Are You Sacrificing Your Health for the Sake of Fitness?

By Jen Comas
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I used to set several alarms each morning in order to drag myself out of bed so that I could get in a workout before I started work at 6 a.m. Prioritizing exercise before work sounds like a good idea, but in order to get in a workout and still be on time for work, I had to get up at 4 a.m., which was no easy task.

It always took several alarms to get me out of bed, and loads of coffee and pre-workout stimulants just to get going. I would get my workout in, but by around 11 a.m. my energy would start to crash. I’d drink more caffeine, which would give me a boost for a couple of hours, and then I’d start feeling exhausted again, requiring — you guessed it — more caffeine or energy drinks in the afternoon.

When nighttime rolled around, I was physically exhausted yet completely wired, unable to fall asleep due to all of the caffeine I had consumed. I’d finally doze off around 11 p.m., giving me about five hours of sleep on most nights.

I was exhausted during the day from lack of sleep and so much exercise, which caused extreme hunger and cravings. I did my best to control my food intake throughout the day, but by the time I got home, I would give in and overeat. This left me feeling guilty and ashamed, and I’d vow to “work it off” the next day, keeping me trapped in the vicious cycle of sacrificing my health just for the sake of fitness.

Sacrificing physical or mental health to exercise at all cost is something I see women do all the time without realizing it. Whether you exercise often because you love to do it, or because you are working toward a specific goal, here are a few ways that you may be compromising your health sake of fitness.

Sacrificing Sleep for a Workout

One of the most common mistakes that we see women making is getting into (or furthering an already existing) sleep deficit just to get a workout in. There is a huge difference between being so comfy in bed after a great night of sleep that it makes it hard to to get up and exercise versus forcing yourself out of bed exhausted, after not having gotten enough sleep, because you believe that you must work out.

Whether your goal is to gain strength, gain muscle, lose body fat, or feel your best, getting enough high-quality sleep is absolutely crucial for getting your best results.

Getting enough sleep will enhance your mood, help you manage stress, keep you energized, improve your willpower, aid in recovery, and help you manage your hunger and cravings, all of which is necessary in order to feel fantastic and function well each day.

When you are considering sacrificing sleep just for a workout, there is a lot more at stake than a workout: you could end up feeling exhausted for the rest of the day, or deal with intense hunger and cravings, all for one training session.

If you are struggling to get enough sleep, or find that you aren’t sleeping well, consider using the time you’d dedicate to the workout to get some much-needed sleep instead, or consider taking a walk to opt for some gentle movement that won’t further exhaust you.

Additionally, if you find yourself relying heavily on coffee or pre-workout stimulants in order to get through your workouts, there is a good chance you would benefit from getting more sleep.

Forcing Yourself to Exercise When You’re Sick

Getting sick is a huge inconvenience, especially when you are working toward a goal. It can be really tempting to take medicine and push through your workouts, but by doing this you risk prolonging your illness, and spreading your sickness to others. The sooner you feel better, the sooner you can get back to your workouts.

If you don’t feel well, honor your health by giving yourself permission to rest and relax as an act of self-care.

Taking a walk can be a great compromise here to add some movement without pushing through a workout that your body isn’t ready for yet.

Following Social Media Accounts That Cause Guilt or Shame

There are a lot of accounts on social media that post about diet and exercise. However, many of those accounts seem to do a lot more harm than good. I’ve worked with thousands of women for more than a decade, and many of them have shared with me that certain accounts on social media make them feel guilty for not exercising, or about what they’ve eaten.

Social media can be tricky. Guilt and shame can often be hidden under the guise of “inspiration.” You may think that seeing photos of seemingly “perfect” bodies, workouts, or meals is helping you stay focused, but for most women, this causes them to compare themselves, and become overly critical of their own choices, neither of which are healthy.

If you aren’t sure if following an account is serving your best self, here are a few questions to ask yourself. Is this account:

  • Consistently lifting me up?
  • Helping me by providing valuable content that is either fun or informative?
  • Causing me to feel guilty or ashamed of my own behaviors?
  • Making me feel better after viewing their posts, or worse?

In order to protect your mental health, unfollow any social media account that makes you feel guilty or ashamed about your choices.

You can do your best in a way that feels good for you without having those types of distractions to bring you down.

Chasing Soreness from Exercise

Let me start by saying that soreness is not always an indicator of an effective workout.

Chasing soreness can be tempting, because it’s a physical sensation that tells us that we did something. However, that soreness isn’t able to indicate whether or not you did something effective.

Ideally, your workouts should have challenging days, moderate days, and easier days. If you find that you are sore after every workout, this is a good indicator that you are consistently exceeding your limitations, which could work against you.

When you’re working toward a goal, it’s important to zoom out and look at the big picture. Your training session has the ability to help or hinder everything else in your day, ranging from hunger and cravings, to energy and mood.

Exercise is a tool to help us feel our best. It should always add to our lives and health — never detract from it.

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About the author:  Jen Comas

Jen Comas is a Girls Gone Strong co-founder and GGS Coaching Head Coach, as well as a NASM Personal Trainer and USAW Level One Weightlifting coach. She has competed in figure and trained as a powerlifter, teaches and practices yoga, and is obsessed with motorcycles, dirt biking, and downhill mountain biking. Learn about Jen on her website and follow her adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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