This is a story about excessive exercise and how it affected my mental health.

“Today is the day I start working out!” I told myself for the n-th week. The n-th week when I’d start out feeling SUPER motivated to tackle crazy intense online workouts (Chloe Ting, anyone?). Also, the n-th week when I’d taper into zero motivation as the days went by.

I would try workouts that promised me a gorgeous bod that I could flaunt. Even “celebrity workouts” on YouTube where I tackled the excruciating routines of Gal Gadot, Miley Cyrus, and Victoria Secret’s supermodels. But some days it’s just hard to keep up.

One day, I decided that achieving that hot body was all the motivation I needed. Or at least, that’s what I thought… Thus, my relationship with excessive exercise began.

Me deciding it was time to start losing weight

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I’d set my mind to start eating clean (bye bye, carbs!), and working out everyday (hello, sore muscles!). Well, easier said than done… just five minutes into my Intense Belly Fat Shred workout, I was dying to throw the towel in.

All the sweating, sore muscles, post-workout nausea… How could any of that be normal?! Don’t get me started on diets. Why does everything that tastes good have to be so bad for you??

Diet food = tiny portions?

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I thought I was becoming my own fitness coach by being super tough on myself. I “motivated” and “pushed” my lazy bum to get off that chair to start doing those ten reps of squats.

My food intake became more restricted with the help of a calorie calculator and I strived to consume as few calories as possible. On days when I managed to eat as little as possible, and pulled myself through a super intense workout, I’d be super proud of myself.

Hey, I should be proud for taking steps to achieve my #bodygoals, right? Well…

Excessive Exercise Punished My Body And Mind

Mere weeks after adopting this “fitness-conscious” lifestyle, my body was weaker than before I started! I became less energetic and way more temperamental, lashing out over the tiniest things. I was constantly hangry, so no, I wasn’t the most pleasant to be around with at that time. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying weight loss is inherently bad. But the line between punishing your body just because you want to look a certain way and wanting to lose weight for health and strength reasons does get blurry sometimes.

Not that we should just let loose and absolutely not look after our bodies. What I’m saying is that things like weight loss should come from a place of acceptance and gratitude. All bodies are worthy – no matter their size. 

With that said, my weight loss journey was severely skewed to the “punishing yourself just to look a certain way” side. I realised my “fitness journey” was a cover for my obsession to look like the women I was seeing all over social media. It was also a way for me to punish myself for indulging in the things that I loved. (Am I the only one who finds it messed up that we’re always told to equate our favourite foods as “sinful” or “guilty pleasures”?)

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The thing is, many of us go through this cycle of excessive exercise frequently. Subconsciously, it became ingrained in us that things like eating fried chicken = needing an intense cardio session later to work it all off. 

One day I asked myself – why did everything that had to do with my body have to resort to some form of punishment? Why couldn’t I simply be at peace with how I looked? Cultivating healthy habits not because I was making up for something, but because I just wanted to be kinder to myself? 

I would love to say that even after coming to that realisation, everything else just fell into place. But no, the journey to accepting my body was hard. There were ups and downs, and even till this day, I sometimes find myself lapsing into those toxic thought patterns.

But here are some pointers I came to realise along the way that helped me along my journey:

Cutting Yourself Some Slack Does Wonders

The focus here is on sustainability. You can technically lose 3kg in a week by putting yourself through a strenuous and rigid diet routine. But what are the chances you’ll be able to continue that lifestyle long-term?

Just think of all the bland chicken breast and kale you’ll have to eat every day. Absolutely horrible.

99% of the human population’s response to unseasoned chicken breast and boiled veggies

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Instead of trying to shed off as many kilos as you can in a short period of time, cut yourself some slack by loosening the “rules” to your healthy lifestyle. You don’t need to hit the gym every day for hours at a time because that’ll only drain you out and won’t give your sore muscles the time to recover. And trust me, neither do you need to stick to a 1,000-calorie diet.

Instead, hit the gym when it suits your needs. Yes, there needs to be discipline, but you shouldn’t be dragging your feet to that 60 minute HIIT class every day either.

Stop Watching Your Weight On The Scale

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Back then, I stepped on the weighing scale twice a day, without fail. As long as the numbers went down, I’d go on with my day feeling like an absolute champ.

If the numbers went up, I’d immediately squeeze in a workout or starve myself that day. I couldn’t risk losing my progress. So I did everything I could to make sure I remained on track. 

This only succeeded in doing one thing: making me super paranoid. Soon enough, I wasn’t stepping on the scales just twice a day. It was three times a day, then four, five, six… You get the idea. 

Keeping track of these numbers can quickly get out of control. What I recommend is to take photos of your body once a week. Progress photos are the way to go because you get to see REAL results, and not just numbers on an electronic screen. Seeing the differences (even small ones) through the photos made me even more motivated to workout.

Here’s another reason to not step on the scale. We may think “numbers don’t lie” but there are SO MANY FACTORS that affect minor fluctuations in your body weight. Water retention and hormones do play a part! So please, you don’t have to give two flying Fs about the numbers on the weighing scale.

Assemble Your Personal Cheerleaders

As long as you’re with the right people, you too will be motivated to workout.

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It’s hard to think of something as a punishment when you’re having fun. Which is why getting friends to tag along on your fitness journey can do wonders in keeping you spirited and motivated. 

Being able to share both the good and bad moments with your squad can also make the journey a less lonely one. It’s a damn good excuse to meet up after work more often. You get to spend a productive evening with your pals while burning off some calories too. 

If you find it difficult to stick to a routine, keeping your friends in the loop is a good way to keep you accountable on your health goals.

Leading An Active And Healthy Lifestyle Shouldn’t Be Punishing

Taking the first step in adopting a healthy lifestyle is hard, but it doesn’t have to be a horrible experience. At the end of the day, your mental health is not worth sacrificing for that “bikini-ready” body (all bodies are bikini-ready btw).

The takeaway from my story about excessive exercise is: Being kinder to yourself doesn’t mean always giving yourself excuses to slack off. It means knowing your body’s limits and starting the process of change from a place of love and acceptance.