Saturday, February 20, 2010

Question # 18: Exercise During Recovery

I was asked this question via an email this week:

"How did you deal with exercise during recovery? Do you exercise now?"

During recovery, there were points when I over-exercised. I wanted recovery, but I was so scared of the weight gain that it entailed for me, that I overcompensated when I was having hard times. I was never one of those girls who stayed at the gym for hours on end, but I did run farther and more often than I should have when I wasn't eating enough to warrant such activity, let alone a sedentary lifestyle.

Eventually, as I got farther in recovery, I began to understand that for me - if I was going to stay healthy - there was a fine line between exercise and overexercise. That's just how I was. I knew that if I started working out or running, I could (and probably would) go overboard. So I gave myself days on which I was "allowed" to exercise... and made sure that my food intake was comparable to the exercise at hand. For a while, I stopped exercising all together. Maybe that's shocking to a lot of you, but it's true.

Fact of the matter was I needed to gain weight. And when I was finally eating three meals a day and a snack or two, exercise was only proving counterproductive. I was still at a weight where every pound I'd gain from eating properly would only be taken away again by exercise. So I told myself I'd get to a healthier weight and THEN I'd start exercising again.

If you give it some serious thought, people who are underweight really shouldn't be exercising. Maybe some light weight lifting to build muscle or keep active, but nothing like running or intensive cardio. No biking or treadmills. It's not safe. It's not healthy. And it will make you lose weight.

Did I get antsy wanting to exercise? Sure. But you have to ask yourself what you want more - to recover or to exercise. Recovery always held more weight (no pun intended).

Once I was at a healthy weight and was stable (not losing, then getting back to that weight multiple times), I incorporated exercise again. I gave myself limits. Why? Because I know my limits. And I knew what was needed. A person who's just at the threshold of a healthy weight and is still slender doesn't need to be doing hours of weight-loss exercise.

I only let myself run a mile if I wanted to run. That's it. I only let myself exercise for half an hour. That's it.

It worked for me. I was able to eat properly, maintain a healthy weight, and not allow exercise to get out of control (or cause weight loss). It was just enough that it kept me active, made me feel good, and was the perfect amount coupled with my food intake.

To get to the last part of the question - yes, these days I do exercise. I just do so in moderation. Everyone talks about moderation being key, but it really is where exercise is concerned. I'm a Caseworker - I sit at a desk a lot of the day. And when I'm home, I sit at a computer for a few hours too. It's good for me to exercise. I like to run, but pretty much only do it in nice enough weather. Right now, for example, it's snowy and bitter cold here, and I don't have a I am not running. When spring starts to come around, I'll probably go back to running, but I only run 3 days a week at MOST and I only run 1-2 miles. It's enough. To many who exercise frequently, obsessively, or are extremely into fitness, that may seem like so little. But nevertheless, it's a perfectly adequate amount of running. It's enough for me, for my lifestyle, and for my weight.

When I'm inside, I lift small weights and do a variety of arm exercises. Just to raise the heart rate a bit and keep my muscles active. I do some leg exercises too (not with weights). Again, it's all in moderation. I'll do crunches sometimes - but not hundreds. I'll work out after work, but not for longer than 30 minutes. It's simply not necessary for me. I'm doing enough.

I'm at a perfectly healthy weight - no longer at just the "threshold of healthy" as I was a few years earlier. No ifs, ands, or buts about it - I have breasts, no poking rib bones, and my clothing sizes have gone up more than once since my recovery first began. I've been at my current weight for years now and it's happy and healthy for me. I may fluctuate between a pound or two in either direction, but my weight is natural - it's where my body wants to be when I'm eating healthfully and taking care of myself.

Don't be scared. Let go of the fear a little more each day.


Anonymous said...

Wow, thank you for this Arielle. For the first time in 12 years I am nearly at my goal weight.I'm struggling with exercise, worrying I should work out x number of times etc etc but I can see this is another area of recovery I need to tackle. I find some blogs really make me feel guilty about not exercising enough and maybe I need to step away from them for a while. Thank you for all you do. You are very inspiring and make me believe a full recovery is possible even after all this time. x

Jessica Joy Daly said...

Arielle,this is such an important topic! Thanks for your honest input!

Stephanie said...

Thanks for putting this out there, Arielle. It is real and it's encouraging. And it's what so many people need to hear from someone who has been there herself! All my love

Katy said...

I am really struggling with giving up exercise at the moment. I feel forced to do it even when I am in physical pain because in my head, I feel like I NEED to burn calories. Thank you for this post. If possible, could you elaborate a little bit more on how to get over an exercise obsession in video form?

Also, (I am unable to access your email for some reason...), I am also struggling with understanding what hunger feels like. I have spent so long ignoring my body signals that I can't tell when I am hungry or even when my body needs rest. I eat at certain times during the day and find it difficult to add in food beyond what I am already eating even though I know it's not enough. Do you have any tips?

Thank you so much for what you are doing here!!!