Episode 22: The 10 Biggest Mistakes I’ve Made on My Health Journey (and What You Can Learn From Them)
From overtraining, to going vegan, to romantic relationships and everything in between, there’s something that everyone can benefit from hearing in this episode.
If you want to jump right in and listen to the full episode where I discuss all the ups and downs of working on my health and recovery click below! And for a summary of my 10 biggest mistakes, plus the main takeaways that can help you scroll down for the blog below.
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The 10 Biggest Mistakes I’ve Made on My Health Journey (and What You Can Learn From Them)
This week I’m feeling a bit nostalgic and reflective because it’s my birthday and as such I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about where I am in my life right now, how far I’ve come and of course the dreams and goals I’m still working towards.
So I thought it would be fitting to take a trip down memory lane and share with you some BIG mistakes I’ve made in my health journey, what they taught me, and how you can avoid my f*&k ups and take a smarter approach to your own health, recovery, or whatever it is you’re working on.
Now I’m actually going to use the word “mistakes” in inverted commas because although each one felt like a really bad choice at the time, each decision taught me something. So let’s kick this episode off.
Mistake #1: Not knowing what was a healthy amount of exercise
When I first started at the gym, I had no idea about ANYTHING, so I got one of the gym floor instructors to write me a program that I followed and started doing some of the classes.
Fast forward 6 months and I was doing multiple hours of exercise a day, had started an early morning intense bootcamp, and was still riding my horse on the weekend. I loved the way exercise made me feel and for the first time I was good at something (because I’d never been particularly brilliant at any sport!).
But there was definitely a downside too. I started to become addicted to exercise. Ultimately, I didn’t know what a balanced routine looked like. I didn’t understand how exercise impacted the body on a physiological level and I had no idea that you could do too much! Unfortunately I started to suffer from symptoms of overtraining (I go through these in the podcast), and had to take a break before adopting a healthier routine.
My main takeaways: just because a little bit of exercise is good, doesn’t mean a more is better. Train smart and get a plan tailored to you, your goals and your health condition.
Mistake #2: Going vegan after reading a fear mongering book
The title was called Skinny Bitch: A No-Nonsense, Tough-Love Guide for Savvy Girls Who Want to Stop Eating Crap and Start Looking Fabulous! And honestly looking back at it now it was a whole bunch of non-sense. None of it was remotely health focus. It was hugely fatphobic and you only need to read the chapter titles, such as “Sugar is the devil” and “You are What You Eat” to recognise how damaging it is.
My main takeaways: the big mistake here was not knowing how to spot a diet trend. Not knowing how to separate real science from cherry picked studies to support someone’s one sided argument.
Mistake #3: Entering a bodybuilding competition
While I was studying personal training (way before my degree for exercise physiology), the idea entered my head to enter a bodybuilding competition. My initial thinking was ‘if I can transform my own body and show everyone how dedicated I am with training and nutrition, then people will think I’m a good trainer, I’ll get more work, and ultimately I’ll be hugely successful because I’ve won a medal and have visible abs.”
This type of thinking is still hugely prevalent in the fitness industry and it’s absolutely backwards. A lot of people sell health either wrapped up as wellness (which most of the time still turns out to be unsustainable diets and training programs) OR they sell health wrapped up in physical transformation which is often disordered based on what they themselves have done.
Entering this bodybuilding competition was the clear start of me having an eating disorder. I was hugely praised for my dedication to training and a strict diet, when in reality it was the complete opposite of healthy!
When people asked me about what I was doing and eating I cringe about how I used to talk about my protein shakes and how little I was eating to fuel the huge amount of exercise I was doing!
I wouldn’t recommend bodybuilding competitions to anyone. They’re incredibly subjective and although I had the wherewithal to recognise how damaging they were to my life, they still caused me to develop an eating disorder which severely impacted my life for years after.
My main takeaways:
1) A competition where you’re judged solely on your physique is hugely damaging to your body image.
2) Good trainers and health professionals come in all shapes and sizes.
3) If you yourself are a health professional and are struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, don’t give out potentially damaging advice to your clients.
Mistake #4: Staying in an unhealthy relationship
I know what you’re thinking – this podcast episode is about HEALTH mistakes – why is she talking relationships? Well simply put, the wrong ones can definitely negatively impact your health. For me it was staying in a relationship that was incredibly controlling and caused my body image to suffer as there were body standards and expectations I simply couldn’t live up to. Trying to heal my relationship with food, exercise and my body during this time was near impossible.
My main takeaways: Who you surround yourself with can hugely affect your health – both positively and negatively. If your friendships and relationships are tearing you apart instead of building you up, you need to edit your circle.
Mistake #5: Getting stuck in quasi-recovery
First of all, what the heck is quasi-recovery? Well it’s a point in eating disorder recovery where you might not be engaging in behaviours such as actively trying to lose weight or eat less, but you’re still not fully healed.
Well, let me tell you, quasi-recovery is hell! Yes you might not feel as bad as you once did, but you’re still not fully recovered to enjoy all of life’s offerings. Quite simply, food, exercise and your body still take up a considerable amount of your headspace. And it’s hard to live your best life when this is the case.
My main takeaways: If you need a break to breathe for a moment that’s fine, but don’t sit there for too long and become stagnant if you know there’s more work to be done.
Mistake #6: Letting my bone health deteriorate for so long
Number 5 and 6 are kind of linked to one another. My eating disorder went on for a number of years and as a result severely impacted my health. One side effect that I’ve had to deal with is osteopenia, or low bone mineral density, which I’ll have to monitor for the rest of my life. The thing that I’m most upset about is that it took me so long to figure out what I needed to do to get my period back! I’m so glad I did eventually figure it out because now I can help other women who suffer from hypothalamic amenorrhea get their cycle back too!
My main takeaways: your hormones are more important than anything else! Especially when it comes to your bone health. Once your hormones are balanced THEN exercise can help improve it further.
Mistake #7: Talking to absolutely nobody about what I was going through (no friends, only family)
I don’t think I ever talked to anyone about what I was going through in recovery except for my family. None of my friends knew, which actually made it easier on some counts and harder on others. For one, I could just be with them without them constantly enquiring about how I was going, but on the other it felt a bit lonely and I had nobody who could relate to what I was battling each day.
My main takeaways: Find someone you can confide in that’s been through it themselves and has recovered whether that be a friend, mentor or recovery coach. They will be a light beam of support for you because they know how hard it is.
Mistake number 8: Thinking that being recovered meant I’d never need to see a psychologist again!
I reached this point where I was like – great I’m all better I can just get on with my life! But then shit happens and I found myself in pain, after a car crash, with a whole new set of crap to deal with and no coping skills to match. Just because you’ve overcome struggles with your mental health in the past, doesn’t mean you should write off ever seeing a psychologist again!
In fact, I think counselling and psychological support has made me such a better person in general. The way I look at it, you exercise your body to stay physically healthy day-to-day, so why should your mind be any different.
My main takeaways: Counselling, coaching, seeing a psychologist are ALL amazing additions to your life. These people will be the ones who listen without judgement, offer support and give you practical advice that you can action. Go do it.
Mistake #9: Figuring out intuitive eating on my own without any support
This mistake was similar to number 8. When I was recovered and no longer needed a meal plan I stopped seeing my dietitian. I didn’t need that constant push to eat more, what I needed was to learn how to eat normally! I fumbled my way through this process and eventually found intuitive eating. I went through the process entirely on my own which was so incredibly hard! But ultimately so worthwhile as it’s not only given me food freedom but life freedom!
My main takeaways: work with an intuitive eating counsellor through this process. They will 100% be able to give you so much support, guidance, and helpful tips to navigate the 10 principles with a lot more ease and a lot less angst compared to doing it on your own.
Mistake #10: Never thinking full recovery was possible
In the middle of my eating disorder it was hard to see my way out. I didn’t think recovery was possible, and I didn’t KNOW anyone who had recovered so I felt like I was working towards an elusive goal. But I’m so glad I kept going because I’m now living breathing proof that full recovery from an eating disorder IS possible, and life is so good on the other side.
My main takeaways: don’t give up! Although it might not feel like it right now – full recovery and a full, happy, meaningful life IS possible.
Hi future friends, I’m Sarah King, a Health At Every Size (HAES) Exercise Physiologist and health coach.
Science, not trends is the foundation of my approach. By nourishing the body and mind with scientific facts we can build foundations for a life of realness, not just wellness.