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Why Working Out More Actually Hindered My Progress
As I start to type out this post, I really don’t even know where to start. But ever since I started talking more and more about working out LESS and seeing better results from it, I’ve been getting flooded with questions on social media. And the more I’ve shared old photos from when I was working out NONSTOP to now (working out 3x per week), the more interest I’ve seen in this topic. So today I wanted to share my own experience with exercise addiction and the issues I ran into because of it. We live in a world where MORE is better. More money, more things, more likes. We want more more more. So in my early 20s, when I still had so much to learn, I always thought more exercise meant more results. More hours in the gym meant I would finally see the results I had always hoped for. But man was I dead wrong.
When I was 21 I started doing CrossFit and it changed my life forever. Not only did I finally meet a community that I felt part of, but I found a new purpose. A purpose that didn’t include obsessing over my own weight. Instead I began obsessing over the weight I could put on the barbell, or getting my first pull up, or running my fastest mile. I had a new purpose that impacted me so deeply that I was never the same. And I took that obsession very seriously and began training twice a day and competing in CrossFit competitions every other weekend. For the first time in my life I wasn’t obsessing about my weight, I felt this new excitement to workout every day, and I was actually losing weight without thinking about it…all while constantly seeing improvements to my fitness. I was hooked!
But that’s where addiction begins – you get hooked and you never want to stop. I thought to myself, “Well, working out once a day has gotten me this far….what about 2x a day? Even better, 3x?” And my addiction took over. At this point, I was 22-23 and working in multiple CrossFit gyms so I would spend my time between classes working out with friends. A friend would want to work out, I would say yes, then it would happen at another gym. And since my whole goal was to make it to CrossFit Regionals and hopefully the CrossFit Games, I kept this behavior up because it kept me beating people in the gym week after week.
But what I didn’t understand was why I looked so extremely puffy. And it was something I really struggled with because all my friends would tell me I was crazy when I said this. It was such a mindfuck – I would look in the mirror and not recognize the person looking back yet everyone I trusted said I was wrong when I mentioned my weight. Yet I was 30lbs heavier and extremely uncomfortable in my body. So I really didn’t know what to do. I wanted to work out all the time because I was addicted and I wanted to compete, but I also wanted to feel like myself. So what did I do? I worked out more like running 5 miles on my rest days or completing rower sprints for time. I continued to work out MORE and began eating LESS because I thought that would decrease my constant bloating throughout my body. But the eating less just led to binging and the constant working out led to more inflammation in my body. I was lost, simply lost.
It wasn’t until I learned about inflammation and stress on the body. I don’t know if it was something I read or something someone said to me, but something finally clicked. I finally learned about cortisol and how it affects our bodies. Cortisol is the stress hormone that is released when you are ‘fight or flight’ mode. Now if you’ve ever done CrossFit, you know that every workout is fight or flight. You go to the gym anxious about the workout, you’re sweating before it starts, and then it’s GO TIME when the buzzer counts down. So when I was working out 2-4x per day, I was constantly releasing cortisol. And this constant release of cortisol can lead to a bunch of different health problems, including weight gain. Then pair this with the constant workouts that included lifting extremely heavy weights, sprinting, and exerting as much energy as possible…well that led to extreme inflammation. My inflammation showed itself through injuries during workouts, poor sleep, extreme cystic acne, and edema. I was swollen everywhere.
So one day when I was looking in the mirror and seeing the same face I hadn’t recognized for years, I finally said fuck it. Fuck.this.shit. If I was working out MORE and seeing LESS results, why not try the complete opposite? Instead of working out 2x/day with no true rest days, I started to work out 5x/week with 2 REAL rest days. Rest days that didn’t include a 5 mile run or rower sprints….rest days that included nothing but rest. When I started this, I HATED it. I felt deep in my heart that there was no way I could still see results from working out 5x per week instead of 21x or more. But I continued to remind myself what Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” So I stopped doing the same shit over and over, and stuck with my plan – workout less and see how it goes.
And guess what? My cystic acne decreased, my edema and constant swelling decreased, I slept better, I felt better, and my workouts were better. Sure, I wasn’t as strong because that wasn’t my goal at that time, but my life was all around better. But to be clear, this took a while. It took me 3 years to lose 30lbs. And this took that long because I really took my time getting to know my body. I didn’t count calories or macros, I didn’t obsess about what I was eating, and I didn’t worry about missing a workout. I LISTENED to my body and what it was needing – if I was craving french fries, I had french fries. If I wanted pancakes, I made pancakes. If I wasn’t craving those things, I ate my normal veggies-and-meat meal. And when I was full, I stopped. When I stopped restricting, my binging behaviors subsided.
As the 3 years went by, I was able to really get to know what my body needed. If it needed more food, less food, heavier workouts, or no workouts at all. 3 years may sound like a long time if you’re a person who is looking to lose weight, but those 3 years taught me so much and those healthy behaviors have been able to continually grow over time. And because of that, I can see how my body reacts to certain foods and certain workouts. I’ve stuck with working out 5x/week for years now and it’s worked really great, but since I started working with a trainer who gives me more intense workouts, I’ve needed to cut back. And I knew that because I’ve taken the time to get to know my body. When I started working with the trainer while still doing my normal workouts, I could see that inflammation creep back in. My thighs started to get a bit puffy and I was feeling more sore than usual. So what did I do? I cut back. I cut back to working out only 3x per week…and I felt scared AF to do that because I didn’t want to slow down my progress. But just like I did in 2012, I reminded myself to trust the process and LISTEN to my body. It’s been a month of working out only 3x/week and all my strength numbers have increased all without seeing signs of inflammation.
I don’t know if you’ll connect to this story in any capacity, but I hope it resonates with at least a few people. I felt so lost during those years and I never had a coach to lead me in the right direction or question the amount of time I was spending in the gym. I never had a coach mention inflammation or cortisol or even exercise addiction. All I had was myself and my gut, and I’m sure AF glad I listened to it. If you take anything from this long ass post, I hope it’s understanding that more isn’t MORE. You don’t have to do hours of cardio or lift the heaviest weights or push yourself to puking to simply get results. You just don’t. It took me years to learn that and I hope that this post helps someone before they go down the same difficult path. More isn’t better, it’s just not. And if you’re afraid to reduce your exercise because you think you won’t continue to progress, I’m here to remind you that it is possible! All you gotta do is trust the process.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section below. I tried to touch on everything people have asked me on instagram, but I may have missed some things. Let me know and I’m happy to answer anything that I can based off my own experience!
Oh, Hi! I’m Juli.
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