When I think back on different periods of my life, one aspect that I can easily recall is my workout of choice during that time. In my early 20s, it was all about the elliptical and step class. In my late 20s, I found running and cycling. In my 30s, I joined a CrossFit gym and became an avid heavy-lifting enthusiast.
Now, at 36, I am realizing just how much #gymlife had infiltrated all facets of my life. I'm not saying health and fitness aren't important; it's just that I see a lot of people, myself included, let these things take over, not leaving room for much else. It's taken a combination of forced breaks from exercise and lifestyle shifts (both due to the birth of my second child) to give me the mental and physical distance from the gym to realize I was in a little too deep.
You may be in the same boat if any (or all) of these sound familiar:
You Beat Yourself Up Over a Bad Workout
I'm a little ashamed to admit that I've more than once let a slower-than-expected run or missed deadlift PR ruin my day. I'd agonize over those five seconds or five pounds as if I had somehow failed myself by not meeting some arbitrary goal I'd set.
I finally woke up and told myself to have a little perspective. I now celebrate what my body can do instead of wasting time and energy on what it can't. Who cares if I'll never be a fast runner or be able to lift double my body weight from the ground? I can lift my two boys, spin them in the air, and throw them on the couch as they burst into a fit of giggles.
You Hate Rest Days
I used to dread rest days. If I wasn't working out, I wasn't burning calories or building muscle, right? Wrong. Rest is a key component of exercise. Rest is when your body recovers and your muscles rebuild and grow. Skipping rest days is a recipe for burnout and injury.
Now I enjoy rest days without an ounce of guilt. I know I'm treating my body the way it deserves to be treated, while at the same time understanding that there is so much more to me than the size of my muscles. The people dearest to me really couldn't care less about my accomplishments in the gym. They love me and enjoy my company.
You Sacrifice Sleep to Work Out
In the past, I would drag myself out of bed for my 6 a.m. workouts, even if I had stayed up too late or been up four or five times overnight with the baby. Research has shown, though, that we should prioritize sleep over exercise for optimal health.
I do think exercise can help to energize you after a sleepless night, but instead of pushing myself to do a supertough workout when my body is tired, I'll get the sleep I need and opt for a long walk or easy at-home workout later in the day. Or, if my body is simply too tired, I take an extra rest day. Progress isn't made overnight, and you won't lose everything you've worked for by being gentle with your body.
You Know the Protein, Carb, and Fat Content of All of Your Meals
I've done the Paleo thing. I've done the calorie-counting thing. I've done the "low-fat-everything" thing. The commonality shared by all of these diets is that, after a while, they can be exhausting. Unless your paycheck requires you to keep a certain aesthetic or level of physical ability (professional athletes, for example), there is no reason for us normal folks to get over-the-top obsessive about every morsel that passes our lips.
Obviously, eating a healthy, balanced diet is better for you than hitting the drive-through three times a day, but if you find yourself obsessing over the grams of fat in your grass-fed bison burger, I hereby give you permission to be a little easier on yourself. Food, in my opinion, is meant to be enjoyed.
You Freak Out If Your Hotel Doesn't Have a Gym
A hotel gym used to be a requirement in my vacation accommodation searches, knowing I'd reverse all the hard work I've done in the gym if I took a whole week off. Prolonged rest periods from exercise can actually have big long-term benefits, however — this is why athletes have an off season. Think of it as a fitness reset. What's more, who wants to spend all week in a hotel gym when you could be exploring an exciting new city?
How to Snap Out of It
Maybe I sound like a Debbie Downer who is just hating on your fitness goals, but I promise that's not what I'm getting at here. I think it's great to want to get stronger, bendier, or better at Zumba. The problem is that we sometimes get so into our chosen fitness method that we let it take over our lives. I know because I've been there. I was always thinking about my last workout, my next workout, or whether I really needed a pre-workout shake.
Now, I enjoy being active most days of the week, but I don't get too hung up on what that activity looks like (I have just as much fun riding a bike as I do throwing around a kettlebell) or if my biceps look bigger than they did last week. I'm just as healthy as I was before, only now I'm more relaxed — and happier, too.