As many of you know, I’ve had to cut way back on my workouts because of my latest shoulder and knee issues. I’m still maintaining my weight, but man, cutting back on exercise makes me feel like I’m walking a tightrope.
At least I'm not alone on that tightrope. Here’s a recent email exchange I had with my friend Shari, who's maintaining a 35-pound weight loss and is training for a triathlon. However, the last few weeks she’s been laid low with a virus. Here’s part of our communication:
Shari: “This illness has taken a toll on my training. My workout schedule has gone to crap the past two weeks. Now, with the [triathlon] a week away, I should be backing off the exercise and resting my muscles, but I feel a little panicked about having so much time off. I know I still have the endurance to do the event. I just feel like I’m getting fat because my routine is out of whack. It wouldn’t have bothered me to take a week off before the event if the prior TWO weeks’ workouts hadn’t been so spotty.”
Me: “Isn’t it interesting how our brain tells us one thing and reality tells us another? I panic about exercise in times of stress, too, and underestimate my actual efforts until I breathe and recall. Breathe and recall. We live on the cusp of weight gain and weight maintenance. It’s an uncomfortable place to be. I’d like to place a hammock in between the two places and just swing and enjoy my life and not feel guilty all the damn time.
“You have NO reason to feel guilty, but I know that anything outside of ‘normal’ will create a sense of guilt, of not good enough. It’s true with exercise and it’s true with food. Just keep in mind, you navigated Christmas and the traditional foods you make with your family and things turned out just fine. Same thing will happen with this illness.”
Shari: “I was just thinking about how we feel about exercising/not exercising. It prompted me to go back through my tracker and add up all my exercise time for the past two weeks.
My perception is that I have NOT exercised enough because of being sick. However, I’ve actually done 13.5 HOURS of exercise in that two-week span. I’m feeling guilty and I’ve still done more than most healthy people.
That said, roughly half those hours were a combination of yoga and walking. Still, my walking speed has greatly increased. I'd consider it a moderate workout. That still leaves a good 3 hours a week of high intensity exercise that I’ve done while sick. I have no reason to feel guilty. So why do I?”
Ah…there’s the rub. Exercise guilt.
I’ve written about this many times before, how I CAN’T take two days off. I HAVE to find time. Must. Can’t. Have to. Must. Can’t. Have to.
As I wrote in March 2009 (“Are You ‘A Just-in-Time’ or a ‘Just-In-Case’ Maintainer?” ), I’ve been living in this regimented and worrisome way for three years now, to the point of excess. Part of this thinking has grown out of my fear of advancing arthritis. I HAVE TO exercise today because tomorrow (or next week or next month or next year) I might not be able to. And when I won’t be able to, I’ll gain 170 pounds, and…and….
Unlike milk in the refrigerator, bodies don’t come with an expiration date. None of us know when or how our bodies will slow down and die, and we can only ask them to do what they can in the moment. But when we’re faced with studies such as the one out a few weeks ago from the American Medical Association that suggest that as we age, we need even more exercise to avoid gaining weight, it can really mess with our heads.
So today’s question: How do you navigate the shoulda/coulda/wouldas of exercise guilt?
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