Exercise is meant to make you feel good, which is why we, obviously, love it so much! But what happens when you overdo it?
What exactly does this do to your body? Your emotions? Your happiness?
Many of the women I work with are absolute go-getters. We're talking Type A, driven, passionate women who want to show up being all they can be.
This translates into their workout routine.
This drive is something I know all too well and the unrealistic expectations that can come with it. When we're too hard hitting in our life and don't balance our body when we need to, exercise can do more harm than good.
This is largely due to your hormonal response if you are exercising too much and not getting adequate rest.
Excess cardio causes your stress hormones to be released. Add this to what may already be a stressful life, eating foods that are wrong for your body, consuming caffeine and alcohol, and not sleeping well, your body is raging with stress hormones.
Your body has no way of calming itself down or being able to rest, leaving you in a constant state of fight or flight mode.
So where do those stress hormones go and exactly what do they do to your body?
They seep into your brain making you feel more overwhelmed and stressed out than you actually are.
They settle into your midsection and cause all kinds of bloat.
If you know any of my backstory, you know I struggled for 12 years with an eating disorder called compulsive over-exercising. It can lead to things like extreme fatigue, reproductive issues, premature arthritis (I developed this in my front right toe at the ripe age of 25...), and even heart problems.
Compulsive over-exercise is when you exercise beyond what is actually good for you and you allow your regimen to consume your life, which can lead to many of the health issues listed above.
For me, I never took a break.
At my worst, I worked out for 3-4 hours every day, and didn't know who I was outside of my exercise habits. I would run 40+ miles a week (when I wasn't training for a marathon) and would go to the gym to log in more hours of cardio and strength training. It completely defined who I thought I needed to be and became a false sense of security.
This is definitely an extreme case, but I see it often in women, from all walks of life.
In my recovery, and understanding cycle syncing, I actually sat and questioned my drive to exercise. I never intentionally set out to hurt myself (who does?!), but I did notice it had become my way to naturally try to balance my hormones.
I drove my body harder the week before and during my period because my body was bloating. I didn't fully understand stress hormones at the time, and that my body needed to back off in order to move forward. I had no clue that the more unrelenting I became with exercise, at various parts of my cycle, I was causing bloat to stick around! So I'd beat myself up and wonder why I could never meet my goals. And then worked out even more.
When you're exercising too much it can lead to feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, fatigue, and the utmost of exhaustion. It almost feels like you're face planting in life, instead of thriving.
So how do you know if your exercise routine is doing more harm than good?
Ask yourself these three questions:
1. How do you feel the week before and during your period?
Are you exhausted and having a hard time doing a HIIT or spin class?
This is your body telling you to back off.
Take time to go to yoga instead and head out for a light walk. Do a light jog, and skip the HIIT workouts. Give yourself permission to sleep in for an extra hour!
2. At the other parts of the month, how do you feel when you do an endurance workout or something that's "tough"?
If you feel good, great! If not, your exercise habits may be causing you and your body more stress. Sure, you should get out of breath and sweat. But if you're left feeling so tired you can't think straight, really question your exercise habits.
Do you need to take a bit more rest? If you do, you'll come back stronger (and leaner) than before!
When I first start working with women, I dive deep into their exercise habits. Most often, their stress hormones are exceedingly high, making them more stressed out and feeling bloated around their midsection (where stress hormones settle).
My first recommendation is to take two weeks off from cardio and focus on lighter workouts.
Believe me, my mind rejected this too.
If you're thinking, "oh gosh no! I'll gain weight! Cardio is how I stay in shape!" It's time for you to learn a new approach to your body.
Balance is always key. If you're going to do a tough workout, when are you doing yoga and taking rest?
When I stopped doing so much cardio, I lost 10 pounds in three weeks. Yup, all that "extra weight" was stress leaving my body - and the glory of what I like to call, losing stress weight 😊
It comes off fast!
3. What thoughts come forward when you think about taking a break? Do you get anxious, overwhelmed, and want to completely reject the idea? Do you fear all of a sudden gaining weight and losing all control?
What I found in my recovery was that my disorder with exercise had nothing to do with my weight.
Even though all my thoughts were consumed on the fact that I would "all of a sudden" gain 20 pounds.
This thought would send me into a complete panic attack and I'd had out for a 10 mile run.
My disorder had everything to do with my sense of control.
The real underlying fear was that if I stopped the habit of exercising, I would lose all control over my life. It almost felt like my whole world would end.
If you feel this way, your exercise habits are causing you more harm than good.
The first step is to be kind to yourself.
The second is to remember this, when I stopped running, I went cold turkey. My last run for six months was on Thanksgiving Day 2012. I knew that if I was going to heal from this disorder and calm the relentless pain I had developed in my front big toe (arthritis from overuse), I had to stop.
In three weeks, I didn't gain weight, I had lost those 10 pounds. Since then I haven't gone back and it completely changed how I viewed cardio. My body debloated, my mind cleared, and I found other ways to release endorphins without running so much. Today, I run about once a month, to gain more endorphins during my period.
These question force you to face your fears and acknowledge the actions you're taking. It makes you realize if something is working for you or not. Be strong in getting real with yourself. Your body is asking you to.
Looking for a more balanced workout routine? Watch my YouTube video on "How to exercise for your monthly cycle". You'll learn which exercise is best during each of your monthly phases, and it'll help you sync a balanced workout routine! Hellloooo best shape of your life 😉