When Fitness Gets Dangerous

Wanting to be healthier, and feel better about the way you look, are both good things. They’re signs of self-care – you value yourself enough to want to feel proud in your own skin, and are willing to put in the hard work to get there – and that’s great.

But it is possible to take it too far.

Everybody gets discouraged and hits plateaus when trying to meet fitness goals. Frustration is normal when you’re trying to make even a few positive changes in your life. It’s hard work! It’s when we react to those feelings by continuously restricting our diet that it starts to become damaging rather than helpful for our health, fitness and wellbeing.

This device does not measure your worthiness or beauty. Lower numbers do not = happiness!!

This device does not measure your worthiness or beauty. Lower numbers do not = happiness!!

Sometimes the root of problem can be that people mistakenly link food and exercise with morality. They can start thinking in terms of eating “sinful” food vs “being good” or that skipping a few workouts somehow makes them a bad or unworthy person. If you find thoughts like these creeping in be aware that the road you’re looking down is not going to get you to a happy place. Those kinds of thought patterns can trigger unwanted behaviours you might not even realise you’re responding to.

In honour of Eating Disorders Awareness Week (27 February – 4 March), I wanted to share a few thoughts on fitness and how to keep healthy throughout your journey, both in body and in mind.

Unfortunately it seems some people are predisposed to falling into traps like disordered eating and over-exercising. Experts don’t know exactly why – it’s a lot to do with risk factors like genetics, your environment and all kinds of influences around you, and they’re different for every person.

But even if you do have predisposition to gaze down that road, it doesn’t mean you have to take it. With awareness you can happily steer clear of pitfalls and keep yourself taking steps towards a healthier, happier life.

First, make sure you’re setting healthy fitness goals

This can mean something different for everyone, but something like dropping a dress size in a week would clearly be a goal you wouldn’t want to aim for. Fat loss, building muscle, losing weight – all these things take time. Like forming the habits that lead to change, seeing actual changes in your body is a very slow process. If you have excess fat you want to shed and you set a goal to be in a small dress size in the next two months, now that’s probably doable.  If you set goals, form habits and stick to them, you will get there. And once you do reach your goal, it’s OK to settle for maintaining – doing what you’ve been doing, you don’t have to be always striving for more change.

You don’t have to starve

If you're constantly hungry, that's not good for your progress or health. It's dangerous. Click To Tweet

Now you know I talk straight and I’ve said before that if you want to shed fat you need to be ready to experience some hunger sometimes. However, if you’re constantly hungry, that’s not good for your progress or your health.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if a bit of hunger is good fat loss, starving yourself must be even better. Starving yourself does not solve anything. It’s not a quick fix for anything. Low blood sugar and blood pressure, slow metabolism … should I keep going? Also, the more deprived you are of calories, the more you’re going to crave sugar, and the more likely you are to overeat, which can also be harmful. There’s a good chance you’ve experienced that frustrating cycle yourself already – trust me, it won’t be different next times. So if you experience real hunger –  the kind of hunger where you’re happy eating healthy foods rather than it just being a craving for processed foods – EAT. Being healthy and lean is about nourishing your body with healthy foods, not constant restriction.

Don’t spend hours working out every day

Apart from any other implications, it’s simply ineffective for most people’s goals. After awhile, your body stops benefiting from it. It’s a misconception that the longer you work out, the more fat you’ll burn, or the more muscle you’re going to build. Once your body runs out of fuel, it’s going to start taking things away from you – muscle tissue and electrolytes, just to name a few. A 30-minute intense workout can be much more powerful than two hours on a treadmill. I know it can sometimes be hard to stop once those endorphins kick in, but you can use that energy for something that will take you towards your goal, like cooking up a good meal instead of wearing yourself out more. You’ve earned it and your body needs it.

It's a misconception that the longer you work out, the more fat you burn. Click To Tweet

If your goals are stressing you out, readjust

If you notice you’re starting to become overwhelmed with thoughts about numbers – weight, calories, macro-nutrients, minutes of workout time – take a step back and focus on some different goals for awhile. Getting stressed is not going to help you and those numbers can often massively overcomplicate things and even cloud your vision from your true goals which is probably more about being happy, strong, fit and healthy than anything you could put a number on. If you feel like you must count something, instead of counting calories, perhaps you can try counting servings of different veggies and fruits and paying attention to portion sizes. Getting a variety of nutritious foods is a great way to be sure you’re on the right track to eating healthy.

Don't count calories. You can try counting healthy servings of veg & fruits per day. Click To Tweet

Keep talking

Sometimes, the line between dedication and obsession gets blurry and when you’re in that zone it can be hard to realise it for yourself. If you find yourself making eating choices or exercising at a level you wouldn’t want the world to know about that’s a massive warning signal. Whether you’re simply feeling overwhelmed by trying to change your fitness habits or you’re experiencing real symptoms of an eating disorder, it’s better to talk to someone than to put it off. Everyone needs to let off steam sometimes and most of us have experienced what it’s like when momentum or frustration drives us to take things to ill-advised extremes. These things can happen to anyone, and they are treatable. It’s not your fault, and things can and will get better.

If you want to hide your eating choices or exercise level - it's a massive warning signal! Click To Tweet

If you’re in the UK you can get support and find out more about Eating Disorders Awareness Week here. Or go here if you’re in the USA. Search for Eating Disorders Awareness + [your country] if you’re elsewhere.