This is written in equal parts for the person working out and for the person not working out. The takeaway is that we need to be taking care of our entire self during this crisis. Sometimes that may mean it’s okay you don’t workout.
Three days into quarantine my entire timeline became people working out at home. It made my heart happy. As a fitness fanatic, I love that we’re collectively making fitness accessible and affordable for everyone who is stuck at home. But after a while, my heart began to ache a bit.
I wasn’t taking part in any of the online workouts. I refused to do push up challenges. Kota, my pup, was lucky if she got a slight jog out of me in the mornings at the start of the pandemic. I was just not in a good place to begin working out at home.
Growing up, I worked out in my bedroom in my spare time for the hell of it, juggled a variety of sports, ran miles for fun, and eventually fell head over heels for weightlifting; which still holds my heart today. Fitness is an integral part of who I am, anyone who knows me knows this, and I am telling you so you understand I come from an understanding place when I say—maybe it’s fine you don’t workout.
If your body is telling you to slow down right now, maybe don’t workout.
If you’re using your time to try something new, maybe put off working out.
If your life is overrun with work or kids, maybe it’s fine you can’t workout.
If you’re fighting a cold or virus or other health concerns, maybe definitely don’t workout.
If you’re just feeling societal pressure and going into it negatively, maybe don’t workout.
If you’re hurting your body, maybe step back and reevaluate working out.
If you have other pressing priorities, maybe wait until they’re handled to workout.
If you want to do things you’ve never done right now, maybe put off working out.
If you’re struggling with self image issues, maybe navigate that before working out.
If you’re making time to fulfill your dreams or bucket list, there will be other days to workout.
If you’re in desperate need for some relaxation, maybe don’t workout.
If you aren’t in the right headspace, maybe do not workout.
Listen, I know…
We’re told we all should workout.
We’re told it will make us feel good.
We’re told it will make us healthy.
Those statements are true, until they’re not.
Personally, I have talked to countless people who feel like shit about not being as active as the people they follow on social media right now. If you’re one of the people feeling guilty about your exercise habits, I don’t know if creating a fitness routine that stems from guilt will recreate the best results. It might not make you feel good. It might not even make you healthy.
“You can develop an unhealthy relationship with working out.”
For one, you might always have a distaste for exercising if it comes from a place of shame or societal pressure. And I promise there is actually a lot to love about working out that I wouldn’t want you to miss out on. More importantly though, it’s very possible you can develop an unhealthy relationship with working out if you’re not navigating your emotions, self image, and other aspects of your life first. I think that’s as important as ever to take note of while experiencing a world crisis.
There are circumstances where I think we need to admit that maybe it’s okay to not workout, because like anything, even fitness can become toxic.
The first time I realized exercise was a problem in my life, I was in high school.
In a daze, I heard my mom in an extremely aggravated tone go, “That’s it no more gym on the week nights.” Oh no I thought, it happened again.
I had started going to the gym after practice for whichever sport I was playing at the time. As if practice and an additional workout wasn’t enough, I stayed in the gym for a couple hours. Rarely socializing, just straight up working out.
Following those kinds of nights, I would completely sleep through my wake up calls. When my mom finally got through to me I’d be uncharacteristically groggy and depleted of all my energy. Completely out of the norm for me.
Just like my mom, I had always gotten up at the crack of dawn for quiet time and coffee. Sleeping in isn’t in either of our DNA. We’re both type-A, overachieving, don’t waste the day kind of people. Always have been.
This is so unrelatable to some people, I know. But I’m painting the picture for you to understand why my mom was highly concerned when she saw my behavior change.
My mom’s tone that morning has stayed with me through the years because the piercing twinge of guilt and embarrassment I felt was unforgettable. I remember not being able to pinpoint or fully comprehend why I felt so awful about what I was doing. Wasn’t working out good for you?
Deep down, my intuition knew better, so I tried taking a step back and even quit the sports that I played my entire life. It took me years to figure out what was actually wrong… I still can’t believe I was so blind to my own behavior…
In college, I sought out treatment for something I thought was unrelated. I had been struggling with anorexia and bulimia from the time I was in sixth grade. I finally forced myself to stop on my own, but knew I’d need professional guidance to keep it that way. I’d show up to my sessions all proud to report I was still doing ay-okay.
During one of those proud sessions, my counselor mentioned she had noticed I always showed up in activewear. Stoked to talk about my love for the gym, I told her how I’d work out in the mornings, sometimes in between classes, and before or after therapy. So, I explained, that’s why I was always dressed in gym clothes. God, I was naive as hell.
Lo and behold I made the jaw-dropping discovery that you can abuse fitness. I found out I was partaking in non-purging type bulimia through excessive exercise (I’m not sure if that medical term has been updated in the latest DSM, so apologies if there’s a new word for it). Basically, I was working out way too much (yes, that’s a thing). I was also working out with the wrong frame of mind. I was working out to avoid bigger issues in my life. Essentially, I was using exercise as an unhealthy coping mechanism and it was detrimental to my health.
Exercise gives us a high that if abused, can become a dangerous drug. Which gives a sobering perspective to the term workout junkie.
It’s important to note, my experience is not everyone’s. There are less extreme and more extreme examples of what an unhealthy relationship with fitness can look like. It’s not always in the form of bulimia and it’s not always diagnosable. Most times, it takes some humble self reflection to discover you need a lifestyle or mindset shift.
Maybe you’re working out because you hate your body.
Maybe you’re working out to distract from unemployment.
Maybe you’re working out to procrastinate something important.
Maybe you’re working out to avoid your fears of the future.
“Fitness can help our emotions but it will not eliminate our problems.“
Listen, I know fitness does wonders for mental health and can help with all the above. There’s a ton of science to back that up and I’m not discrediting that. I just think we easily misconstrue what exercise can do for us. Fitness can help our emotions but it will not eliminate our problems. After a workout your fears, anxieties, and problems are still there waiting to be dealt with. Are you going to deal with them?
When I started seeing at-home programs pop up, memories came flooding back to me. I remembered all the nights at home in my childhood bedroom—before I even had a gym membership—where I’d work out for all the wrong reasons, to escape all the things I wasn’t satisfied with in my life. Over ten years later, and suddenly an at-home escape wasn’t sounding like too bad of an idea. When I thought that, I knew I wasn’t in a good place to begin working out in the comfort of my home just yet. Instead I met with my emotions.
Maybe meet with yourself before your workout. Where is your mind at? How are you doing? How are you feeling about your body? What are your feelings about the exercise you’re about to do? If the answers to those questions raise some red flags, maybe don’t workout? If the answers to those questions excite you, then go for it.
Over the years I’ve learned to develop a healthy relationship with the gym, but the pandemic reminded me that there are still some triggers I need to work through. Those questions have helped me navigate how I can workout at home while still staying emotionally stable.
I decided that if I choose to workout I will only do it for enjoyment; to take care of a body and life I already love. Not to escape reality. Not to avoid anything. Not even to stay thin. If there is a day where I’m not in a positive frame of mind, I tell myself, hey maybe don’t workout right now? mmk? And instead, I do something else that sparks a little joy like reading, DIY projects, Netflix, or sending memes to a friend. Maybe you could try the same.
All I’m trying to say is if you choose to workout, I hope you’re doing so for good reasons; that you’re taking care of yourself beyond the physical aspect.
In addition, I hope we can collectively be kind to those who are not working out. Don’t pressure anyone right now because you never truly know what kind of circumstances, self esteem issues, and health concerns they’re grappling with behind closed doors.
We all need to give ourselves permission to relax and take care of ourselves during this pandemic—and for some that won’t always include exercise. I think that needs to be okay.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder the National Eating Disorder Association is available during the COVID-19 Outbreak for support. Visit their hotline help center here.