Are you struggling with exercise avoidance? Maybe you’ve had bad experiences with exercise in the past, felt ashamed to be seen working out, or are nervous that you’ll fall back into compulsive patterns if you start a fitness journey again. Whatever the case may be, exercise avoidance is just as common as compulsive exercise and deserves to be addressed so you can have a healthy and peaceful relationship with exercise again.
In today’s podcast I go through:
- What exercise avoidance is
- Some common reasons why people avoid exercise/struggle with exercise avoidance
- Signs and symptoms you might be struggling with exercise avoidance
- Why tackling exercise avoidance is important
- The benefits of having a healthy relationship with exercise and healing your exercise avoidance
- Step-by-step guide to overcoming exercise avoidance and reintroducing physical activity safely and peacefully back into your life
Sarah Liz King (00:00:07) – Hi everyone. Welcome back to Holistic Health Radio. I’m your host, Sarah Liz King. I’m an exercise physiologist and health coach, empowering you to find your healthy balance with food, fitness and your body Through my 1 to 1 and group coaching programs, both myself and my team help women regain their periods, find food freedom, and have a healthier relationship with exercise, all while gaining body confidence. Now today’s episode of the podcast is about exercise avoidance. Now, I have spent several podcast episodes going over what a compulsive relationship with exercise is, kind of how to work through having a better relationship with exercise. If you feel like you I guess, rely on too heavily, heavily for a wide variety of different reasons. But from one of my community, actually several of you, I’ve gotten a request to do one on exercise avoidance. What it is, what are some common signs that you might be struggling with it and also how to overcome it. So today we are going to talk about exercise avoidance because believe it or not, it is just as frequent in terms of clients.
Sarah Liz King (00:01:21) – I see is just a frequent thing that often goes hand in hand with disordered eating or eating disorders and sometimes even lingers within kind of hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery. Maybe if people take a break from exercise and then they’re worried about getting back into it. So exercise avoidance as a definition is an individual’s desire to not engage in exercise or physical activity. And it can be for a plethora of different reasons. Some of the common ones that I’ve heard from both individuals who’ve chatted with me through DMS and clients that I’ve worked with are, you know, exercise avoidance due to living in a larger body or experiencing body image issues or associating exercise with weight loss or associating exercise with always needing to kind of hit a certain intensity or a certain duration or volume for it to be counted and good enough and consequently no longer wanting to punish yourself. So avoiding exercise completely. There’s also this fear that adding exercise back in will then lead straight to maybe that compulsive relationship with exercise that you had before. Or similarly but slightly different if you’re adding exercise back in will add to or cause a relapse of eating disorder or disordered eating behaviors.
Sarah Liz King (00:02:52) – There’s also other things that may not be related to an eating disorder or disordered eating specifically, but some people avoid exercise for fear of shame, for fear of injury, for fear of illness. I know there’s a really big one that often goes hand in hand with hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery, which is the fear that your period will go missing again if you start exercising again and maybe you kind of take things too far or add it in too quickly. And again, if you are looking for an episode on how to reengage safely with exercise after hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery, there are heaps of episodes on my podcast about that, so just scroll back through and have a look and listen. I’ll be sure to put a few of those in the show notes so you can easily go back and listen to those. But some of the other ones that commonly come up are avoiding exercise because you don’t want to look at yourself in the mirror or be seen in exercise clothes or feel your body and exercise clothes because of that kind of guilt or shame.
Sarah Liz King (00:03:58) – And that can obviously be a really big one to tackle in terms of body image issues or there’s also kind of exercise avoidance that commonly happens in pregnancy because of fears and misconceptions around, you know, what it might do for the baby, especially if you’ve kind of experienced pregnancy loss at some stage or you’ve had a really difficult time conceiving that can often come up or you are nervous to re-engage in exercise postpartum. Whether that is because you’re worried about regaining your period or maybe you’ve had like a traumatic birth or any number of reasons. Those are some common situations that I’ve seen for why individuals might struggle with exercise avoidance. Obviously it’s not an exhaustive list. And if you’re experiencing exercise avoidance for a completely different reason, just know that that is entirely valid. And I think the reason why it’s important to tackle exercise avoidance is that like any relationship, we don’t want it to be on the extreme ends of things, right? So we don’t want a relationship with exercise that is extremely compulsive. And then on the flip side, we know that avoidance isn’t healthy either.
Sarah Liz King (00:05:13) – A healthy relationship with exercise and exercise in and of itself is kind of a beneficial health behavior for a multitude of different reasons. And getting to a place where you can kind of have a relationship with exercise that feels easy and effortless and doesn’t take up too much brain space or time in your day is kind of the end goal. So we want everyone who’s on the, you know, ends of the spectrum to come into that messy middle ground, which is the goal with the information that I’m giving you on this podcast and also in the work that I do with individuals one on one and in my group program. So. Let’s let’s get into some of the common signs that you might be struggling with exercise avoidance. So these are some of the symptoms that you might experience. Number one would be anxiety or panic. So feeling anxious or feeling really panicky or feeling overwhelmed at the thought of exercising for whatever reason can be a really common symptom. If you’re struggling with exercise avoidance, especially if you have associated exercise with needing to kind of like change your body or kind of it’s related to any like weight concerns or food concerns or body image concerns.
Sarah Liz King (00:06:32) – So anxiety and panic is a really common sign or symptom. Obviously, that fear of over exercising, which I mentioned before, so worrying excessively that if you start engaging with exercise again, that you’ll just take it to the extremes of over exercising. And that kind of brings up those old traumatic experiences of doing that in the past, which can be really, really triggering for individuals. Another common sign or symptom is avoidance of certain activities. So choosing to avoid specific activities or types of exercise that maybe you previously used to engage with that were strongly associated with kind of, you know, needing to kind of hit a certain amount or needing to be a certain intensity or that we’re tied heavily into kind of micromanaging your body weight, shape or size. That can be another really common one. Negative body image trigger triggers is definitely one of the most common signs and symptoms of exercise avoidance that I see. So this is obviously avoiding exercise that involves looking at yourself or being in front of mirrors because that might trigger body image concerns.
Sarah Liz King (00:07:47) – And like I mentioned before, it doesn’t even have to be in front of people. It could also just be, you know, putting active wear clothes on your body or the association of being in a gym environment that can trigger these body image concerns as well. And the last one is excessive rule setting. So creating we’re still really having these really, really strict rules around intensity, duration, frequency and actually avoiding any activity that doesn’t meet these rules. So that kind of kind of can tiptoe between that compulsive side and that complete avoidance side, which is that black and white relationship that we definitely don’t want to have. So those are some really common signs that you might be struggling with it. But then it begs the question, well, what do I do to overcome it? How do I start getting back into moving my body and exercising and actually enjoying it without falling down the rabbit hole of maybe disordered eating or body image issues or all of those kinds of things. Now, I have worked with so many individuals on healing the relationship with exercise, so I’m going to give you a few things that you can take away in today’s podcast and think about and put in place to improve your relationship with exercise, to start exercising again and to do it in a really safe and slow way so that while we can’t completely avoid our triggers, we can kind of.
Sarah Liz King (00:09:18) – I guess, think about how they might show up and how we can prepare for them and how we can move through them so that you can make exercise an enjoyable part of your life again. So the very first step is obviously awareness. So understanding why you are avoiding exercise in the first place. So think about, okay, can I think back to when I started, like when I started avoiding exercise, what was going on in my life? Like when did I start to notice like panic and anxiety and worry around movements and what was going on for me? If I had to pinpoint the reasoning for why I’m avoiding exercise now, what would I put it down to? And brainstorming all of those kind of root cause reasons, because those are the things that are going to come up as you start kind of moving into a little bit of experimentation around adding exercise back in. And it’s really, you know, going to be your job to work on changing those thoughts and those belief systems as you start adding exercise back in.
Sarah Liz King (00:10:26) – And look, there’s nothing to say that you have to add exercise back in right now or at all. This isn’t to put pressure on you to feel like you should or you must, or you have to exercise and move your body. It’s just to say if it’s something that you’re missing or it’s something that you believe would benefit you in a multitude of different ways and you’re wanting to kind of play around with adding it back in. These are some of the things that I would encourage you to do. It would be even more beneficial to work with someone like myself, like an exercise physiologist or therapist, to help guide you through this process. But again, using journaling, using your own experimentation, going slowly. Being gentle with yourself as you kind of move through this process will also guide you towards, again, that messy middle ground. So you’re not in that compulsive side anymore and you’re also not in that avoidance side anymore. So step one, understand why you’re avoiding exercise in the first place. Step two is when you think about kind of adding a form of exercise back in, think about what you would enjoy doing most and when you envision yourself going and doing that exercise, I want you to list all of the different barriers that might prevent you from actually getting to that point.
Sarah Liz King (00:11:43) – Is it you can’t even like fathom the idea of being in a gym environment again or. Is it that you’re worried that if you go for too long of a walk or too long of a gym session that your period is going to go completely Mia again? Or do you worry specifically that any form of exercise or any kind of exercise will make you immediately relapse into your eating disorder? So think about what might be the kind of exercise you want to add back in and also all of the different barriers that might prevent you from getting there, whether they be physical, environmental, mental, whatever they may be. List them out and start as your third step. Brainstorming some ways that you could start integrating exercise back into your life in a really safe way while overcoming some of these barriers, right? So you kind of have to preempt if I am going to start moving my body and I anticipate that these are some obstacles that might show up. So what thoughts and feelings might come up? What urges might I have? What sensations might I experience in my body? Um, how can I make space for those things? And what are the kinds of reassurances and affirmations that I might need to give myself in the moment in order to get through that kind of first little bout of exercise or movement that I do? So brainstorm all of the different ways that you can overcome your obstacles, whether those be from, you know, simple, I guess, habits that you might need to put in place.
Sarah Liz King (00:13:25) – Two different thought reframing that you might need to do to some distress tolerance around some of those feelings. Just kind of think about how am I going to preempt what might come up and how how am I going to move through that in a really healthy way? And then as you start to do this, it really is about that exposure therapy, right? So slowly progressing your exercise from what you started with that felt really safe and comfortable and then progressing it to something that feels like slightly more challenging and outside of your comfort zone. Remember, I had a client a few years ago that I worked with who absolutely loved to ride her bike before she developed an eating disorder. And then it was something that she actively avoided and we worked together to make riding her bike enjoyable again. There were a lot of different anxieties that were coming up for her along the way. And we really, you know, work together to move through those. So. A really good example of riding your bike in a really quiet street versus riding your bike on a really, really busy road.
Sarah Liz King (00:14:31) – You might think about, you know, exercising with one friend being a really good place to start versus going straight back into a gym and being overwhelmed by how many people are there. So, you know, start small and then slowly grow over time. And I think it’s really, really important during these practices that you have a therapist or an exercise physiologist like myself to debrief with and to help you come up with. Also a plan for all of the above that feels realistic and approachable for you. I know that when you’re working on, you know, having a healthy relationship with food and your body, there’s so much talk around What are the different things that you can do to improve those things, But your relationship with exercise is just as important because you’re only going to get the benefits of movement when you do it long term throughout your life. And we want it to be sustainable and also something that you actually enjoy. If there are elements of anxiety or panic or worry, those are things that you need to talk about and things that you you know you should and you can work through.
Sarah Liz King (00:15:33) – If you want movement back in your life in a really peaceful way. So that is where I would start. Exercise is avoidance. Exercise avoidance is just as common as compulsive exercise. So if you are someone that’s really struggling with it, I would really encourage you to reach out to get support because, you know, brushing it under the rug doesn’t really create the changes that you’re going to want for yourself. And you deserve to live a life that has movement involved within it for all of the benefits that it does give us, minus all of the heartache that can come with exercise avoidance. So I’m going to leave that episode here for today. If you really enjoyed it, please feel free to leave a five star rating and review on Apple Podcasts, or you can rate us on Spotify as well. Leaving a written review on Apple definitely really helps kind of expand our reach within this podcast. So highly appreciate it. If you do have time to leave a few kind words. If you are watching this on YouTube, don’t forget to give it a thumbs up and and subscribe.
Sarah Liz King (00:16:37) – That really helps support the channel. And of course you can take a screenshot of wherever you’re listening and be sure to tag myself at Sarah Liz King and I will reshare those on my stories. Until next time, keep looking after yourselves and will be back next week with a fresh new episode you can wrap your ears around.
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