I’ve been religiously exercising with a gym workout for years: 30 minutes each of cardio and strength training three times a week. I was stronger than ever. My body was lean and toned. Exercising made me feel incredible, and I was proud of my healthy lifestyle. Then I quit – and didn’t lift a weight for three months.
Why I Quit Exercising: Stress + Perfectionism
Early last September, I cracked. My aunt invited me over for a last-minute dinner with the fam to feed myself and my soul. I needed it. A stressful year had peaked into horrible summer. My freelance income had been ebbing for months, right at the same time that my wiener dog needed three very expensive surgeries. For a while, he couldn’t walk, and he had to live in a cage for four months to recover.
Family members were sick and facing crises. My car broke down. I doubled down on my efforts to find new income, working extra hours every day. I canceled my upcoming vacation and tightened my belt to the smallest loop.
And then I was invited to dinner. But there was a problem: I had carefully planned out my week between client interviews, work, vet appointments, and of course – my gym workout. Going to dinner meant missing it. What to do?
I had committed to a healthier lifestyle and exercising was an important part of the promise I had made to myself. I struggled with the decision and was to the point of tears when I realized: if exercising is making you this upset, it’s NOT healthy.
So I stopped. I went to dinner that night and had extra dessert. Exercising wasn’t the only thing I stopped; I also quit watching what I ate and working all those extra hours. I started drinking wine again. I went from controlling perfectionism into full-on “SCREW IT” mode, a pattern I have repeated more than once in my life.
And it felt fantastic! I had so much free time! My workout no longer stole precious hours from my workday and I was able to write more. I finished house projects that had been hanging over my head for months.
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More importantly, I had more time to relax. I binge-watched all seven seasons of Game of Thrones and went out for drinks with friends. I went to the park instead of the gym and laid on the grass. I took afternoon ice cream breaks and became a pimiento cheese connoisseur. After a couple of months of this laissez-faire lifestyle, I had gained 15 pounds – but I just didn’t care.
Why I Started Exercising Again: My Future Self
By November, my freelance income waxed back up and my dog was walking again. Months of relaxation had left me in a much better mood, and my crappy year swung upward on the strength of a chilled-out autumn. With more free time, I was also able to get organized – and I came across a letter to myself written when I first started exercising and eating healthier years ago.
I hadn’t done it to look good or to wear a smaller size, but because I wanted to be able to climb mountains when I was 65. To snorkel and paddle a kayak and swim with sharks. And I wanted to honor the body I was blessed with by treating it with respect and love.
After reading that letter, I knew it was time to get back on the wagon – and it was much easier than I thought it would be! I already had exercise clothes and a gym membership. I already knew what to do during my gym workout. The habit had already been instilled, I just had to put down the pimiento cheese and pick back up my workout.
I also had great inspiration: a milestone birthday was around the corner, and there was no way I was turning 40 with a muffin top. Plus – none of my pants or bras fit anymore. I could either buy a new wardrobe or get my ass back to the gym. So I did.
And this time, things are different. If exercising and making healthier choices stresses you out, you’re doing it wrong. And I was. This time, I love myself first. I give myself credit for trying, not just for doing things perfectly. My goal is a balanced life, and I adapt my workout plans whenever I need to without beating myself up about it. I count bike rides and dog walks and tai chi as exercise.
Will I be as toned and lean as I was? Nope – but I will be healthier.
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