👉 Want to know how to overcome overtraining, exercise addiction and an overall uneasy relationship with exercise?
👉 Wondering what the overtraining syndrome symptoms are?
👉 How much exercise should you do in recovery?
👉 What about AFTER recovery?
In this post we're going to cover:
how to overcome exercise bulimia, exercise addiction and compulsive movement in diet recovery, eating disorder recovery and disordered eating recovery.
Plus I talk about the difference of exercise levels during recovery and what exercise looks like after recovery.
You in? 😉
The structure of this post will be centered around answering a question I got about exercise and I also want to talk about just exercise in recovery as well, but also exercise and recovery versus exercise after recovery.
And at the end, I’ll share with you how I approach body movement and exercise. (And how that’s going to be different for you.)
This question was from Sydney.
“Hey Kayla. In the near future, could you do a video on exercise after recovery and what you currently do for exercise? I’m trying to find a balance with my running because I myself am a runner, but I notice that I end up having to eat a lot more throughout the day when I just run three to 3.5 miles. And it’s tiring me out a bit as well. So I’m trying to find more of a balance and wondering how and if you found a balance with exercise out of recovery.”
So for the sake of this post, let’s just call exercise "body movement" because most of y'all need to re-identify what exercise even means to you, am I right?
First of all you have to focus on shifting the meaning of how you approach body movement.
So you don’t think of exercise as just this painstaking job and task that you have to get over with, in order to maintain your weight, in order to look a certain way, or in order to be healthy.
All of these reasons that takes us away from the real meaning and purpose of body movement, and take the joy out of moving our bodies!
Because yes, body movement (in moderate amounts) is good, it’s healthy.
We’re human beings, we're meant to move!
BUT... at the same time, exercise for people that are coming from:
...Then exercise is not healthy for us!
So the key is really redefining what healthy body movement even is for you.
And it’s going to be different for all of us.
And take note, as this is simply rough guidance to show you:
I personally had setbacks too during the period where I was trying to have a healthier relationship with exercise.
As you may know, I was hardcore into the fitness lifestyle, I was training for competitions, I was dieting down, depleting down, using diuretics to prep for photoshoots, and always manipulating my body with exercise compulsion.
So eventually the exercise began to ran off of guilt rather than off health or pure enjoyment like it started out as.
And then my relationship with exercise went to the extreme of guilt-driven.
And I just had to maintain this image that I'd created for myself.
It became having to maintain this fitness and body leanness even though it wasn't even fun anymore.
I couldn't travel. I couldn't be spontaneous. I couldn't go on a long road trip. I couldn't just be a normal functioning human being without these thoughts of exercise guilt and anxiety dictating my days.
Can you relate?
Anyways, enough of that tangent.
If that sounds you, know you're not alone, and I’ve been through it too.
So I want to talk about how to get past that.
First of all, to answer this maint question, she said her appetite increases when she's running a lot.
Obviously, the more exercise or body movement that we’re doing, our appetite is going to increase because it needs to make up for that energy expenditure.
So we need to listen to that appetite increase.
We can’t restrict and think, “Oh my gosh, I’m eating too much.”
When energy expenditure goes up, so does the appetite to replenish.
So you don’t want to fall into that caloric deficit which creates all of these problems.
Note too that this is where it gets tricky with answering these questions vaguely from people I don’t know more about.
👉 your background (aka how much, how long, what types of restriction and over training have you done and are coming from),
👉 where you’re at in your recovery? how long you’ve been in recovery?
👉 do you have your period or have you’ve gotten your period back and if so, for how long?
👉 what kind of symptoms you’re facing?
👉 how is your mindset towards exercise?
👉 are you exercising every single day, 3 miles+ ?
These are the kinds of things that you want to ask yourself.
These are the things that I don’t know unless I work with you.
Symptomatically speaking, some further things to ask yourself:
👉 do you have thyroid problems,
👉 do you have extreme hunger,
👉 do you have fatigue,
👉 are you still feeling cold all the time,
👉do you still have water retention / edema,
👉 do you face aches and pains all over your body,
👉 do you feel guilt around your body that makes you want to exercise?
If you answer yes to any of these, then I would recommend to take an extended break and exercise rehab from body movement, and then revisit at a later time!
(For an in-depth step by step guide breakdown of how to properly go through an Exercise Rehab and then reintegrate balanced body movement thereafter, please joining my Find Your Balance Program)
Here, I can give you some basic vague guidelines.
There’s the basic fundamentals of recovery like eat more, rest more, and repeat kind of thing.
But all of these other little details, there’s so much more that goes into answering these questions.
For one, I’d probably suggest to not be running three to 3.5 miles every single day. Right?
And then I would want to ask you how is your mindset towards the exercise?
Are you just exercising because you fear how big your appetite is and you want to make up for how many calories you’re eating by purging those calories via running, via any form of exercise?
Because this is a form of exercise bulimia like I've discussed before.
So you’re purging those calories, you’re burning off those calories as a way to compensate. Instead of throwing up purging or laxative purging, you’re exercise purging in a sense.
Is that where you’re at?
Is there that compulsive factor coming from guilt rather than love and joy?
Your body, contrary to popular belief, does know how to maintain a healthy weight without all this exercise and without all this calorie counting, and dieting, and restricting ourselves.
If we simply:
✦ let our bodies do its thing,
✦ give the body abundance and consistency,
✦ not shame our body and hate our body's so much
✦ continue living our lives
✦ eat as cued to,
...then the body can naturally maintain healthy weight to where it feels healthy.
(this may not be where our minds think that we "should" be according to the current ideal of our culture, which may be at a very low BMI, a very low body fat percentage. That it’s just not natural for us)
✦ if it takes extreme amounts of exercise that we don’t enjoy doing,
✦ if it takes an extreme amount of mental and emotional strength to restrict our foods
✦ if we feel deprived
✦ if we feel miserable and lack quality of life,
✦ if our physical health and mental health suffers in order to try to maintain a specific weight,
...then that means that it’s probably not our natural healthy set weight.
👉 where are the intentions coming from when you want to go move your body or exercise?
👉 as for the type of fitness that you’re choosing, why are you choosing that form of fitness?
👉 Is it because you think that it’s more fat burning?
👉 Do you think that it’s going to give you this different body that is not natural for your body?
👉 Do you even enjoy the exercise you're doing? Are you REALLY enjoying it, or did you used to enjoy it but then you took it to the extreme and now it feels like a monotonous routine or job?
...Because this is where the problem lies.
It’s not exercise that is the problem.
It’s what we do with exercise.
Just like food isn’t the problem.
It’s what we do with food.
If we start to try to control and restrict food, then food starts to control and restrict us.
We need to not restrict the food.
So if we start to become extreme, and excessive, and compulsive with the exercise, this is when we face problems.
So it’s not the body that’s the problem.
It’s what we’re doing to the body...
...as a result from the diets and the overexercise and the insecurities, or even just the quest to just be ultra healthy.
Because sometimes the intent simply comes from wanting to be the best version of yourself.
You want to be healthy. And you've been told this is what health looks like, exercising like a maniac everyday, the more exercise the better and more commended you are!
But out of it all...it comes from good intentions.
Maybe you want to be ethical with your diet choices, but then it just goes to the extreme and your health suffers.
So as always - you have to find a balance for yourself.
So how do you go about this in your diet recovery process?
First off, really be honest with yourself about where you’re at in recovery as we move forward.
Taking a break from exercise completely - a complete rest for an extended amount of time - is not only necessary for people who don't have their period.
Because, for example, what about men that don’t have period's to lose, how do they measure their state of health? Right?
But also females - what if they got to an ultra lean body fat%, but they never lose their period, yet they still face all of these other starvation symptoms or all of these other diet induced physical and mental issues.
Because some of people that get ultra lean, they don’t lose their period.
Perhaps they're on birth control which continues to give them a "fake" period, or for others their period just becomes irregular rather than gone altogether.
So if this is you, if you're still facing:
Then you don't need to lose your period, to show you are facing overtraining syndrome.
Plus, do you have the mindset towards exercise of: "just you use it to burn off calories, you can’t travel without stressing about your exercise regime or missing a workout, you can’t be there for your kids or your spouse, or any other relationships and your family, for the stress of your exercise, or exercise purging, or just exercise to maintain your fitness, and different aspects of your life is suffering because of the compulsion, and obsession, and hyper fixation around exercise?
I personally found that my endurance and strength, although I took such a long break off from exercise, like a year and a half or more.
I found I was so weak and fatigued anyways, even though I looked fit back in the fitness days, I was weak and tired.
And then when I approached body movement after recovery, I had SO much energy and strength, and endurance.
And for the most part, I felt body movement was so much more sustainable and I was so much more energetic, and I could do things that I couldn’t even do before.
So I just want to say that if you’re worried about losing your fitness...
It’s going to be way better than where you’re coming from after recovery!
You’re going to feel way better during your body movement exercises when you’re recovered and nourished again.
And it’s going to be enjoyable and sustainable because it’s not going to be "how many calories can I burn? How many reps can I do? Oh my gosh, so-and-so’s doing this. I should be doing that."
Instead, it's “Wow, this feels good. I don’t have to push myself too much to where I’m exhausted. And it feels real health and fitness.”
Because true health and fitness is not just a look. It’s a feeling - Mentally, physically, and emotionally.
The best recommendation for a lot of people from what I've seen and from what I’ve learned from research in recovery..
It is a good rule of thumb when you’re cutting out exercise completely for a period of time, but not forever, (which is the healthiest thing that you can do at this point).
If you resonated with any of that that I was just talking about.
Taking a break from exercise is going to be so crucial and imperative.
If you’re trying to break these compulsive behaviors and thoughts, it’s really hard to get yourself to stop initially.
But then what do you do after you stop?
Well, you know I don’t recommending timelines, but timelines can be good to kind of give you a rough estimate of where to start from.
And then once you get to that timeline, if you get there and you still don’t feel right or fully healed in that department, go from there and reassess where you’re at.
And be prepared that it might just take a little bit longer for you.
So a good rule of thumb is to aim for 90 days without exercise, just resting and eating to satisfaction and some light walking and stretching.
Along with this exercise rest season, you need to keep eating.
It's not a matter of, "oh I'm not exercising therefore I don't deserve to eat now!" (as a compensation behavior)
So, whether that’s 2,500 calories, 5,000 calories, 10,000 calories, whatever you're appetite is calling for.
If your body’s asking for those calories after restriction, then you need that.
And you don’t need to be stressing yourself out, and wasting all that energy towards exercise and muscle breakdown, and repair.
No, that needs to go towards healing, replenishing.
And making up for not only maintenance now, but for the past damage and depletion, and malnourishment, and everything that happens.
A lot of people during this time may feel joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue and more when they enter into a period of rest and recovery after so many years of going going going without a season of rest.
The last thing you want to do is continue to break down more muscle, use up all your energy, and just continue to deplete yourself.
You need all of that energy and rest - you seriously need as much rest as you can to restore balance.
Even if you feel so tired and fatigued all the time even more so now than you did while you were exercising yourself into the ground - that's normal so just rest as much as you can - without guilt.
I am aware that everyone’s schedule is different and not everyone’s recovery will look perfect.
But just do what you can when you can.
The good rule of thumb is 90 days as mentioned.
And then once you get to that 90 days, if you still feel guilt-driven thoughts, you still feel guilty for not exercising, you feel compulsive to go exercise, etc at the 90 days, then you should probably keep going.
So why do you want to take this 90 day period?
This is a mind-body rehabilitation process.
So what you want to do is you want to get to a place in your recovery where exercise, food, and your body are completely separated in your brain and thoughts.
They’re not linked at all.
This part of the neural rewiring process.
It’s just one aspect.
Because not everyone faces exercise issues.
But the goal is that you want to completely unlink all of these - exercise, eating, body image.
They don’t want to be intermingled and intertwined.
You don’t want to be doing one because of the other.
And then that feeds into the other, and it’s this never-ending cycle.
They all want to be separate in your mind.
And sometimes you just have to force yourself if you’re like, “I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to start this process.”
Sometimes it’s slower for others, sometimes it’s cutting down slower.
But for a lot of people, they find they just need to go cold turkey, like with any other compulsion.
So you may have to find the approach that’s going to work for you.
But also, be honest with yourself, and challenge yourself, and push yourself.
Because a lot of us are adults here again, and we often have to force ourselves in these situations knowing that we have to be willing to do whatever it takes in order for us to recover.
We have to be at that place where we'll do whatever it takes because we're so sick and exhausted of living how we've been living.
So if this is what it’s going to take, then I’m in, "bye exercise! See you soon!"
That is the mindset you have to adopt.
And you may have that period where you have to parent yourself through by forcing yourself to not go exercise no matter how much anxiety you’re having, or fear you’re having or doubts you’re having.
Any of these weird thoughts that comes up to tell you:
No, that is the disordered old way of thinking, the neural networks that have been created to keep you where you’re coming from, to keep you stuck.
So the only way to get out of that is to completely change what you’ve been doing.
And you have to force yourself to stop, because you know that these behaviors aren’t going to get you to where you want to be.
So if you’re willing to do whatever it takes, then you’re going to have to stop.
You’re going to have to stop exercise in this case, and you’re going to have to quarantine yourself for a while.
I had to quarantine myself.
I couldn’t go to the gym.
I couldn’t go use the exercise weights and couldn’t go on these long bike rides.
And I couldn’t even go on walks. (because they would become compulsive)
I couldn’t do anything for months.
During this break, this is where you can start to unlink everything.
Because you’re still eating and you’re still resting, and your body’s changing.
You may face water retention, you may face weight gain that’s necessary.
You may face all these things, and you may be tempted to go exercise, but you’re not allowing yourself to.
So this is the process of un-linking because you’re eating and you’re not able to go exercise the calories off and you're showing your brain, "oh hey, everything's actually okay, life isn't ending without exercise.."
Because you don’t have that outlet anymore.
Over time excessive exercise will not be your desired outlet.
You just have to deal with eating and resting, and you don’t have that compulsion to go to anymore.
So that slowly un-links eating-exercise in the brain and then you realize you’re okay.
And then you start to trust your body more, your body starts to trust you.
You begin to realize you’re better off without that compulsion.
And you do the deep work of realizing where the compulsion’s even started from.
You realize your worth and identity, and all of the inner work beyond being the fit chick, the fit dude, the person that’s always at the gym.
Your value only comes from looking fit.
And this un-linking process is important so that when you’re ready to return to body movement in the future, maybe just a walk for you feel like energy and you want to get outside, you replace that mindset towards body movement from the mindset of guilt driven body movement to the mindset of enjoyment of body movement again.
You're also un-linking exercise:
So all of that good stuff.
This is how you neurally rewire your brain around exercise and you create new neural networks in your brain to completely transform and heal your relationship with exercise.
So then as you take a long enough time in this quarantine, in your cocoon, un-link the compulsion in your brain while you’re mentally and emotionally, physically, working on yourself, building yourself up and healing without the exercise compulsion....
And then, when you have enough energy to slowly start introducing it again,
...and you are being hyper aware of yourself knowing that this is in you and this is where you’re coming from, and seeing how it goes slowly..
Here’s the important part...
When you’re slowly starting to reintroduce body movement, again, ask yourself all those same questions again.
If you find yourself having any compulsive thoughts or behaviors creep back in, you need to pump the brakes again.
You may to have to take maybe another month, two month, 90 days off of exercise to continue to work on the compulsions, and rewiring your brain, restructuring your brain, how your body and brain reacts to exercise and body movement.
Take time to reassess where you are.
And then in the future, you may slowly start to try to reintroduce body movement again.
So pump those brakes as quickly as you can the moment you start to sense that.
Don’t let it take over. Don’t let it just creep back in and you just find yourself completely back to square one and you have to do this all over again.
But also don't be afraid of yourself or exercise.
You are capable of figuring this out and not allowing thoughts to overtake you.
You control your thoughts, your thoughts DON'T control you.
Don't allow yourself to go down the rabbit whole and go too far, it’s not worth it.
I can attest it is not worth that.
I went back to the extreme too many times.
My clients have gone back too many times.
They know, I know it’s not worth it.
And you’ll find that.
Maybe you’ll just have to learn that by yourself.
And then you’ll come back to recovery and you’ll be like, “Crap, why did I do that?”
But this is why I do this, to prevent any extra additional prolonging of this process if possible because I didn’t have someone to be like, “Nope, don’t do that. Just keep focus. Do this. You’re on the right track. It’s going to balance out.”
I didn’t have someone that.
So if I could do that for you, just be patient now in order to not have this process be longer than it should be.
So just be patient now.
Do what you got to do now si you’re not in this longer than it normally would take.
Take a break again 90 days, and then reassess because it’s different for everyone.
Maybe it’s 120 days, maybe it’s a whole year of exercise complete break.
At the end of the day, only you are going to get you to where you want to be.
You are going to be the one that holds yourself back.
Do what your gut is telling you to do that you just don’t want to believe but you know is right.
Get away from the guilt driven exercise, which is the exercise bulimia or just obsession with health, which trying to be too healthy often makes you unhealthy, right?
Replace it with the healthy driven exercise, intuitive exercise that just always fluctuates and changes, and there’s no set regime or schedule.
Unless that’s truly what you thrive off of and that’s what works for you.
But make sure to always stay in tune with yourself.
And if you do like schedules and regimes, make sure it’s not extreme.
Make sure that if it’s your set schedule, check in with yourself.
If you’re really not feeling it that day or that moment, don’t do it.
Don’t force yourself to do something that you’re not feeling up to.
That’s just going to cause a lot more harm than good.
It’s not going to be healthy for you if you just try to force yourself to do that too early on, or just maybe it’s that day, or that week, or that month.
"I want to go to this waterfall in a swimming hole. I need to hike to get there. I’m going to pace myself and not push myself, and not focus on burning calories. I’m going to do the hike so I can go swim at this beautiful waterfall. And if I can’t make it up, like I feel extremely exhausted and swollen, I’m going to turn around, and it's not because I'm a failure, it's just not my time and my body needs more time to heal. And if I know that it’s too much, I’m going to go to this other swimming water hole where I just have to casually walk to and it’s not a hike, you know? And maybe you don’t going to water holes, but you get the idea of what I’m trying to say."
When I started to add back in exercise, it was a very, very slow process.
And a couple of times even after the initial full, complete rest and break from exercise, I had to myself pump the brakes because I felt that compulsion coming back in.
And I had to be like, “Nope. This is not healthy. I’m not going back where I’m coming from. I’m stopping now.”
Sometimes we have to be forced into this too.
Even if we’re not listening to it, something may happen, an injury, a big life event, a sickness, to where you are forced you to stop.
You may have a back injury, you may have a leg injury, you may have some traumatic stressful event happen being in a car accident and you’re forced to stop, which is maybe just God trying to tell you to stop but you’re not listening because you’re stubborn.
Then you’re just going to be forced to stop. That happened to me. So maybe don’t let that be you.
So do you want to be that person?
I’m sometimes that person, and I don’t like that.
Don't be prideful, be the person that's able to honor your body and be like, “Yo, I need a break. I’m going to honor this and listen to this and respect this. I’m not going to push myself out of pride.”
I had these couple exercise breaks. One for three months, and then for nine months, and there may have been others.
So I completely rested from exercise, working and chilling, and hanging out with family, and just not moving a lot.
And I needed that, and I couldn’t have recovered if I didn’t do that.
Currently, I’ve talked about this before, but I don’t have a set exercise schedule because it’s just always fluctuating.
My moods, my energy levels, what I’m working on, my stress levels, what I’m going through in life, my inspirations, my draw to specific things.
It’s always changing, just like my food, and just like my body, and just like my sleep schedule.
Just like the seasons of life.
It’s just always changing.
We just have to be okay with the change, and ebb and flow of life.
It’s a lot easier to go through life if you can just accept that, you know?
That change is inevitable and we don’t have control.
We think we may have control, but we don’t.
We may trick ourselves into thinking we have control for a time, and then eventually we hit our breaking point.
And we’re forced to wake up and change, and let go of control.
So I may go through spurts where I want to exercise with some of our weights that we have in our back room because it helps my back.
Because as you guys probably know or may not, I have scoliosis.
In recovery I wasn’t working out, even though I had scoliosis and my back was fine, because my body wanted that rest.
But now, in the long term, my body does ask for more movement and lets me know in my back, and I make sure to try to keep up with some back exercises to keep up with the strength of my back because it’s like an S, and it needs some strength.
But I didn’t use that excuse to continue my exercise compulsion in my recovery, which I see a lot of people do.
It’s just a completely different approach now.
I like to swim in the pool, or at the beach, or at swimming holes with waterfalls, or at rivers when we go camping, or just around here in the summer outdoors.
I’m not swimming laps to burn calories.
I’m just swimming and enjoying it. Just having fun.
I like to hike to waterfalls.
That’s why that was my example and swim in the swimming hole.
But this isn’t that often though.
Sometimes it’s often, sometimes it’s not often.
I like to ride my bike in the spring and fall.
Obviously I used to like to lift weights and go to the gym every day, but that’s changed.
I used to like to run.
More like a walk, jog. lol
I was never a long distance just constant runner.
I don’t do that anymore.
I like to stretch, again, for my back.
I used to be a part of a yoga studio and do Pilates.
Don’t do that anymore.
I like simple walks on the beach at sunset.
I like walking to the fridge. 😉
I like walking, and it’s really hot right now so I’m not doing that.
But I do spend a lot of my time and days on the computer, on my desk.
And I have this stand sit desk.
And it’s not to burn calories like I’ve heard people say.
Honestly that never even crossed my mind, but I’ve heard people say that.
I got the stand sit desk again to help my back. I just need that option to stand.
Because just sitting here all day all the hours, it just hurts my back and hurts my butt.
And I like to stretch.
So I’ll stand for a bit, stretch it out until it feels better and then I feel sitting again, and I’ll sit.
And I know for myself, exercising rigorously or just exercising in general, currently at least, may change in the future, but probably not, exercising 4 to 5 times per week is just too much for me, physically.
So sometimes I work out just once a week, and that’s the way it was.
When I was introducing exercise, I was exercising once a week.
Maybe even once a month, and it was a very slow process.
But that was just me.
I wanted to make sure that I did this right and that I wasn’t going back.
So sometimes when I’m traveling too, maybe I’m walking a lot every single day.
But I’m not thinking about again, burning calories, maintaining a lean body.
I’m just exploring and enjoying my time.
And if I was too tired to do that, then I wouldn’t do it.
Some weeks I could workout twice a week exercising.
Sometimes it could be three times a week, 30 minutes.
And sometimes I’ll go for weeks or months without exercising.
I don’t really think about it.
This is how it feels, “Today I feel this.” Or, “Today, I need to do something for my back.” Or, “Today it’s a beautiful day. Let’s go on a bike ride.”
And around my period, I don’t want to do anything.
So I don’t, except chill with a heating pad and whatever foods I’m craving because my appetite rises then too.
And I’m not doing more energy expenditure.
It’s just that my body needs more food around my period.
Alright, so, that was a long drawn out article, lol
But I felt like I wanted to say all of that for this topic.
So I hope that that helped, and hope that answered your questions on exercise in recovery.
And I hope that you can understand why it’s hard to answer that question without speaking to you.
To your freedom!
P.S. I’m hosting a free masterclass specifically for people who want to stop feeling obsessed around food and truly heal their metabolism and you’re invited! 👉 Click here to sign up.