What an Exercise Addiction Taught Me About Healthy Lifestyle

I’m writing this as I watch Food Network. Some things never change and Chopped never gets less exciting.

Also, my blog is going to go under a huge renovation so stay tuned!

I wanted to write something about this topic for a while now but didn’t know how to approach it. Those who know me, know how important diet and exercise have been in my life. I’ve tried my best to live a lifestyle that would be categorized as “healthy”, but over the last year, I’ve learned that my definition of health wasn’t necessarily, well, healthy. What I thought was the best way to live my life and de-stress was actually stressing me out more!

It’s funny how we create dietary rules to limit ourselves because we think it will make us skinnier, prettier, or a better person. My rules? Besides the numerous diets, I’ve tried including the dreaded GM Diet (which you can find outlined in my blog– I’m not proud), I was a skilled calorie counter. Name a food and I knew its calorie profile (if only my math skills were as polished). If I went over my allotted calorie intake, I was instantly overcome with guilt. I could never enjoy food without overanalyzing it in my head. I also thought fat was bad and fueled myself with fat-free everything (aka chemical-filled poo).

Counting calories was a daily thing as well as exercise. God forbid something got in between me and my exercise; I’d become a big, mean, ball of angst.  I’d wake up every morning and think “Okay, when will I workout today.” Even when I worked out, a “good” workout session would only be deemed successful if I burned at least 600 calories– but most sessions were close to 1,000.  My friends and I would support each others’ long hours at the gym because countless hours on the elliptical meant we were one step closer to our aesthetic goals. A big night out meant a few hours needed at the gym to “cancel” out last night’s escapades. I’d constantly compare myself to others and think that I must not be trying hard enough or I’d look the way I want.

Am I stressing you out, yet? Let me say what you’re thinking. What a terrible way to live, right? Once I learned that health didn’t have to be so hard, things started falling into place.

Here are the 5 concepts I had completely wrong about health:

1. Cardio (and lots of it) is key to staying lean

As I said, I was a cardio queen and the gym was my kingdom. I would spend hours on the Stair Master, elliptical, treadmill, etc.  I didn’t lift much because I wanted to get lean and– god forbid– bulk up. Strange thing was, I wasn’t leaning out. This didn’t make sense because my calorie deficit was so high. Instead, the chronic cardio was stressing my body out to the point where it was too terrified to lose fat. How sad. My cortisol levels (stress levels) were out of control and my body was hanging onto fat for dear life. It was when I stopped running myself into the ground, gave my body a break, and started lifting heavy things that I started to heal myself and lean out.

2. Restricting calories is the best way to control weight

On top of all the exercise, I was a calorie counting machine. Society taught me that 1,200 calories were the least amount of calories needed to basically stay “healthy” and still lose weight. If a pound is 3,500 calories burned then simple math would mean that I should take the weight off in no time. Unfortunately, a person’s body isn’t a calculator. My lack of calories was causing my body to think it was enduring a famine. If my body didn’t know when it was going to get adequate nutrients next, why would it burn fat?

3. Calories consumed are canceled out by calories burned

Oops, I just face-planted into a plate of brownies. Time to eliminate those calories on the treadmill. Sigh. If only it worked that way. Like I mentioned, our bodies don’t work like a calculator and crunch numbers. Working out is an important part of staying healthy but trying to “cancel out” a big lunch on the elliptical will just induce more stress. Just because I had a delicious, fat-dripping burger doesn’t mean I’m going to gain 10 pounds overnight; enjoying normal people’s things is an important part of living!

4. Low-fat everything because fat is bad

If I want to burn fat, then I shouldn’t eat fat. Anything that is processed as “low-fat” is usually filled with chemicals that should never make friends with your body. The fat you eat and the fat on your body are not the same. This mindset probably took me the longest to realize because conventional wisdom teaches us differently. Society teaches us that saturated fat is bad. Well society is a big, fat (HA– see what I did there) liar. Here are two books you need to read to change everything you thought you knew about fat (1) Eat the Yolks by Liz Wolfe, and (2) The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. Saturated fat is an essential part of a healthy diet. If you fuel with fat, you’ll burn fat— more on this in another post.

5. Exercise eliminates stress

Exercise is an essential part of stress management and healthy life, but intense or excessive exercise isn’t beneficial when cortisol levels are already tipped. High-intensity exercise is stressful on the body; so, if you’re already battling stress in other aspects of your life then your body needs to relax. The best remedy to alleviate stress is walking. Walking is one of the best things you can do for your body. Walk it out.