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An Obsession with Exercise

January 25, 2010

Since I started this blog I’ve received many emails asking me for advice on subjects such as eating and exercise.  I am very flattered that people consider my advice worthwhile!  I too have struggled with the same issues (and a whole lot more).  I’m not sure I am qualified to be giving advice but I will do my best to answer your questions, including one from a reader who would like to know what type of exercise I do and how often.  There is no short answer to this question, so bear with me! 

After I turned 30 I realized that for the first time in my life I needed to make an effort to lose a few pounds!  I really had no clue where to start so I hired a trainer and hit the gym daily for a hardcore workout.  I’d be in the gym by 5:15 every morning and I would follow the very regimented schedule that the trainer set up.  In keeping with my Type A personality I never missed a single day.  Even when I was sick!  And my preoccupation with exercise didn’t end when I was finished at the gym.  During my lunch break at work I would take a 3-4 mile walk.  When I came home from work I would do Pilates between giving Maya a bath and cooking dinner.  I fit exercise in every extra second that I could even though I knew I was doing way too much and not eating nearly enough to sustain my activity level.  What can I say?  I never do anything halfway.

After a while my knees started killing me from the 50+ lunges I was doing a day and my killer runs.  I was also sick all the time.  I felt terrible and looked even worse.  I was stressed out trying to find time to get in enough activity.  All signs indicated that I needed to lay off of the gym but my ever-important schedule took precedence over common sense.

By fall of 2008 my knee was in really bad shape.  I had an MRI done and I found out that not only had I worn my cartilage down to nothing but I also found out that I had arthritis!  (Yes, I am a 100-year-old trapped in a 33-year-old’s body).  The doctor told me I had to stop running or my knee would get worse.  So I stopped running but became addicted to the exercise bike instead.  I channeled Lance Armstrong and did ridiculous intervals that he probably couldn’t even keep up with (okay I’m sure he could).  But then one day I pedaled too hard and it suddenly felt like my knee cap was no longer attached to my knee.  It was extremely painful and for after a few days with no improvement  I visited the doctor again.  He took one look at me and said, “You need to stop exercising.  There is nothing else I can do for you.” 

After I moved past my irritation at his lack of concern and the waste of my $35 copay, I totally panicked.  I was convinced that if I stopped going to the gym I would gain weight.  I decided that a bad knee was better than the alternative and I ignored my crappy doctor’s advice.  I bought a knee brace  and started running and using the elliptical again.  I also swam laps like my life depended on it…for 50 minutes at 5:30 in the morning!  Can we say…obsessive?

One day I was telling my dad how much my knee hurt and how annoyed I was that it was never going to get better.  My dad listened and then looked at me and asked me why I kept killing myself at the gym if my knee hurt?  So I gave him the whole story…that I was nervous I would gain a bunch of weight if I stopped,  that I had to stick to my schedule, etc. and he said, “Ameena, maybe if you stop thinking about it so much the weight will take care of itself.”

While I’d heard my father’s words before – from Ali, a dietician, and many friends – the fact that they came from my dad of all people really hit home.  He was right.  I needed to let things fall into place on their own.  I couldn’t keep obsessing!   I soon began the long process of changing my outlook on eating and exercise: I adopted a much less strenuous workout schedule.  I joined YogaWorks.  I bought a proper bike rode it without thinking about the distance and speed I was going.  Instead of my morning death march on the treadmill I walked with Maya through the neighborhood at a leisurely pace.  On top of all that I kicked my sugar habit.  And guess what?  I didn’t gain a single pound.  In fact, I actually lost a few. 

I still exercise every day but no longer at the pace I used to.  I do yoga 3-4 days a week (from yogadownload.com), I run 1-2 days a week, I do strength training 2-3 days a week, and I walk a few miles every day.  Sometimes I throw in the 30-day Shred for good measure.  I also did the Fat Flush Plan which changed my entire outlook on eating.  And guess what?  I weigh six pounds less now than I did at the height of my exercising days.  I am back to my pre-Maya weight!  But more importantly I feel better because I am not fixated on how best to utilize my time to burn another calorie.

I can’t say that I don’t ever wonder if I am getting in enough cardio.  Is my 45 minute walk enough?  Should I be running more than 1-2 times a week?  Is yoga really a workout?  Sometimes I cave and do more than I should.  And then my knee starts hurting again and I realize how stupid I was and I vow to change and I do.  Until the next time I cave.  But nobody’s perfect though, right?  All I can do is keep trying.

Can anyone else relate?  Any suggestions on how to overcome this kind of thing?

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2010 11:18 pm

    This is a wonderful post and really allows us to stop and think – are we doing our body more bad than good when we stress ourselves out with our workouts.

    I read somewhere that our body is stressed to the max when working out! So that would explain why people do get pretty sick when the are hardcore working out daily. No rest time.

    Great post love!! You write so well.

    XXOO

  2. January 26, 2010 4:06 am

    Thanks for sharing your story! I can totally relate to overdoing it. It is hard to listen to your body, and give it what it wants, when you are worried about gaining weight! I know I am!

    The only thing I try to do now is not exercise when I am in pain, and get enough sleep. I am struggling with the latter.

    When I hurt my shin this summer, I wanted to keep running and working out, like you did with your knee. I think advice from my dad would have spoken to me too 🙂

  3. January 26, 2010 5:05 am

    I’m completely guilty with overdoing it as well. But I think we just need to learn how to trust our bodies… look at how they react. I think they’ll be able to adjust themselves naturally without our help. I’ve had to cut out all cardio as of late, so I only do some gentle yoga… and honestly, not much has changed; except maybe that I feel a whole lot better.

    We can’t push ourselves too far. Exercise is meant to make us healthy, not wear us out. I look at people who are killing themselves on the treadmill just so they can eat an extra cookie, and I can’t really justify it anymore. To me, it just doesn’t seem worth it.

  4. January 26, 2010 5:09 am

    I’m glad you shared this during my time of internal struggle. I have that irrational fear that I’ll gain weight since I have to stop exercise for awhile to regain my health. Then, to add to that, I feel like I don’t
    “deserve” to eat b/c I’m not working it off.
    It’s a tough battle.
    I like your dad’s advice. I’ve heard that before but never believed it. Maybe it’s true and it will take care of itself.

  5. January 26, 2010 5:24 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your story! Most of my health issues have been wrapped up in food, not exercise, so it’s very interesting to see the flip side of the picture. I personally know many, many women who have struggled with this problem.

    Wonderful that you were able to overcome it!

  6. January 26, 2010 5:30 am

    I think it’s really easy to get obsessive about excercise. The endorphin rush is addicting! Have you read the Blue Zones? It’s an inspiring book and they say that natural movement is key. Hours of intense cardio are not needed to reap the benefits of excercise. Plus, on your 45 minute walk with Maya you are getting fresh air, vitamin D from the sun, and quality time with your daughter.

  7. January 26, 2010 5:39 am

    I can totally relate. While I would never, ever run with my knees there are times when I kept pushing them even though they hurt. I felt like I needed to do the normal things I used to. In some ways, I still do that today, though not related to over-exercising.

  8. January 26, 2010 5:41 am

    Another stellar post. I have lost all my exercise ability for the last year…and the journey is not even 1/3 of the way over! Its very difficult for me…I used to be a competitive runner and not only did I do fairly well with it…but i LOVED it…it was not an obsession…it was a love. I look back now and am thankful that I had that time at all.
    Ameena…I am glad you found a better way: it is important for you to be healthy, not only for Ali and Maya, but for you. Your worth is not determined by anything physical. Another great post!

  9. January 26, 2010 6:10 am

    I can absolutely relate. I teeter on overtraining quite frequently. It’s all totally mental, but I just can’t not exercise. It’s insane when I stop and think about it. Very thoughtful post!

  10. January 26, 2010 6:35 am

    What a great post! So many can relate to this. Its all about finding that place of balance.

  11. January 26, 2010 7:44 am

    This is an awesome post. Right now, post honeymoon and 6 months into marriage, I’m trying to get down to my “happy weight”. But rather than focusing on dieting and weight loss (like I always tried to and failed miserably) I’m setting goals like the 5k and trying to eat more veggies. I’ve been craving sweets less, eating less over all (I was eating way too much junk) and have the most energy I’ve ever had.

  12. Danielle permalink
    January 26, 2010 8:04 am

    I loved this post 🙂 I don’t think I’ve ever been an “over-exerciser” but I’ve definitely been at a point where I would have serious anxiety if I couldn’t fit a workout in. Exercise should be about cardiovascular health and doing what you enjoy, not a pure weight-management thing.

  13. January 26, 2010 8:53 am

    Great Post Ameena! I can relate… but in the past few months I have also learned to enjoy my day to day life. Although I still have days that I think I should have gone to the gym or should have ate less…

    non post related question… what type of gluten free flour do you use when baking?

    • January 26, 2010 1:34 pm

      I bought All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour from Whole Foods (365 Brand) and it is just okay. I think there has to be a better alternative but I don’t want to buy anymore until I finish this! (Can’t waste food!)

  14. traynharder23 permalink
    January 26, 2010 9:02 am

    i’ve over done it before! and yes, i totally worry about gaining if i don’t exercise. but yeah, i’ve got some massive knee problems. too!

  15. traynharder23 permalink
    January 26, 2010 9:19 am

    hey hey- i’m not THAT fast! plus, my hammies are CRAZY TIGHT! i can’t do yoga very well!

  16. louisianagrown permalink
    January 26, 2010 10:16 am

    I’m too much of a chicken to have ever struggled with this. When things start hurting, I’m outta there!

  17. Stef @ moretolifethanlettuce permalink
    January 26, 2010 11:56 am

    at the worst of my ED i was completely addicted to exercise. in my mind, that is just as bad as any other form of ED, but if you couple it with not eating enough, things get pretty dire. i’m glad you were able to overcome your obsession with exercise, and i think your workouts now are great! healthy, balanced, and fun, instead of damaging to your body. ouch about your knee!!!

  18. whydeprive permalink
    January 26, 2010 12:08 pm

    Thanks for posting this! I used to be obsessive about the gym too. I was there every day nomatter what.
    My therapist, dr, and nutritionist said the same thing your dad did. Of course I NEVER believed any of them.
    These days when I run, I take my dog and I can not over exert her. Shes a little(ish) dog with short legs. So even if I want to go crazy I cant unless I take her home first, which is too much of a hassle. That keeps me from going overboard.

  19. Heavenly housewife permalink
    January 26, 2010 12:10 pm

    I am not compulsive about exercize, but I do make weekly exercize goals and feel very guilty when I don’t meet them.
    Out of curiosity how much running does it take to ruin your knee? I run 3x a week. I’m worried.

    • January 26, 2010 1:54 pm

      I think it depends on your knees…I have arthritis so mine can’t tolerate as much running as another person can. Don’t make the mistake I made though, if you feel pain stop running! Otherwise it just gets worse.

  20. January 26, 2010 1:09 pm

    Great post, thanks! I can relate to overdoing it as well, exercising up to 2 times a day in my super skinny high school days. It can be easy to get caught up in too much fitness hype and not listen to what our bodies need.

  21. January 26, 2010 2:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story! I’ve injured myself several times already- just in the past year- from overuse.

  22. lowandbhold permalink
    January 26, 2010 2:26 pm

    Great post! I can totally relate to thinking too hard about it. It really is best to just let our body lead the way.

  23. January 26, 2010 3:15 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story!! I’ve never been too obsessed with working out, but can definitely relate when it comes to obsessing over food. It’s so funny because Andrew, my friends, co-workers, and various family members tried to intervene and I didn’t take any of them seriously. It wasn’t until my father finally said something to me that I really should reevaluate how I was living that I finally listened. Fathers know best, I guess? 😉

  24. January 26, 2010 3:15 pm

    I love this post. It’s so true. We do obsess about everything, actually. Food, television, exericse, whatever.

    I’ve often heard people say they lose weight the easiest when they aren’t thinking about it so much. Go figure.

  25. spiceaholic permalink
    January 26, 2010 5:19 pm

    Ameena,

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It looks like you’ve found a way to get some balance in your life!

    Like another reader, I’m trying not to obsess over dieting and weight loss, but it’s hard.

    I think your dad’s advice is spot on and I’ll have to try to remember it.

  26. January 26, 2010 8:43 pm

    Ugh! I HATE injuries and they seem to almost always be attached to running!

    I had to defer a marathon this past year bc of a foot issue. I had trained all the way through my 20 mile run, had two weeks to go and BAM a step class took my foot out!

    I am glad you are no longer obessing. I guess balance wins again.

  27. January 26, 2010 9:10 pm

    My version of over-exercising used to happen when I would “train” for races without a plan. Meaning, if I ran 10 miles yesterday and felt like I had the energy to run 12 more today, then I would force myself to do it. I used to exercise just by looking at the distance number– with no thought to recovery and quality.
    This style left me with two stress fracture and a severe ITB syndrome.

    I’ve become better than those days. In my own way, I completely undersand what you mean. It’s just not right to run your body to the ground when it’s telling you it is worn out.

  28. January 27, 2010 2:12 pm

    yummy! love your place!!!

  29. jaya permalink
    April 15, 2011 11:06 am

    Mam congratulations on getting grip on wild thaughts 🙂
    ur story will open many eyes . Nice blog !

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