Can eating too clean or exercising too much actually be a bad thing? I didn't think so either. But, as I discovered, pounding your feet on the pavement, cycling 50 miles a day and swimming 10 miles a week has a whole bunch of not-so-great effects. Your muscles and bones tend to wear out, your nails and hair get dry and brittle, your skin starts to lose its elasticity and you end up aging faster. All of this stuff sounds pretty bad, so why would someone want to get there in the first place? Well, exercise for most of us is addictive because of the physical changes our bodies go through, surges in confidence and, of course, the endorphin boost post a long run.
I was never unhealthy or overweight--in fact, for the longest time people would say "you don't look like a Sardarni at all" which I guess meant I wasn't voluptuous or amply built. I remember growing up at a time when I, like everyone else, hated the changes my body went through during my teenage years. I also remember just how much my self-esteem had to do with how others viewed me. While, I was always pretty healthy, I would feel delighted when someone complimented me and slighted every time someone told me I looked like I had gained some weight.
When I realised that I couldn't severely restrict my diet without adversely affecting my health and mood, I switched to exercise--and boy it felt good. I would wake up at the crack of dawn every morning to either swim a mile or hit the gym. Everyone around me--my friends, family and colleagues were extremely supportive, encouraging and impressed with my diligence. I managed to squeeze in a workout everyday through erratic routines, sickness and health. I would leave school/work early so that I could reach the gym/pool on time. My friends stopped making plans with me in the day because they knew my workout would always take precedence over coffee dates or lunches. Nothing and nobody could ever come in the way of my daily workout. I would often cancel plans with my boyfriend just so that I could go and swim a mile.
I got fitter, my skin had cleared up, my clothes fit perfectly and I had boundless energy but I was lost. My friends, family and colleagues who were so supportive of my workout routine and dedication were worried that exercise was taking over my life.
It took me a long time to understand my relationship with exercise and food. I realised that in an attempt to lead a healthier and more fulfilling life--I had forgotten how to enjoy the little things. If I skipped a workout while on holiday, I would feel bad about it and try and make up for it as soon as I got back. I had feelings of regret every time I chose to do something over my workout. I didn't touch alcohol for five years in the fear of putting on weight and becoming unfit. I would go out with my friends but never really be on the same page because I would turn my nose up at a glass of wine or a tequila shot. Being addicted to working out also affected my eating habits. I would obsess over labels, macros and nutrient counts.
No one ever talks about the dangers of being addicted to the gym. Sure, its not like an addiction to alcohol, tobacco or junk food, but it can be as bad. Exercise addiction can be classified under a behavioural addiction in which a person's behaviour becomes obsessive, compulsive, and/or causes dysfunction in a person's life although its inclusion into the DSM 4 is still unknown.
Working out day after day without adequate rest or recovery can be dangerous as it weakens your immune system, makes your bones less dense, ruins your sleep cycle and adversely affects your digestive system. If you are someone or know someone who has experienced maladaptive effects of exercise-it might be worth it to take a break, slow things down a notch and speak to a professional about your relationship with exercise and food.
I have a more holistic approach to wellness now--I eat pretty clean but I allow my body some time off from the gym on a regular basis. I look and feel a whole deal better. Sure, I miss the endorphin rush, the compliments, ego boost and the ability to just get up and go workout but I tell myself that I'm a lot healthier now. I spend my days talking to people from different walks of life enabling them to make healthier wellness choices that are balanced and holistic. Ever since I healed myself--I decided to hone in on my strengths and become a nutrition and wellness consultant. I am still pretty conscious about sticking to my workouts but I am nowhere as manic and I actually enjoy the simplest pleasures of life even when I'm not indulging in exercise. Exercise is meant to add years to your life, make you look younger and your body stronger but if you can't enjoy life's many simple pleasures because of all the time you are spending in the gym--you need to rethink your stance.
This article was originally published in The Scribbler.