Mindfulness Based Exercise: Don’t Let Numbers Rule Your Workout

No matter what sport or activity you are involved in, it seems that all goals are centered around numbers.  Score, weight, miles, time, etc.  My workouts and training are no different.  In competitive jump rope most events are timed and the goal is to get as many speed steps or double unders in that set time frame.  All I do in my head during an event and practice is count.  Other people may count the miles they run or the number of goals in a practice (or baskets or yards or touchdowns)…you get the point.  Statistics and numebrs are inescapable for athletes.  This mindset has bled over into recreation as well.  Miles on a treadmill, calories during a workout, laps in a pool.  I remember my dazed and confused face when my psychologist asked me about how my exercise lined up with my values.  Values?  Besides being competitive and winning I was at a total loss.  What did exercise mean to me without assigning quantitative values to it?  I really thought it meant nothing.  I mean without winning what was the point?  And then on the off season when I was more entrenched in eating disorder behaviors, I also though the whole goal was the most calories burned, or miles ran, or minutes total.  That one question threw me for a whole loop.  I wasn’t let off easy either.  This was one of those questions my psychologist let sit with me.  And sit and sit.  Can you answer this question off the top of your head?  If not, I challenge you to sit with it for a while too.  Because I want you to think about this on your own and have your own answers I am only going to give you one example from my own experience.  One of my values in life is compassion.  One of the reasons I exercise is because I am compassionate towards myself and want to take care of this body I have been given.  I have compassion towards others and looking forward to my future I realize that exercise lines up with this value because I want to take care of myself so that I can have children one day and that I can live a long healthy life for my family.  This made me think a lot about how some of the exercise I was engaging in was not at all lined up with this value.  Running your body into the ground and punishing it for the things it didn’t do that day is not compassion.  This whole question started resonating with me as I sorted out my values and realized there is a definite line between positive exercise and detrimental exercise.

To really get in touch with myself and my values, I had to explore exercise without the numbers.  Explore what exercise really meant to my wellbeing.  What does running actually feel like if I am not running towards a particular set mileage?  What does it feel like to just lift weights without thinking about adding more or reaching a particular set for that day?  What does it feel like to jump an event without counting or even knowing the end outcome?  This took a lot of patience and effort on my part.  It felt extremely out of place and uncomfortable for a while.  In training it isn’t always practical to do this in a workout, but I would recommend trying this on your own.  Go outside for a run without a tracker and try a new route where you don’t automatically know the mileage.  How did it make you feel?  What were you thinking about?  Even just for a day, try to exercise without a goal centered around numbers.  It is like intuitive eating is a way.  Exercise because you genuinely want to and stop when you know your body needs a rest.  This was the best way to get back in touch with my body.  I couldn’t believe how out of touch I was until I started exercising to just exercise.  Of course during training, it becomes about numbers again, but because of this practice I can always go back to my roots of why I do this.  I make sure and take days where the numbers don’t run everything.  You may be reading this and thinking to yourself I bet that works for some people but I could never do that.  I thought the same thing.  I have been involved with the crossfit community for a few years now and if I can foster this mindset in an environment that is all about the numbers, I have faith others can too.  I was deeply entrenched in eating disorder behaviors and I have been free from exercise dependence now for over a year.  I challenge you to take one day of your workout routine this week and let your focus be on how you are actually feeling.  As exercise begins to shift in your life and it is lining up with your values, you can then start to use numbers as a positive experience and not feel controlled by them.  If you have more specific questions about this or my particular experience and workouts, please feel free to leave a comment and also please let me know how this exercise without numbers goes for you!

 

Health First

I am incredibly grateful today for the strength I have built during my recovery.  March was a difficult month.  I let the stress of school and life runaway with me and health fell by the wayside.  I was ignoring hunger cues, pushing meals off until later in the day, and was consumed with negative thoughts.  I was struggling through forced workouts and was always tired.  It took a lot of effort to admit that I needed some extra reinforcement, but I met with my nutritionist who I hadn’t seen in several months and it changed everything.  I didn’t want to go because I knew everything she was going to say and I knew what I needed to do to get back on track.  Yet just the act of going and voicing where I was in life helped turn the corner.  This past week is the first in a long time where I followed my plan the entire week.  I was able to do this because I planned and prepared and put my health first.  I ate more consistently and had energy for my workouts.  I am training now and it is important to maintain that balance.  I am trying new foods and ideas and the planning makes my week infinitely less stressful.  I feel like I am breathing again.  I needed to stop and write this down so that in the future if I have similar struggles I will know what works and what I need to do.  Next week is a very busy week so I am going to plan over the weekend and am encouraged that it will be manageable.

Progress

Guess what? If you actually follow your meal plan and eat consistently throughout the day, you don’t get overly hungry or full and there is balance! While this may seem intuitive to most people, it is something I needed to be reminded of. Yesterday I followed my meal plan for the first time in a couple of months and I am working on showing my dietician that between now and in two weeks when I see her, that I can follow my plan and hold myself accountable. While I was proud of what I accomplished yesterday and what I am accomplishing today, it remains a difficult mind game. I feel a bit dismayed and the eating disorder likes to think I am a failure. Although I know my weight didn’t drastically change overnight, my body image is shit today. I am going to trust my body and my dietician and follow this damn plan for the next two weeks and see how it goes. I know it is likely some things will be discussed and adjusted at that time, but for now all I can do is try. More than half the battle with me is the actual planning. It is way easier to go about my day and ignore meals all together until later, so stopping to eat seems like a great annoyance. I realize though that actually planning things out ahead of time helps the day go smoother in the end. Like today for example, instead of restricting and putting off lunch or spending a lot of wasted time trying to decide what I should or shouldn’t eat, I have my lunch in the fridge and when my reminder goes off to stop and eat I will. No extra thought involved. I am also working towards increasing my water intake, especially on rest days because I tend to only drink a lot of water during workouts. I am writing this on paper so to speak in order to continue to hold myself accountable. I don’t tend to be vocal about when I struggle, but writing helps to keep me on track. Hope everyone else is having a great day and if you are struggling to stay on your meal plan know that you aren’t alone and we can do this. Just keep moving forward because you will never know the outcome unless you push. I have a feeling that staying on a plan will have a very positive outcome in my life especially mentally.

Fighting Fires

Saturday was the first time in a long time where I actually dreaded going to therapy and I literally had to drag myself there and talk myself out of canceling on several occasions. Now I am sitting here talking myself into making an appointment with my dietitian. I am writing a recovery update because the more you talk about something the less power and control it has over your life. Recovery is an ever evolving process that I have recently taken for granted. I enjoyed a season of life for most of last year where recovery wasn’t taking up much space in my mind and I felt true freedom. Recently it has been quite the opposite and I have been coming to terms with that. Having to wake up and constantly battle myself is exhausting. I forgot how exhausting. The reality is I know that the eating disorder will never be a solution and this is just another season of life and I will grit my teeth and make it by. Talking to people, being honest with my treatment team, making an effort to meal plan….all these things help put out that fire.

Waves

In between the many papers, tests and presentations, I thought I should have an update of sorts.  I have been wanting to write for a long time, but when I sit down to work there seems to always be something more pressing to do.  That is no different today, but I still need to take the time for myself.  This morning is wonderful and slow before I rush off to a full day.  I tried the pumpkin Noosa for the first time and it was amazingly delicious.  I make a pumpkin cheesecake for the holidays and this yogurt tasted a lot like that.  I highly recommend it!  I have had to be more conscientious of my meal plan lately which frustrates me, but also reminds me that life will always have the ups and downs.  I am not struggling, but I was getting into poorer habits that could lead to destructive places.  Luckily I am in a place to recognize the signs and make corrections.  Starting the day sitting down with breakfast helps tremendously.  This time of year always leads to a decrease in mood due to the time shift and the added stress of graduate school has made it extra challenging.  More days than I like to admit I want to just crawl in bed and stay there, but I keep dragging myself (extra caffeine required) along.  Being back in class makes me realize why all my bad habits were so easy.  Coping skills take time, while other behaviors don’t.  I have had to discover quick coping mechanisms to turn to.  Some of them have included social media, short play sessions with my dogs, hot showers.  Anything to clear my mind and reset so I can come back and be productive with my work.  It is a balancing act, but I am looking forward to the holiday season where I get a break from the endless pile of work and get to spend a lot of time with family.  I enjoy my work in cancer rehab and my clients brighten my day.  My training for competition is coming along well, but also with ups and downs.  School sometimes gets in the way of training and I have just had to accept that and work with the schedule I have.  Overall things are good and I am very grateful, I just need to keep taking it one day at a time and ride the waves that my mood brings.  I know that is a cliché saying when it comes to bipolar, but I have found it to be very true.  If you go with the flow of your moods and don’t fight them, they are more manageable and the negative does pass.  I am actually proud of myself.  I am handling grad school very well and I am enjoying it.  The stress and pressure is sky high, but I am prioritizing and also living life.  I am doing what I was not able to do throughout high school and undergrad.  It may have taken some time, but I feel my life is my own again.

Accomplishment 

This week has been one I need to document and remember during the more difficult times.  This week I had a lot of energy and I have never felt stronger. I ate, I worked out. And everything was in balance and healthy.  This is very important to me because for the past few weeks I have been doing this (recovery and life) on my own without the direct support of my treatment team. After the passing of one of my pups in May things started slipping because I wasn’t taking care of myself properly.  But I stopped it. I stopped the slide all on my own. Generally I would work through whatever was going on in therapy and my therapist would point out my destructive tendencies and essentially “wake me up.” This is truly the first time that I did this all on my own. It isn’t something to gloss over because it is a very large accomplishment further proving to myself that I can be fully recovered.  I can take care of myself and stop those destructive thoughts. I have been mindful and in love with life this week and hope to carry this over as I get closer to starting a new season of life. For now I’m going to enjoy my accomplishments and continue to take care of myself and enjoy life.

Gains

Yesterday I went to see my nutritionist for the first time since August.  Even typing that makes me happy because I have been stable for quite a while now.  That is until I started working out more.  In July 2013 I had an anterior/posterior spinal fusion for dysplastic spondylolisthesis.  A lot of words for my vertebrae where slipping off of each other and pinching spinal nerves.  The recovery was hard and long and although I went through a lot of physical rehabilitation, it has taken me almost two years to get to the point where I am feeling more myself in terms of strength and endurance.  I started building my strength back up and returning to a more vigorous training schedule over the past month.  For the past year I would average working out 3 days a week at a moderate level and now I am increasing to 5-6 days a week at a more moderate to vigorous level.  This has nothing to do with losing weight or eating disorder behaviors.  It used to be as I was growing up, but now it is a part of who I am and I do it because I love it and I know when to take rest days and when to listen to my body.  I am learning how to be an athlete with a completely different mindset focused on being mindful and knowing my limitations.  I am a competitive athlete and I am considering competing in the future so I want to stay in peak physical condition.  I am also in awe that my body has been able to recover like it has and what amazing things it is capable of.  The past three years I haven’t trained or competed because I was recovering physically from my back surgery and mentally from the eating disorder.  I have learned a lot in that time and I look forward to competing and being an athlete with a whole new perspective on physical and mental health.  But back to the original reason for this post.  I put off seeing my nutritionist for a few weeks because I knew that we were going to rework my meal plan and increases were unavoidable.  I also had this feeling in the back of me head telling me that I couldn’t see my nutritionist if I was in a more stable place in recovery because that meant I was failing my treatment team and I wasn’t good enough to do this on my own.  Stupid. I knew it was time to make that call when I kept having workouts that weren’t up to par and I was absolutely exhausted afterwards.  Usually working out energizes me, but I was barely making it through.  I also have a bad tendency to not eat as much during the day and eat more at night which doesn’t exactly fuel my body for a 4pm workout.  Also my hunger cues were all over the map and I found myself starving way more than usual.  I knew I needed some changes and I knew that I needed some support.  So yes we did rework my meal plan and have increased it as well as balanced it out.  I feel good about it, but change takes some getting used to.  Although I am in a stronger place of recovery I still use a meal plan based on the exchange system (not calorie based) because it provides structure and because I am an athlete and nutrition is a large factor in performance.  I would encourage anyone in recovery from an eating disorder to try intuitive eating and mindful eating but I am going to be honest – that doesn’t work for everyone.  A meal plan gives me the accountability I need to make sure I am fueling my body throughout the day even if my hunger cues aren’t necessarily on point.  I will say that I am not rigid in my plan and do allow for flexibility which is very important.  I also only record what I am eating when something is off or like now for the next couple weeks while I am adjusting to a new plan.  Although I was nervous to see my nutritionist and increase my plan it has been a very positive thing and I really look forward to increased energy for my workouts so I can continue to improve both my strength and endurance.  I encourage anyone, not just people in recovery from an eating disorder, to visit a nutritionist because getting the right nutrition can have major impacts on health and wellness and athletic performance.  Maybe you feel tired all the time because you are lacking something in your diet, or maybe you aren’t giving your body the correct protein it needs after a workout.  Whatever the reason, I think it is beneficial for people to reach out for support to be the best you can be.  I used to be ashamed that I was on a meal plan and had to take that extra time to figure out meals all the time, but now I truly welcome it even if I still struggle on occasion.  It also helps my mind be less preoccupied with food because I know what exchanges I need to get in and that is that.  No arguing with the eating disorder and compromising my health for a bit of relief.  I have come a long way in recovery and know that this meeting was just another step in a positive direction towards complete recovery.