About 2 months ago, I decided to stop sport. You can read why here, but long story short I (finally) prioritised my physical and mental health over sport. It had become an obsession rather than a passion, and I still had some lingering disordered habits surrounding food. So I took the plunge and, 8 weeks later, I couldn’t be happier. Here’s why.
Flexibility is key
And I’m not talking about your body’s flexibility (although that also matters in different ways). I’m talking about your mental flexibility surrounding food and sport. Before I took my foot off the pedal, I was very much stuck in a rigid routine with regards to eating and exercising. Always eating & exercising at about the same time, doing the same weekly training cycle, not allowing myself to have unscripted rest days… the list could go on. But stopping sport quite literally yanked me out of this toxic obsession with routine. Sure, routine is good, but flexibility is more important. Routines are not made to rule your life – simply to guide them. If your routine defines you rather than the other way round then you’ve entered dangerous territory.
rest isn’t just good…
It’s great. I used to only allow myself one rest day a week, and a few extra days throughout the year (unwillingly). Rest has healed my body and mind. My periods are back, my niggles are (touch wood lol) gone and my mindset is so much healthier. Now that I’m gradually getting back into sport, I want to carry this mentality forward – no longer see rest as lazy, but as productive. If I’m feeling tired or don’t want to do a session, I’ll know to take the rest instead of forcing myself through something that won’t mentally or physically benefit me.
you still need to eat
Previously, I used to restrict quite a lot on my rest days. I’d say it was because I “wasn’t as hungry”, but in reality, it was due to an irrational fear of getting fat. Like one day can make you put on weight! As a result of this restriction on my rest days, I definitely wasn’t reaping the rewards of it. I’ve eaten what I would eat whilst exercising over the past 2 months and it’s allowed me to prove my fears wrong. Sure, my body has changed – but in good and necessary ways. I always thought I’d get fat (not fat-shaming, just highlighting my irrational fear) if I ate the same without exercising. Well, I was wrong.
If anything, you need to eat more
Stopping sport but eating the same allowed me to regain my periods. And whilst exercising, I never had them. So what has this little experiment clearly shown to me? That I need to eat more when I get back to sport. I want to maintain these periods and be able to exercise in a sustainable way. Meaning clever training and sufficient energy intake. I’m already gradually implementing a tiny bit of sport again, and I’m upping my fuel intake accordingly. Always lean towards more than less – because then you’ll safeguard yourself against REDS and injury.
A lot more people struggle than you think
I always thought I was in a minority of people who struggled with food and/or exercise. Well, I was also wrong here (there’s a theme). So many people have reached out to me with similar stories and experiences. So much so that it’s been scary and overwhelming at times, knowing how many others are struggling. But comforting too in a weird, slightly disturbing way. I just wish I could make others realise what I’ve learnt so they don’t have to go through it all themselves.
Having said that, I think that, sadly, it is part of being human – to not apply knowledge to yourself until you really have to. By this I mean that often, deep down you’ll be aware that you’re overtraining or suffering from REDS, but until you hit rock bottom, you won’t do anything about it. I was the same. I read the articles about REDS and amenorrhea, had friends who had stopped sport to get their periods back – but still ignored the issue. Sometimes you do just have to realise the toxicity of your ways through your own means rather than being told it by anyone else.
I hope this post has been a bit insightful and maybe shown you that rest isn’t as scary as it seems. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and honestly, I’d hate to think where I’d be (mentally and physically) right now if I hadn’t stopped sport.