Okay guys. It’s time for some real talk. The title of this blog post makes me squirm a little, and yet I couldn’t think of a more appropriate heading for what I’m going to write about. Did you feel a touch uncomfortable reading it? If so, if you’re REALLY honest, do you think that could be because it applies (or once applied) to you too? I’m putting my hand up right now and saying the term ‘addiction‘ definitely applied to me. And I don’t think enough of us feel comfortable to admit that, to ourselves or those around us.
So, let’s kick off with a little context. If you follow me on Instagram (my main social media platform), you’ll know that I’m passionate about the use of simple good nutrition and regular exercise as key modifiers of our health, for the better. I’m constantly educating myself about that, and sharing what I learn with you. I’m also passionate that a person, let alone a DOCTOR, should practise what they preach. And I finally realised a couple of weeks ago, that although I’ve given myself the title ‘The Irish Balance’, my own exercise/workout routine was anything but.
Two weeks ago, I ran the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon, a 10km event that is one of my favourite mass exercise events in Ireland. Each year, over 30,000 women take part, walking, jogging, running, laughing, chatting, in aid of so many worthy charities. My sisters and mom also took part this year. I love running, and had trained a little bit leading up to the event. In the week before the event, I was working 7 days straight, on my feet all day, including two days on call right before the day of the run. I worked out each of those days, either at the gym or at home. I ran the 10km at my fastest time ever – 41 minutes, 10 seconds, which I STILL can’t believe – and I was ECSTATIC.
But later that evening, my right foot started to niggle. A niggle became an ache and a progressive pain overnight. The next day, my right foot ached to walk on, I definitely couldn’t workout in any sort of capacity (bar just walking), and as timing would have it, I was heading on my annual leave on holiday to Spain the day after that. Long story short, over the past 2 weeks, I’ve a wonderful trip, exploring Barcelona, chilling on the beach, diving into the Spanish culture. But I DEFINITELY funked up my right foot – most likely a soft tissue injury (I’m lucky to have a boyf who’s a sports physiotherapist and was a total GEM advising me while we were away). I walked with pain for the first half of the holiday, and with relative rest, have noticed a big improvement thankfully. Not 100%, but pretty close.
So, for the first time in a long time, I was in a position where I COULDN’T workout. Now, of course, I was on holidays, so many of you will be thinking ‘Hello, its a holiday? REST YOUR ASS GIRL.’ And you’re right! But my reaction to and distress at my injury made me realise two things. First, I had definitely not been planning to rest while away – ideas of beach runs, hotel gym workouts etc had been in my mind leading up to the trip. It finally hit home that maybe, just maybe, I had a touch of an addiction to my workouts. Second, I had NOT been looking after my body properly leading up to my 10km run. I had NOT been prioritising REST the way I do my family/friends, meal prep, workouts, day job, blog content, you name it. My body NEEDED rest, but I just didn’t figure it out. I’ll talk about these two things one at a time.
1. Exercise Addiction
On some level, many of us will have experience this. You know that feeling you get after a super-sweaty session? Or that ‘runner’s high’? Those beautiful endorphins buzzing around your body, making you feel like a champion, like you can take on the world. I love that feeling. I workout in the early mornings, as I’ve always found it clears my mind, de-stresses me, and makes me alert and focused on the day. I call it my ‘me-time’, and I prioritise it. There’s nothing wrong with that. Those endorphins are what keep people coming back for more, and it’s that feeling that we need more people to experience to get the public moving.
But if your day doesn’t feel COMPLETE without that buzz, or if exercise is the ONLY thing you think can de-stress you, or if you’re prioritising your workout above everything else, you might need to take a step back and have a think. I ticked a lot of those boxes, and I ignored that for too long. It was pointed out to me more than once by my ever-wise boyfriend, and a little more tentatively by my lovely family. And I wouldn’t say I was ignoring them per se – but I definitely wasn’t listening.
So take a second, and reflect on that. Be honest with yourself the way I had to be. Take a good hard look at WHY you workout, how MUCH you workout, and where in your PRIORITIES exercise fits. Of course it’s a lifestyle priority. Movement is a massive and crucial component of what keeps us healthy. But like I say above – if that daily ‘session’ has become more important to you than everything else you do for fun, things might have gone a bit too far. Trust me – you do NOT want to wait for an injury to show you that!
2. REST – It’s Part of The Program People (And it DOESN’T mean immobility)
Ah, the infamous ‘rest day.’ We see a lot of this concept hashtagged on Instagram. I want to make a little side-note here first. A lot of the time, it’s in relation to food, which I don’t really like, I’ll be honest. ‘Low-carb breakfast/insert meal here because it’s rest day‘ is something I see popping up all the time. I have no issue with anyone eating a low-carb breakfast – hello eggs and avocado! But I dislike the idea of rest being tied to requiring changes in diet – yes, you CAN have carbs if you haven’t worked out today. We need to move away from the idea of ‘deserving’ foods just because we ‘got that workout in.
ANYWAY. Sorry. Back to my main point. REST. Here’s the thing. Most of us who follow elite sports teams/athletes will know that rest is ESSENTIAL for these guys. They work their bodies to the extreme in pursuit of championships/medals etc, and if they didn’t rest, they’d be burnt out before you could say ‘silverware.’ If you’re a person who trains EVERYDAY (yes, I did), while you might not be an ‘elite’ athlete, the same concept still applies. Despite the ‘rise and grind’ mentality of our lives, we are NOT machines. At a basic level, our bodies cannot repair and regenerate properly if we don’t give them the chance to. I was getting up every morning to workout, seven days a week and not thinking twice about it. Sure, some days I worked harder than others (a 5km run versus a sweaty spin or strength session) but that’s irrelevant.
How do you KNOW you might be on this spectrum? What signs of burn out should we look out for in ourselves? Good question. Here are some examples below. I’ve highlighted the ones I recognised in myself (with hindsight) :
- Difficulty with sleeping
- Poor concentration (at work, school, college, or home)
- Changes in mood – irritability, restlessness, low mood
- Fatigue or feeling lethargic
- Reduced performance physically – are you getting through your workouts the way you used to? Or have you stalled in your progress?
- Reduced bodyweight (whether intentional or not)
- Frequent minor injuries
- Frequent minor illnesses e.g. colds/flu-like symptoms
- Headaches/General aches
- Delayed recovery from workouts (prolonged DOMs for example!)
- Lack of motivation
When you consider that to an extent exercise is a stress to the body, the above signs make sense. Like I say, in no way am I disputing the endless positive effects exercise has on our overall health. BUT a daily stress without a break will take its toll over time no matter what the source.
The signs above might be obvious, or they might not – maybe you chalked them up to other things – work stress, changes in your social or personal life, etc. For me, it took the injury I’ve described above for me to realise what I’d been doing. When I went on holiday, we were pretty active, walking everywhere, which initially maybe wasn’t the best for my foot, BUT I wasn’t going to miss out on exploring Barcelona. So we would walk, rest, have coffee, explore, and just let my injury heal.
Was that a challenging mindset to overcome? Yes. For the first part of the holiday, I had to really shut my thoughts up. ‘I should have worked out today’ definitely crept in there more than once. And then I realised something. Would I say those things I was involuntarily thinking to a best friend? Eh, NO. I wouldn’t. I’d tell her to chill out, stay active as she enjoyed her new holiday environment, walk on the beach, swim in the sea, eat delicious food, and EMBRACE her 10 days away from ‘the daily grind.’ And that realisation guys, was LIBERATING. When I got back to Dublin, I kept my foot rested-ish before starting back at work this week (as I’m on my feet all day on the wards). I went for sunshine walks, went to a conference, tried some home strength and yoga workouts, and went to Taste of Dublin. I got back to the gym this week for swimming, spinning and strength workouts. And I have to say – I’m PUMPED. My body feels READY to go. It’s been rested, recharged, and finally been given what it deserved. I just should have realised I needed that before getting an injury!
So – How Do We Make REST Part of the Program?
I have a few goals for this summer. Some are work and career related, and some are personal. Some overlap. For you guys, I want to continue creating fresh new recipes and exciting provoking blog posts, to share what I continue to learn about our lifestyles and our health. On a personal level, one BIG goal of mine is going to be REST. It won’t be easy, I know that. Habits take time to make, and habits take time (a an equal amount of willpower) to break. I’m going to start with ONE rest day a week – probably Sunday, and I’ll be making it an ACTIVE rest day, with yoga, pilates or a sunny fresh air walk with a Podcast. I genuinely can’t wait. That’s my step one for now. Who wants to join me?
I’ll stop there guys. Here’s my take-home messages on this whole thing:
- Movement is KEY to our health – we should be active EVERYDAY
- Over-exercising is UNDER-recognised in general
- Social Media makes it seem like EVERYONE is ‘smashing’ their workouts everyday – they’re not. You’re seeing a snapshot of someone’s life – and more importantly, that life is NOT your own
- REST is how our tissues regenerate and repair – if you keep breaking your body down without a break, you can’t recover properly
- The SIGNS of over-training are UNDER-recognised and I think IGNORED by too many of us
- REST DAYS are a great opportunity to catch up on the things you miss during a crazy working week – fresh air, family or friends time, a good book, Podcasts, music, or simply just being PRESENT in the moment
- STRESS comes in many forms – over-training IS one of them – even if you don’t FEEL stressed, it is a stress on your body
- Don’t be afraid to be KIND to your body – reward yourself with rest, and don’t consider exercise as a punishment of any form for food you eat (INCLUDING CARBS)
- Always take it back to WHY you workout and how you ENJOY to workout – and continually ask yourself if exercise is STILL having that positive effect
Guys, I’ve said a lot, and I hope some of it resonates with you. I’d LOVE your feedback on this post – leave a comment below or comment at me/DM me on Instagram or Twitter! I feel like this topic isn’t discussed enough and I want to be a voice that says it’s OKAY to speak out about it. On a personal level, I’ve loved writing this post and sharing my journey with you – hopefully my goals to become a true Irish Balance will help you find your balance too!
Ciara 🙂 x
@theirishbalance on Instagram or Twitter!