Listening to Your Body & Recovering From a Burnout
As a trainer and nutrition & wellness coach, one of the most consistent topics I discuss with my clients is listening to their bodies, and being kind and forgiving to yourself: hydration, sleep, a nourishing and balanced diet, and workouts are all crucial to achieving individual health & wellness goals. However, taking adequate rest days, eating enough, and finding joy in workouts and food are all equally important.
My passion is helping others to achieve their health goals to live the best lives they can – and while I am so focused on the health of others, it can be too easy to ignore my own counseling and neglect aspects of my own health & wellness. I was reminded of this lesson this weekend.
Growing up an athlete and competing all through middle school, high school, and college, training has always been a huge part of my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, one bad habit I’ve picked up is feeling guilty about straying from my usual eating patterns and taking rest days. I have chronic anxiety and with that some OCD and perfectionism traits, which makes the feelings of guilt overwhelming at times. These traits oftentimes help my health & wellness goals by keeping me focused on my goals and disciplined when I need to be – but can also be harmful.
Since moving to Virginia, the most days off I’ve taken in one week is 2 – and that has only happened a handful of times in the past 5 months. My norm is to workout 6 days per week, so those weeks with an extra rest day often leave me feeling guilty and anxious. Those negative feelings generally motivate me to get back “on track” the next week. The same goes for my macros – I have gotten much better about embracing flexibility, but still have a hard time with increasing calories and really embracing flexibility some days. Similar to taking an extra rest day, a higher calorie and more flexible “cheat” day or meal will often leave me feeling anxious, leading to more motivation the next week to get back “on track”. For any athletes, former athletes, personal trainers, health professionals, or anyone working to achieve health & fitness goals, some of these scenarios and emotions may sound extremely familiar.
The past 5 months of dedication, which is generally a very good thing, really caught up to me this week. I tried switching my workouts to after work rather than before work, which I learned was not going to work for me. All good – I learned a little bit more about myself and what kind of schedule will work with my new job! However, this week I took a whopping 3 days off…crazy right?! But the difference was this weekend, each day off didn’t motivate me to get back into my normal schedule and get back on-track. Instead, it fueled the stray.
Not only did I take 3 days off, but I totally dropped the ball with my macros 4 days this week, each day I strayed worse than the day before. We all have cravings, but 99% of the time I feel in-control of my cravings; I can embrace flexibility and moderation. But last night was another story – my cravings for sweet and salty junk were all over the place, and I just gave in! That’s when it finally clicked – I wasn’t listening to my body.
Yesterday after work I was 100% motivated (I thought) to have a great workout finally, and follow my macros to the T – something I normally don’t have a hard time doing. But once I got home and sat down on the couch, I realized, I absolutely did NOT want to work out and I really just wanted to crush some Halo Top and pita chips. I could have fought those urges, but they were strong.
How are you supposed to know when to fight off cravings and urges to skip workouts, and when to give in to them? As I was sitting on the couch watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch last night, I thought back to the last month. There were a few factors that caused me to embrace the cravings:
About a month ago, I was having a really hard time hitting my carbohydrate macros, and kept going over due to intense carbohydrate cravings. I was constantly feeling frustrated with my inability to meet my goals.
This past week I’ve been waking up starving and craving sweet breakfasts, when I normally go for savory.
In the past two weeks, I haven’t enjoyed my workouts nearly as much as usual. Instead of serving as an outlet and fun activity, they were just another bullet-point on my to-do list. I was dragging my feet to the gym and looking for excuses.
This past week, I’ve felt extremely sore after every workout, even though they haven’t been out of the ordinary for me. My body was over-worked.
Waking up has been significantly more difficult this past week, even though I’ve been sleeping enough.
I was just really enjoying lying on the couch binge-watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch while cuddling with our new kitten.
I wasn’t feeling abnormally depressed or anxious, so I could rule out cravings due to my mental health.
Reflecting on the past month, I could see that I was just burnt out. I could either A) ignore what my body was trying to tell my and put off this inevitable binge for another few days, or B) give in to the signals my body was sending me, and veg out on the couch eating lots of food in un-measured portion sizes that I generally wouldn’t. I went for option B, and am so glad that I did.
I woke up this morning initially feeling chubby and discouraged. But as I started my day, made breakfast, and listened to my body, I felt so different! I didn’t wake up starving, I made some eggs and avocado toast and felt 100% satisfied, and actually felt motivated to re-program my workouts (I’ve been putting this off for about a month) and get back in my groove today. I don’t feel anxious (or at least too anxious!), I feel motivated and passionate again, and am ready to move forward.
I was stuck in a rut- and I think when we work in professions that are so focused on other people, it can be all too easy to neglect the counseling we give others and ignore our own needs.
An extra off-day isn’t the end of the world. Not hitting your macros isn’t the end of the world. Spending an evening being un-productive watching mindless TV is not the end of the world. Yes, giving in to these urges all the time can impede your goals; so learning to recognize the difference between mere cravings and excuses to skip workouts, and your body actually needing a break is crucial. Tuning into that mind-body connection is so helpful here. Yes, those extra calories consumed and few workouts missed may set me back from where I want to be for a week or two, but I will get there. We can’t change the past, we can’t control every aspect of the future, we can only learn, move forward, and live one day at a time.
So the next time you give in to those cravings, use it as an opportunity to strengthen the mind-body connection, and learn. Don’t start some crazy “detox” or juice-only cleanse: accept what happened, try to figure out why it happened, don’t stress, and move forward. As I always say to my clients and subscribers, and as we’ve seen sometimes ignore myself, listen to your body, be kind to your body, and nourish your body!