For many people, getting themselves to the gym is a huge struggle, a New Year’s resolution on repeat. For others, believe it or not, it’s the complete opposite. I know, because I used to be one of them. For years, I practically lived at the gym. My problem wasn’t getting to the gym, it was getting out of it. Even breaking my ankle couldn’t keep me away. Instead of running, I took up swimming; instead of squats, I focused on my bench press and abs. Rain, snow, fatigue, soreness, heat—I exercised through it all. Hashtag #NoExcuses, right? Wrong! Exercise became an unhealthy obsession for me. It took precedence over everything and everyone else in my life and as a result, my mental, emotional, social and even physical health suffered.
While leading a physically active lifestyle is great, it can be overdone and taken to an unhealthy extreme. But, when all your co-workers praise you for your willpower and discipline around exercise, it can be tricky to recognize when you’re going a bit overboard.
Here are 5 signs it may actually be healthy for you to ditch the #NoExcuses mentality and lay off the gym a bit:
1. Exercise isn’t fun anymore.
When exercising becomes more of a drudgery and a chore, it’s time to cut back and regroup. Instead of going to the gym or for your usual run, engage in active, physical play. Find some enjoyable activities, such as volleyball, gardening, rock climbing or hiking to help you get back to a place where you not only look forward to moving your body, but also results in a pleasurable and fun experience.
Related: How To Put The Fun Back Into Fitness
2. Exercise is a punishment for the “bad” foods you ate.
When working out is used as a means to compensate or pay penance for the donut you ate at the office, it creates an unhealthy and disordered relationship between exercise and food. Exercise isn’t just about what it can take away from us (calories, fat, cellulite, etc.), it’s more about what it can give to us—strength, stamina, longevity, mobility and endorphins. To help divorce exercise from food, put away the fitness trackers that calculate steps, calories, miles and fat burn. They keep the focus on all the wrong things and perpetuate the never-ending eat-guilt-exercise punishment cycle.
3. You’re obsessive and rigid about your workouts.
If your entire life revolves around getting in your workouts and you’re spending an exorbitant amount of time at the gym, that’s a huge red flag. When it gets to this point, exercising ceases to be healthy and can actually be detrimental to your health. Chronic fatigue, stress fractures, loss of menstruation, lower immune functioning, depression and anxiety are all symptoms of excessive exercise.
To stop the madness, start cultivating some non-fitness related interests and hobbies to bring more balance to your healthy lifestyle. Bonus: research suggests you’ll get the same stress-relieving benefits of exercise. So what are you waiting for? Sign up for that pottery workshop or take Italian lessons (preferably taught by a hunky Italiano). The world’s your oyster, but you won’t experience it if you never leave the gym!
4. You feel excessively guilty on rest days or if you miss a workout.
On days you hit the gym, you’re “good” and “feel thin”. On days you don’t, you’re “bad” and “feel fat” or “ugly”. Sound familiar? If you’re crawling in your skin on days you don’t do a workout (even on a much-needed rest day), that’s an indication you might be hanging your self-worth on exercise and body image.
Truth is, your worth is not at all contingent on whether or not you exercise and, get this, your body image has nothing to do with your actual weight or size; it’s an image you create in your mind. Studies have shown that women can lose weight and still perceive themselves as large, a phenomenon known as ‘phantom fat’. So, shaping and sculpting your body at the gym isn’t necessarily going to improve your body image or your self-worth. That’s an inside job.
Instead of trying to change your body, try accepting and even appreciating it right now. Put down the dumbbells and pick up a pen. Write a thank you letter to your body, acknowledging and thanking it for all it does for you every single day. Address different body parts and express your gratitude for all they allow you to do and experience. Be as detailed and specific as possible.
5. You’re consistently canceling time with friends and family to work out.
When we place an over-emphasis on exercise, we can, in turn, neglect other critical factors contributing to our health and well-being, particularly relationships. This actually makes us less healthy and less happy. Research has shown that people who are socially active have fewer health issues and live longer. One study in particular found that strong social connections decreased the risk of premature death even more than exercise.
Instead of spending two plus hours at the gym every day, cut it down to 30-60 minutes and use that extra time to hang with friends and family. There’s evidence to suggest that shorter workouts can be just as effective, (sometimes even more effective, than longer workouts, anyway.