepared my breakfast the morning before. The first 2 weeks I felt awesome getting some movement and sweat in first thing in the morning, but soon enough I began to have sleep issues again. I was waking up early and found myself grinding my teeth. Both of those are huge signs for me that my body is stressed.
I should have known that 6 days a week was too much for me, but it surprised me how quickly I dropped back into that state. This told me that I’d never really supported my body enough to get my HPA Axis functioning well and had continued to push for too long with exercise, even though I’d continued to back off. I tried reducing my Piyo workouts to 3 times per week, but I only really began to feel better when I quit completely and went back to practicing yoga. There were other contributing factors that compounded the stress including doing the workouts fasted in the morning. The other big thing that contributed was that I was playing around with my diet and trying to eat smaller meals more often again, which led to higher carb and for me, blood sugar imbalances and digestive upset. Also I was not maintaining my stress management habits like more restorative yoga practices, meditation and journalling.
I’ve also since then discovered some other internal stressors that are contributing to HPA Axis Dysfunction. And so, here I am again realizing that my body is not ready for “exercise” and needs more restorative movement at this point. I’ve been sleeping great again, especially after a good yoga class in the evening and I’ve continued to take it day by day. I’ll go to bed thinking maybe I will work out tomorrow but so far it hasn’t happened. When I start up again it will be strength training and I’ll start with 2 days per week. No metabolic conditioning, HIIT, Intervals or steady state cardio.
I wanted to share what has helped me let go of my fitness identity in order to start letting my body really heal. Just know that it’s been a process and didn’t happen overnight. I’ve gone through phases and every time I catch myself back in an overexercising phase (which is a smaller amount of exercise each time) I catch myself sooner, because I’m more aware and I’m able to turn it around sooner. I keep testing my body to see what it can handle and I keep finding it’s less than I think. Don’t be hard on yourself if you find yourself here too. It’s okay, as long as you’re aware of it, you can begin to move forward.
Here are 6 things that helped me Stop Exercising Too Much or completely. These 6 things helped me let go of my fitness identity in order to allow my body to heal and my hormones to truly get healthy.
Write Down Why You Want To Get Healthy (and overcome your health struggle)
I finally sat down and wrote out the reasons why I wanted to overcome HPA Axis Dysfunction and bring my hormones back into balance. This way, whenever I’m tempted to push myself with exercise again, I can read these reasons and realize that it’s not worth it. For me, my reasons are to overcome fatigue and have abundant energy so I can do the things I want to do, like building the business and life of my dreams with my man. I also want to have a rocking libido and the ability to get pregnant should we decide to have kids. I want to avoid age related diseases like osteoporosis, heart disease and neurological disorders. I want to stay healthy as I age so that I can continue to live my outdoorsy lifestyle and still have my brain health. These things are all more important to me than being slim, strong or muscular. I’ve already lost some strength and I’m okay with that, because I know when my HPA Axis is actually healthier I will be able to build muscle easier and my weight will land at a healthy place that’s easy to maintain. Over the years it has stayed at a pretty consistent place but when I first began this journey that was not the case.
Stop Searching For Reasons To Exercise
This will only confuse your already stressed brain more. Quit looking, as that perpetuates the cycle. All these articles are great for people that have a healthy and normal functioning HPA Axis. Look for articles or people to follow that are in line with what you’re going through instead. This will help remove the temptation to push yourself. I made this mistake for far too long. Most recently, I was an ambassador for Fitset, which I absolutely love and still recommend people check them out. The people are great and it’s a steal of a deal. In fact I still pay for a monthly pass and use it for yoga, as it’s cheaper than paying for a monthly pass at one studio alone and I get access to a number of great studios. I just felt that it wasn’t inline with my message anymore. My hormones also did not like the majority of the other classes as they were too long and too intense. Someday I may jump back on board as an ambassador but for now this feels right.
Get Really Honest With Yourself
If you are in any way still exercising from a place of fear or hate then stop. If there’s any inkling that you feel you need exercise to control your weight, so you don’t get soft, or to lose weight then please stop. Especially if you’ve struggled with an eating disorder, disordered eating or exercise addiction in the past. When I got really honest with myself, although I’d come a long way, I knew deep down that there was still some fear of weight gain if I stopped exercising. You know what? If you stop exercising and you gain some weight while eating a nourishing, whole foods diet, then maybe you’re body needed to gain some weight to allow it to heal. Like I’ve said before, it’s much easier to maintain a healthy weight when you’re body is healthy. Excess weight is a symptom of dysfunction within the body. Trust your body, love your body and just stop with the control. Let go of it all. The exercise, the calorie counting, the weighing, the measuring. Just stop. You’ll be surprised at how you can tune in, when you slow down and really hear what you’re body needs. You’ll likely hear things like walks outside, restorative yoga, hot baths, massage, sleep, sex, laughter and good nourishment.
Learn, Learn, Learn!
When I began to understand how HPA Axis Dysfunction works and why having a normal circadian rhythm and balanced hormones is so helpful for overall long term health, it made it easier for me to commit to making changes like backing off the exercise and eating more. When I understood how exercise with low cortisol was actually counter-intuitive to what my body needed and would lead to me being able to gain weight easier anyways, it didn’t make sense to continue. When I really understood what health was and that fitness did not equate to it, it made it easier to let go of my fitness identity. I want to achieve long-term health not a short-term hot bod. I’ve already seen how changes improved symptoms I was having that I thought nothing of before. It’s crazy how so many people don’t recognize the symptoms they’re having and think they’re a normal part of aging. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. This is the body progressing from dysfunctions to disease states. Symptoms are the last thing to appear and it’s the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong.
So many people don’t realize how important mindset is and how our thoughts can trigger a stress response in the body. We can’t control what happens in our lives (for the most part) but we can control how we respond and react. When we work on changing our thoughts and thought patterns, which is the hardest thing I ever had to do to beat my eating disorder/disordered eating, magic happens. It’s like a snowball affect and we get better at it the more we practice. I’ve heard people say they aren’t stressed, yet they continue to talk out loud about how “fat” they are and how they need to loose weight. If you say these words out loud, there’s no doubt in my mind that you’re also thinking them both consciously and unconsciously. This sets off a stress response in your body and contributes to stress. You can seek outside help with this or do what I did and immerse yourself in books, podcasts and blogs that focused on personal-growth, spirituality and mindset.
Discover Your Passions And Other Interests!
This can be difficult at first. I remember someone asking me at a new job I was working at, what my interests and hobbies were. This was right around the time I had first quit running and I told him I didn’t really know. I explained that I used to be a distance runner and my life had evolved around training. Now that I’d recently quit I didn’t have a clue what I liked to do and hadn’t found anything I was as passionate about yet. This is the time to try different things, to learn about yourself and dive into discovery. It doesn’t have to be other physical activities either, although it can be. You could try yoga like I did. Or maybe dance, even dare I say pole dancing! Maybe you take up painting classes, learn about feminism, cooking (and not just “clean” cooking but learn how to cook thai food, indian food, Mexican etc.) or spirituality. Try anything and everything and see what really resonates with you and where you’re able to express yourself and truly be you.
I hope you find these tips helpful with your own journey on How To Stop Exercising Too Much and discovering true health; physically, emotionally and spiritually. If you’re interested in having some support in your journey I do offer a 3 month program you can check out.