Exercise: How Much is Too Much?

We all know that the basic theory of weight loss is just a matter of math.  If you eat less calories than you burn, you lose weight.    Your body requires a certain amount of calories per day just to sustain life, and any "burn" above and beyond that level requires us to get our asses up and move.  Sweat.  Gasp for air (in my case). As a former bulimic (in both the traditional and the "exercise bulimia" sense), there are several years of my life in which the theory of "calories in versus calories out" took on a life of its' own.  It had its' own life (mine), and a hobby (losing weight), and I named him Bob.  Bob was very close-minded.  He was only interested in keeping food journals, counting calories, doing crazy math problems, and it seemed like the only thing I could rely on him to remember was how many calories resided in any given food, and how many calories I had remaining for the day before I reached my limit.

An actual snipit from the page of an old food log.  Scary.

He wouldn't let me eat many things, and made me work out even when I was sick or tired.  Bob was a real douche.

Calories in vs. calories out (a.k.a "Bob") made me keep exhaustive food logs.  I knew how many calories I had to burn before I would theoretically lose a pound of "fat".  Bob made me learn about ketosis, and he made sure that every single day, I (we) were operating at a state of calorie deficit.  The only way to achieve happiness was by listening to Bob and therefore losing weight.  There was no deviating from this course.  If I (we) lost our way, we barfed and moved on.

In the process of listening to Bob, I developed a fantastically rigid workout plan.  I worked out 6-7 days per week, and sometimes I worked out in the morning before work, on my lunch hour, and then again after work.  I was spending virtually all of my free time at the gym.  Sweating.  Panting.  Burning out.

When I began recovery for my eating disorder (you can read all about that here), I was instructed by my therapist not to work  out for at least two weeks.  At the time, I was very sick and had a painful case of pleurisy.  I felt devastated about not being able to work out, but I was ready to get better at that point, so I didn't fight the recommendation.  I also didn't deviate from the recommendation.  I was surprised by the fact that not working out didn't make me self-destruct.

My fears of becoming a big blob of mush did not come true.  I didn't lose all of my muscle tone.  In fact, with less emphasis on the gym and calorie counting, I was able to remember that I liked scrapbooking and making cards and sewing.  I had FREE TIME again!

Why am I rehashing the past, you ask?

In my present life, I often find myself in a state of reflection.  Why am I doing the things I'm doing?  Am I doing them for the right reasons?  Should I be avoiding that behavior for fear that it's going to lead me back into Bob's welcoming arms?  Am I making the best choices that I can make for my present and future health?

Some recent instances when I've really reflected on this:

  • When I decided to stop eating meat (this was one of the ways that I originally transitioned into my "hardcore" Bob phase)
  • When I decided to run longer races (am I running to lose weight, for health reasons, or to lose weight?)
  • When I decided to stop eating dairy (see above)
  • When I decided to eat more seasonally

All of these things become more of an issue for me because I always feel the need to be methodical about anything food and eating related.  The fact that I stopped eating meat made me want to make a spreadsheet and keep a food log just specifically to ensure that I was eating "enough" of what I needed to maintain a healthy diet.  However, keeping logs and being overly meticulous causes me to get a little neurotic, and I lose myself in the process of it all.

Today, this has come up again because I'm about to start training for my triathlon.  After booking my swim lessons yesterday, it occurred to me that my workout schedule will look like this:

Monday: Kickboxing

Tuesday: Run or bike

Wednesday: Kickboxing

Thursday: Run or bike

Friday: Swim lessons

Saturday or Sunday: Swim or bike

My workout schedule is full.  Do you see my dilemma?  Is my extremely full workout schedule OK simply because I'm training for specific events?  Would it not be OK if I was just doing it because I felt like it?  Or, is it OK just because I'm having fun?

It's likely that I'm thinking far too much about this whole process, but part of the reason why I think I'm able to keep Bob out of my life is because I have always remained introspective about the process.  I tend to be hyper-aware of the fact that certain things that I do could be spawned by intentions that are not entirely altruistic.  Because truly, when things get tough, he often stands there with open arms, just waiting for a hug.

I also know that in order to heal from disordered eating and body image issues, it takes a lot of work.  If you don't put in the work, but rather just follow the methodical process of things, you don't really give your mind an opportunity to learn.  I feel the need to consistently remind myself that although I am significantly recovered from all of my issues, there is still a part of me that wants to revert back to the things that are most comfortable.  Sort of like any other person who has faced an addiction (drugs, food, alcohol, etc.).

For me, exploring the things that are swimming around in my brain as each of these new "challenges" present themselves helps me to keep everything in perspective.  In this case, I'm aware of the fact that I could potentially be triggered by all of this working out, and end up turning my training into an opportunity to relapse. 

However, although I do plan on working out 6 days per week for a while, I've also made a decision that I'm not bringing Bob along.  That douche is on his own from now on.

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