Breaking Free: Overcoming Disordered Exercise Habits for a Healthier Menopausal JourneyOct 08, 2023
You’ve probably heard about disordered eating and eating disorders, but have you heard about disordered exercise habits? Both are very closely connected! Compulsive or disordered exercising is not something we hear about often because exercise is mostly discussed as a positive factor. As someone who has been active her entire life and spent decades working in the fitness industry, I understand the importance of staying active for both physical and mental reasons, and I’ve seen first-hand the value of exercise during this transformative stage of life. However, it's crucial to recognize when our relationship with exercise becomes unhealthy and controlling rather than empowering. So how can it turn into something negative? Quite sneakily, actually.
My Personal Journey
I have been on a remarkable journey of self-discovery, not only as a fitness expert but also as a woman going through menopause. Through this self-discovery, I discovered that at the height of my disordered exercise habits, I was in the worst relationships of my life, both with others and with myself. It's a period in my life I look back on with a mix of regret and gratitude, for it was during this time that I learned the profound impact that exercise can have on our mental and emotional well-being, both positive and negative.
For many years, I used exercise as a means to control aspects of my life and my body. It felt like a lifeline, a way to cope with the challenges that life threw at me. I thought that exercise was synonymous with being healthy and that more was always better. So, I worked out twice a day, every day, convinced that I was being healthy. Little did I know that this seemingly positive habit was slowly turning into something negative. I was using exercise to avoid confronting the issues that needed attention in my life. It became a way to numb myself to the stressors of abusive relationships, body image issues, and personal life. Instead of fostering self-care, it became a tool for avoidance. I was busy being on the path to achieving my “best body.” I put that in quotation marks because since then, I’ve realized that the “ideal body” remained elusive no matter how much I chased it. My issues were not with my body; they were with my mind. I had those experiences in my 20s and 30s, long before the roller coaster of menopause, but the lessons learned are some that I like to share because they are universal no matter the stage of life.
Recognizing the Red Flags
Because exercise is so beneficial for health, it is very easy to fall into the trap of disordered exercise habits. We're often bombarded with societal pressures to stay young and fit, and exercise can feel like a way to meet those expectations. However, it's essential to recognize the red flags that indicate a problematic relationship with exercise:
- Obsession: Constantly thinking about exercise, even to the detriment of other responsibilities.
- Avoidance: Using exercise as a way to escape from life's challenges and emotions.
- Physical Strain: Ignoring physical signs of overtraining or exhaustion.
- Negative Self-Talk: Berating oneself for missed workouts or perceived shortcomings in fitness.
- Guilt: exercising to compensate for food. “I’m going to have to work off these nachos tomorrow.”
The Path to Healing
Acknowledging that you may have a negative relationship with exercise is the first step towards healing. During menopause, a majority of women report being highly dissatisfied with their bodies and food restriction combined with over-exercising, becomes the go-to formula to “control” that. It doesn’t work, and worst of all, it can backfire quite badly. Rather than jumping to extreme measures, I’d love for you to use this phase in your life to evaluate some of those learned “strategies” that you’ve used your entire life to control how you look. Do you really want to continue on that hamster wheel, or are you ready to try something new? I hope you said yes. Here are some strategies that helped me reclaim a healthy relationship with fitness:
- Mindful Exercise: Shift your focus from control to mindfulness. Engage in activities that genuinely bring you joy and make you feel good.
- Self-Reflection: Take time to reflect on your motivations behind exercise. Are you doing it for yourself or to meet external expectations?
- Seek Support: Reach out to friends, family, or professionals who can provide guidance and emotional support during this journey.
- Embrace Variety: Diversify your exercise routine to include activities you genuinely enjoy, ensuring a sustainable approach. Look back on types of movement you used to love and maybe left behind. For me rekindling my passion for roller skating and racquetball was a game changer. Maybe it’s time to bring back that 90’s step aerobics class 😀
The Impact on Relationships
One aspect I deeply explored during my journey was the impact of disordered exercise habits on my relationships. I was so consumed by my rigid exercise routine that it left little room for nurturing meaningful connections with others. It strained my relationships with loved ones and made me withdraw from social activities.
Moreover, I found myself in unhealthy romantic relationships, seeking validation and control outside of myself. It was only when I started addressing my exercise habits that I began to see the parallel between my need for control in exercise and my choices in relationships. Breaking free from disordered exercise habits not only improved my physical health but also allowed me to foster healthier connections with those around me.
Menopause is a transformative stage in a woman's life, filled with both challenges and possibilities. Exercise should be a supportive ally in this journey, not a crutch for avoidance. By recognizing and addressing disordered exercise habits, we can create sustainable, fulfilling, and truly empowering movement routines that enhance our overall well-being during menopause.
Remember, it's never too late to redefine your relationship with exercise and embrace the spirit of possibility that menopause offers. Together, we can become stronger, healthier, and open to the adventures that lie ahead.
I’d love to hear how you would classify your relationship with exercise and movement. If you would like to share it, please email me at [email protected]