Fitness so readily lends itself to extremes. For many people, it seems like you either spend the day on the couch with chips and ice cream or you schedule all of your workouts and prep all of your meals so you can be the “most fit”. But both of those strategies backfire quickly, and finding the right balance can be a serious challenge. Once you get moving, your fitness-loving instincts whisper, “More is better,” and, “That’s not good enough,” even when you’re exhausted and need a day to rest or are tired of your leftover roasted veggies. But the funny thing is, more exercise and vegetables aren’t necessarily better – and are often unhelpful.
If you always work out more, you will probably overtrain. If you eat the same thing every single day, you will probably miss out on social activities (and a whole bunch of nutrients in other food). And if you never rest, you will probably burn out, lose your motivation, and then need a lot more rest to recover.
But you don’t want to lose your progress. You don’t want to sit down and realize how comfortable it is and never get up. So, you keep going, all while wishing in the back of your mind that you could just chill the heck out and figure out what balance actually means. That’s why you’re reading this.*
*This advice is solely from personal experience and intended for people who might be looking for a little reassurance or guidance. If you feel like this advice is impossible to implement in your life and you have a more serious problem, please reach out to professionals who can help you overcome addictions or eating disorders.
If you can’t imagine a day without a killer workout…
… Try taking your gym time one day to go for a leisurely walk with a friend or a podcast, or spend that time foam rolling and stretching.
For me, getting some blood flowing feels good. It wakes me up. I like talking to the gym workers in the morning. It’s a very positive routine. But I used to feel like if I was making the effort to go to the gym, I might as well become a sweaty mess while I was there.
After months of this, the initial boost of energy my workouts gave me started fading into a serious mid-morning crash, so I started to reconsider my everyday workouts. Spending that time once or twice a week moving in a gentler way felt really good. Nothing changed dramatically about the way I look, but if it had, it would have come with a healthier mindset, so that would have been #worthit.
If you often don’t let yourself give into your cravings…
… Eat a little every day (or every few days). If you make a food a staple of your diet, you know it’s always going to be there and you don’t need as much of it. My example? Protein bars. I kid you not – I really enjoy protein bars that much. If I don’t have one for months, as soon as I get my hands on one, I want ten. And… they don’t take up that much stomach space, so I can totally eat ten. But if I have one every day, or every few days, even though they aren’t necessarily the healthiest, I don’t ever feel like I need ten.
So, if you want a little chocolate or pizza or ice cream, try having a little – regularly.
When you tell yourself you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, your cravings don’t have as much control over you.
If you feel guilty when you aren’t “being productive”…
… Change your definition of “productivity”. For example, I recently started reading for pleasure (almost) every night. I’m not reading for school or professional development. I could be blogging or practicing yoga or cleaning some part of my house. But I sit down, turn off my electronics, and read. I used to feel so guilty about this, but then I decided it is productive.
How? Well, it relaxes me before bed and helps me fall asleep more easily. Otherwise, I would probably get sucked into Instagram and Facebook and some comparison trap, and then I’d go to bed feeling bad about myself and thinking about all the ways I’m not as good as every person on social media. And then I wouldn’t sleep, my body wouldn’t recover from my workouts as well, and I’d feel bad the next day, too.
Do you feel guilty when you go to bed early because you could be doing things? Well, you’re giving your body the chance to repair itself from whatever stress it is under. Do you skip stretching or avoid yoga because they don’t burn a bunch of calories? Well, they do increase your mobility and making your future workouts easier. Do you love to write but always neglect it because you’re never going to publish a novel? When you write, you’re developing communication skills and probably enjoying yourself, though. Isn’t that productive?
None of these methods are foolproof, but they serve as good guides with actionable steps to help you overcome your all-or-nothing mentality. You’ll probably still work out too much occasionally or eat eight brownies when you meant to eat one. You might still overextend yourself. All of that is okay – life is as much about balance in general as it is about balancing moderation and extremes. You learn from all the things you didn’t want to happen, and you’ll know how to handle the situation next time. Be gentle with yourself.
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