Does Your Schedule Revolve Around Your Workouts?

Mine used to.

But now it’s the other way around…my workouts happen when they easily and comfortably fit into my schedule without too much fuss.

I don’t blame high school sports for my dysfunctional relationship with exercise, but they certainly helped lay the foundation for those struggles. Starting the summer before my freshman year, cross country practice was at 6 am. While this definitely made sense given the heat of the season, it also set the precedent for me and my life that before anything else in the day, running must happen first. Ordering my schedule that way, with running as #1, shaped my attention and attitude to prioritize and value running (and the quality of my workout) above everything else in my life.

On Saturdays and Sundays (when there was no group practice) or if I slept in on a given morning, running still had to come first in my book. If my friends wanted to hang out? Not until I ran that day. Running errands? Not if I didn’t get my miles in first. Anything else active, like swimming at the neighborhood pool or playing tennis? I had to prioritize running first so I could get the best possible workout and then add the calorie burn from those other activities. It was so unhealthy.

And the unhealthiness of my relationship with running went hand-in-hand with my disordered relationship with food. In the same way that I felt compelled to check running off my list before doing anything else that day, I felt guilty eating unless I’d accrued what I felt was a ‘sufficient’ calorie deficit in order to ‘earn’ the food.

Eating disorder behaviors (and the whole associated mind game) sounds pretty alarming sometimes, but the behaviors themselves show up in diet culture in less obvious, more socially acceptable ways. Do you ever find yourself thinking thoughts like these?

  • “It’s okay if I eat _______________. I ‘earned it’ by working out earlier.”
  • “I’m being so ‘bad’ eating ______________. I’ll have to make sure to exercise extra tomorrow.”
  • “I shouldn’t eat this. I skipped my workout.”
  • “I had a salad for lunch, so it’s okay if I eat ______________”
  • “I need to skip this meal so I can save up calories for __________________”
  • “If I run an extra mile/minute/lap/etc. that’s better, because I’ll burn more calories.”
  • “The point of exercise is to burn calories so I can eat more food.”

As common as these thought patterns are, they aren’t healthy. The point of exercise isn’t to earn food, to make up for our eating habits, or purely to burn calories. It also isn’t supposed to totally take over our lives, as it did for me when I was struggling with an eating disorder. Exercise should fit into our schedule, rather than our schedule needing to “fit into/around” our workout plans.

When you’ve spent years or decades with exercise so tightly knit into your views towards food and your body, it can seem extremely difficult to separate those things, viewing them independently rather than building your value, identity, and worth upon the food you eat, the workouts you complete, and the size/shape of your body. But working to uncouple food and exercise is an essential part of recovery, and restoring your relationship with food and your body can’t happen if exercise has such a big hold on your life.

Last summer I shared a post titled “Why I don’t take a break from exercise while on vacation.” The argument that I made was that in recovery, my life doesn’t revolve around exercise; exercise is just part of my life. I don’t force myself to work out when my body is telling my it’s time to rest, and I’ve learned how to recognize when I need to get up and move around in order to feel at my best. I like to feel my best all the time, including on vacation, so I don’t leave exercise at home when I pack up for a trip. I bring all my self-care options with me, and exercise/rest intuitively both at home and away.

Today I wanted to share a different side of that story, about how I skip workouts and intentionally rest more, even when I’m at home and have nothing else to do.

During the quarantine, my school was closed for a few months, and our online assignments weren’t very time consuming. I found myself with a lot of extra time on my hands, most days. During that time, I had the realization that if I was struggling with an eating disorder, I would have felt the need to exercise above and beyond my normal because of the extra time. I could almost hear the ED voice again: “You have all this extra time,” it whispered,”You’d better use it productively otherwise you’re lazy.”

Unsurprisingly, I actually found myself needing even more rest during that time. The stress and anxiety of having my life completely upended, and the uncertainty of the future was really challenging for me to cope with. It depleted my energy, and I felt resistance in my body sometimes when I’d start working out. During the quarantine, my usual two-mile-runs looked a lot more like two-mile-walks. Most days, I still felt better if I got out for a little stroll, but the intensity of running often felt like too much. So it didn’t happen, and that was both a) okay and b) perfectly healthy. (Read: choosing not to exercise in a given moment isn’t necessarily an unhealthy choice. Responding appropriately to what our bodies are telling us in a given moment is always a healthy choice.)

At the end of the summer, after I graduated but before I started working, my husband and I moved. Our new apartment was perfect for us and was a great fit in terms of location/amenities. However, the time crunch with our lease ending and when the previous tenants moved out meant that the apartment was not clean when we moved in. (We were aware of this, signing the lease, and it’s no fault of the landlord. He was super gracious to allow us to move in as quickly as he did.) My husband had to work, and since I had time off, I took the initiative to clean the apartment, scrubbing the floors, shampooing the rugs, and assembling the new furniture. In those few days, I also did a lot of the packing/unpacking, simply because I had the extra time. (I also actually really enjoy cleaning/organizing, so it was a joyful experience.) But it was a lot, and I was tired.

Even good things can be stressful.

But in addition to the good things that happened that week, there were a few not-so-good things. Here’s one: My husband and I had been in the process of adopting a puppy. Just an hour before our scheduled pick-up time, we got a call from the shelter that one of the puppies in the litter had a seizure and died, and they were no longer sure if our puppy was healthy. They cancelled our pick-up appointment and delayed it by a week to monitor our pup, take him to the vet, and make sure he was okay. While we were grateful for their diligence and initiative, it was so sad! Not only was it sort of traumatizing to hear about the poor pup who passed away, but having so much hope and excitement and anticipation suddenly be snatched away was so hard on us! A few tears were shed…

Anyway, everything ended up okay, and not to dwell too much on sad stories, the point is that it was a busy week with a heavy load. I could sense the tension in my body, and exercise just wasn’t something I needed at that time. It would have ended up adding stress rather than helping manage my stress. So I didn’t work out at all, for about 10 days. (Not even walking!)

I still had a pretty active week, moving boxes, unpacking, cleaning, etc. But because of those things and the attunement I had to what my body was telling me, I knew that formal exercise wasn’t a good choice. So, I rested whenever I had down time, and ate an extra piece of this Oreo ice cream cake from Dairy Queen:

The value of a day (or ourselves) doesn’t depend on what we eat, how much we work out, or what our bodies look like. Rather, our days are valuable because God has called them gifts, given to us for our good and his glory. They aren’t more valuable if we spend them exercising, and they aren’t ruined if we don’t fit in a workout. Rather, exercise and eating are self-care tools that we include in our days so that we can make the most of them.


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