I recently read an article that inspired me regarding exercise. And it wasn’t a woman talking about how much she pushes herself. Or how to get better toned arms. It was about a woman who realized that she was exercising too much. Her name is Erin.
Erin, blogger of Queen City Sweat, did not share a picture on Instagram of how perfectly fit she was or the extreme limits she was putting her body through. She posted a picture of happiness and balance. But, this was also comparing herself to a time in her life when she was taking it too far.
She explained in the caption:
“On the left I was ADDICTED to working out and was running myself into the ground. I was not eating close to what I should’ve been eating and ended up with a severe case of anemia causing a lack of energy to the point where I could barely get out of bed. Yet, I still forced myself to go to the gym although I felt like a zombie. The reason for this? Instagram. It becomes so easy to start comparing yourself to others on here, which led me to developing a mindset of — ‘how skinny can I get?’ rather than ‘how healthy can I be?'”
Instagram is barraged with people pushing themselves to extremes to get the “perfect body”. Or pictures of girls showing it off in one way or another.
As a mother of a little girl this disturbs me. Yes, I want her to be healthy. But, there is a line. It can get a little fuzzy but, if it turns into an obsession about looking perfect, that’s awfully close to exercise bulimia.
When I went through the certification process to become a personal trainer, I remember distinctly the guidelines: Exercise a minimum of 2 days a week and a maximum of 5 and no more than an hour each time.
What happens when we exercise too much? Chelsea Bush, a journalist and writer of Survival of the Realist gives us the lowdown:
1. Decreased performance. A drop in your workout performance is one of the earliest signs of overload, according to Jini Cicero, a conditioning specialist based in Los Angeles, Calif. Altered performance levels are often more apparent in endurance activities such as running, swimming and cycling, she says.
2. Disinterest in exercise. A significant decrease in motivation or enjoyment of the activity can be a major sign of burnout, Cicero says. This more often occurs in weight lifters, sprinters or soccer players who are driven by speed and power.
3. Mood changes. Depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and irritability are common when your body is overstressed physically. Those same stress hormones you release when you’re emotionally stressed are also released when you’re physically overloaded, Cicero explains.
4. Aches and Pains and Soreness that never goes away. Persistent muscle soreness that lasts for hours or days after your workout is a sure sign you need more rest, according to Joseph Ciccone, a physical therapist at ColumbiaDoctors Eastside Sports Therapy in New York City.
5. Elevated resting heart rate. “When you put more stress on the heart, it has to work a lot harder,” Ciccone says. An increase in your normal resting heart rate, say, from 50 beats per minute to 65 beats per minute, could indicate that you’re placing excessive stress on your body.
6. Fatigue. Mental or physical grogginess is a hallmark sign of overtraining, says nutritional biochemist Shawn M. Talbott and author of Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living, based on his research on over-stress patterns in professional athletes. “The knee-jerk reaction to sluggishness is to exercise for an energy boost, but it’s a catch-22,” he says. “Another workout might wake you up short-term, but you’ll be worse off later on.”
7. Insomnia. Being in a state of overload often comes with disrupted sleep patterns, so instead of getting that much-needed rest, Talbott says, “you become restless and can’t fall asleep.”
8. Diminished appetite. “A decrease in appetite can occur in the middle to later stages of overtraining, and goes hand in hand with feelings of fatigue and lack of motivation,” says Stenstrup. By slowing down bodily processes like metabolism, the body attempts to force a reduction in its workload.
9. Fat gain. If you’ve lost weight but noticed an increase in body fat, you could be in the later stages of exercise overload. The body responds to prolonged stress by elevating levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, Stenstrup says. Over time this will lead to increased storage of adipose tissue, as well as inhibit steroid-like hormones that normally help increase muscle. A decrease in muscle mass can cause you to shed a few pounds, but this isn’t a good thing since it means your body’s less efficient at burning fat.
10. Weakened immune system. Don’t try to push through that exercise funk, Talbott warns, “or you’ll keep sliding down—to a weakened immune system, inflammation, and outright injury.” Not a good thing. Prolonged overtraining can take weeks, even months, to recover from, and can put your health at risk. Chronic inflammation, for example, has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Bottom line: Nurture your body and give it a much-deserved break when it needs to rest after that tough workout.
If this isn’t motivation enough, then how about the fact that our bodies go into survival mode, holding onto fat that it needs and slowing down the metabolism.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m a health advocate and exercise is vital to our bodies. Only 20% of Americans are exercising enough. Our continued sedentary lives and overeating has led to an obesity epidemic. But, there are those that are taking it too far, especially people who do not have weight to lose and it has become an obsession.
Erin gives some advice for those who may be overdoing it:
“My only advice for you is don’t fall into the Instagram trap,” she wrote. “Not everything on here is picture perfect. Stop comparing yourself to others and start loving the body you have been given. After all, it is capable of great things! ”