My Hardcore Habit

Wrong RoadThere is a deodorant commercial airing right now where Lolo Jones, an Olympic track athlete, talks about how hard it is to be an Olympic track athlete and then says that she is now going to compete in Bobsled in the winter Olympics.  In another similar commercial Olympic Soccer player Alex Morgan explains that when she’s not playing soccer she does stand up paddle-boarding and that “if you’re not sweating, you’re not working hard enough.”  At the end both women say “I do more.”  and big block letters on the screen say “Do: More.”

The first time I saw the commercial I thought “That’s awesome!” and I thought back with pride to a couple weeks ago when  I had a video shoot to do to celebrate the success of Fit Fatties Across America.  I was sick and felt absolutely horrible but I took great pride in going to the shoot and acting like everything was mostly fine and that I “sounded better than I felt,” (holy crap was that a lie!).  I came home and got much sicker.

These two things have helped me realize that one of my old issues was trying to come back.  A big part of my eating disorder was compulsive exercise but I didn’t call it that – I called it “being hardcore.” [Trigger Warning for Three step classes in a row? No problem – now let’s do 45 minutes each on the elliptical, treadmill, rowing machine and stair machine before I hit the weights. It included never feeling like I had done enough and proudly ignoring all of my bodies signals like hunger, soreness, pain, and sickness.  It also included being praised for behavior that was very destructive.  People constantly said that they wished they had my discipline.  Or, the worst thing now that I look back, that I was their inspiration.  Yikes – sorry about that.

Happily I was able to recognize the mindset and stop it before I traveled any farther down a bad road.  I was able to admit that ignoring my body is not how I want to treat it.  I take another look at that deodorant commercial and realize that, to me, the message is not awesome.  These women are allowed to do whatever they want – if they want to do ten Olympic sports that’s completely their business.  But why must we constantly be told that whatever we’re doing is not enough?  As fat people, this message can be overwhelming since we’re told that a fat body is evidence that we aren’t doing “enough.” I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told that I need to “eat less and exercise more” by someone who hasn’t even bothered to ask what I eat or how much I exercise.

But of course it’s not just fat people, no matter what our size, the message is clear: we’re never doing enough.  Doing 2 hours in the gym a day?  Not enough.  Olympic athlete, but only in one Olympic sport?  Not enough.

Enough.  We all get to choose how highly we prioritize movement, what kind of movement we do and how much.  If you had asked me during my compulsive exercise days, I would have guessed that you needed at least 2 hours of movement a day to have any health benefit.  I remember how shocked I as when I found out that studies show that 30 minutes a day was the sweet spot, and that people benefited from even an hour a week of movement (there’s a great, though not 100% fat friendly video about that here [Trigger warning: I think that the video contains great information if you can get past the brief mention of “obesity as a problem” in the beginning].  What if our public health messaging was about “do what you want to and can, and celebrate that” instead of “work out like it’s a job” or “you will never be doing enough”.

Everywhere I look I am encouraged to be “hardcore”…work out more, workout harder, treat my body like a limitation to overcome instead of like a partner, ignore my bodies signals.  I gave that the old college try and it did not work out, so I will continue to try to treat my body like a friend, move in ways that are joyful and help me reach my goals, and celebrate what I do – instead of beating myself up for what I don’t.  The hardcore habit was hard to kick but, for me, it was worth the effort.

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30 thoughts on “My Hardcore Habit

  1. You are right on, Ragen! I think, however, we tend to do this with all aspects of our life. People just assume you have a cell phone, or that you will answer an email within the day. We are expected to give 100% to our work, our families, our communities, and ourselves. We are now even over scheduling our kids.

    My grandmother used to say, “You are worthy just because you are, you don’t have to do anything to prove it. We are human beings, not human doings.”

    1. I agree that this affects every aspect of life. As I was reading it I was thinking of other things aside from body and size. For example: I once saw a segment on HGTV where a man was showing off his awesome self sustaining house. It was really cool but his attitude was such that if the rest of us weren’t living like him (totally ignoring his privelege that allowed him to even build such a house), we might as well not bother. So, little ol me out here in the suburbs is a chump for recycling. If I’m not growing my own garden and pumping my own water then I’m not doing enough. Or how I recently changed my FB profile pic to show my support and solidarity for a specific cause and suddenly people were posting articles about how stupid I was for thinking my little FB pic makes any real difference. Just changing my FB pic isn’t enough to show my support, I need to be out there doing so much more—of course I’ve read similar articles about how writing to your congressmen and attending marches is just as futile and simply not enough, so what the heck am I supposed to do?

      The main reason we got rid of sattelite tv is because I was so sick of being told I was not enough. I wasn’t skinny enough, hardcore enough, my kids weren’t smart enough-soon enough (My Baby Can Read), my house isn’t clean enough, my clothes aren’t fashionable enough, etc.

      I suffer from an anxiety disorder related to my thyorid disease but I’ve been suprised to learn that anxiety issues are very prevalent. No wonder!! How can we not all be anxious all the time when we are told to do more, do more, do more and we never feel like we’ve done enough.

      Love your grandmothers saying. I’m going to save that and use it as a reminder. 🙂

      1. AmeliaJade said, it’s “futile and simply not enough, so what the heck am I supposed to do?”

        I’ve heard this sort of thing from a lot of people, especially the younger generations. I’ve started to wonder if it’s not all part of the game that politicians/society play: give people a defeatist attitude, and maybe they will stop trying – which is reflected in a lot of what younger people have said to me. “Why bother? It doesn’t make any difference anyway…” (in regards to recycling)

        And maybe that is what keeps people going to diet centers in droves. If we don’t feel like we can ever do “enough” exercise (which costs us little to nothing), then maybe will we continue to buy into the multitude of “weight loss” programs out there.

      2. I don’t have a TV for the same reason. I have serious anxiety and panic issues and constantly being bombarded with messages about how I’m not good enough just makes it worse. Getting rid of the TV made things much better (I know that’s not an option for everyone, just what worked for me).

        I, too changed my profile picture on facebook to show solidarity for a specific cause and received criticism from people on my friends list about it. I just asked them why they cared so much about what I did, if they thought it was stupid then they didn’t have to do it, but I was still allowed to make my own choices.

  2. Luckily I was spared that commercial. I watched a bunch of ted talks by brene brown today, and this reminds me of one of the things she says about vulnerability. That in order to be kinder and gentler with each other we have to be kinder and gentler to ourselves.

    I have also come across some research that says the moving meditation style, deep breathing kind of exercise (aka enjoyable as opposed to escaping-a-tiger mode) is healthier and more beneficial. Google nose breathing exercise for more info.

    Thank you for another excellent blog post.

  3. Amen to that!!!
    i sometimes get comments that i only did 30 – 45 min at the gym. Well hey i did enjoy meself those minutes why should i do more cause everybody else does it too. Cause you belong with the rest of the hard workers??? I do not need to prove myself…

    1. I remember being at the gym for 90 minutes because I was doing both cardio and strength that day. I got a phone call and decided to cut my cardio short by 15 minutes. Some guy walked up to me and said “Your husband called, he said to do another 30 minutes.” I looked at him and said, “He just called and told me he’s home sick, which is why I’m leaving.” Man, there are days I feel like punching people.

      1. I’m surprised you managed not to punch him! Wow, I’m not much for responding violently, but that was just beyond rude!

  4. Wow, I definitely need to digest this. I am afraid I overdo some aspect of my life the vast majority of my time. At one point last year I had my full time job, my side business and was taking Masters classes. I would laugh off tiredness and say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
    Right now I am overcoming a quick onset illness that causes me to sleep A LOT and has me in a bit of a brain fog. I feel anxiety that I cannot do all that I wish to do. I think it’s a sign that maybe I tend to do too much and need to adjust what is “normal” in my head.
    Thank you for your story Ragen. There’s a lot of reflection in my near future.

  5. So are there guys versions of this or do male Olympic athletes get spared the you must do more to be worthwhile bs?

  6. It’s all addiction just in different costumes. I have learned to stop and ask myself what feeling am I avoiding by over eating/exercising/working/smoking/drinking I could go on…

  7. I love…. adore….find rapture in…crave working out with weights. I realize it is possible that my extreme feelings about this are connected to my compulsiveness. I’ve usually comforted myself that at least in the gym I am obsessing on something healty for me…walking the track, doing eliptical machine, strength training. I could happily spend all day there. However, I don’t beat myself up when I don’t go. In fact, miss three days and I’m out of the groove and have to really work hard to get back at it. It’s almost like eating steamed fresh veggies… they taste so good and my body celebrates with overall good feelings with I choose them, but take a break from standing at the counter and cooking.. choose easier, more processed options and I’m back out of the routine. Maybe I’m that object at rest that tends to stay at rest. I need some kind of force to get me into motion for the beneficial things.

    Currently I am on 95% off loading of my feet. I don’t quite make it. Maybe I’m at 75%. I cannot manage crutches and a wheel chair isn’t practical for me. I use a knee roller around my school and between buildings if I don’t have my own ride. I’m soooooo looking forward to being more mobile again and getting back to bellydance, strength training, camping, swimming and just walking the dog. I can’t swim right now due to the open wound…. sigh. I’m not very patient.

    I get the ‘do more’ message alot at my job in the public school. Do more message from my children’s school as a parent… Do more from my internal chatter having been raised in USA and being exposed to media. I work very hard at filtering that and reminding myself of what I have done… rather than what is left undone.

  8. It’s the endless ‘competition is good!’ and ‘enough isn’t ever enough!’ chatter in our brains, fed by all sorts of messages, both public and private. We’re taught to one-up each other, that trying is no good if all we do is succeed as opposed to smashing the competition into little bits, to hold those who do less of anything in derision. It’s unhealthy and ultimately unsustainable.

    Whether it’s how much/what type of exercise, how pure our food, how many shots we can down before passing out, how many hours we spend behind a desk pushing paper, how many extra-curricular activities we jam into our kids’ days, or how much better a bargain we got on toilet paper than our neighbors, it’s all part of the same culture of puritanical excess. You see, we are better people if we do more, eat ‘cleaner’, make more money, and pay less than someone else we know… at least that’s the theory.

    The problem is it doesn’t work as a long-term strategy. It fosters anger and resentment, it leads to extreme stress, it breaks up families and destroys lives because it’s all too much and there’s way too much at stake if we ‘fail’.

    Here’s the reality: you can’t fail at life simply because someone else got more for less or spends more time on something than you do. There’s plenty to go around if we share it, and we don’t need to prove ourselves worthy of breathing the air around us.

    I’m not saying competition has no place in the world or that it’s always toxic. Far from that. A little competition is a healthy, positive thing. But like so many other things, it needs to be tempered with its opposite to do any real good and a little can go a long way. Cooperation is necessary, too. Exercise is terrific… but the body also needs rest. Yes, working hard at our jobs is a good thing… but so is taking time to play and to simply veg out and watch a good movie or to talk with your family and friends.

    I find it sad that so few people actually believe in balance. I think we’d be happier, healthier people if we truly did give it a try.

  9. I think your question was rhetorical, “But why must we constantly be told that whatever we’re doing is not enough?” but in case it wasn’t, the answer is because someone makes money by convincing us that it is so. I used to joke that I stopped watching t.v. because I didn’t have enough self-esteem to be constantly told I wasn’t good enough: my teeth aren’t white enough, my hair’s not youthful enough, etc. etc. I joked, but there is a grain of truth to it. Someone decides (evidence-based or not) that a thing is “good” including (but certainly not limited to) self-esteem, health, a thin body, a huge house with expensive appliances, money, muscles, etc., and then those with a profit-making agenda try (and succeed, mostly) to convince everyone that they need it, they need more of it, they need as much as they possibly can get of it, and (even more nefarious) that there is something wrong with you if don’t have it and aren’t trying to get it. It is Marketing 101, it is the scourge, IMO, of our chosen economic system, and it is seamlessly introduced into our lives every day. Until you read blogs like this (I love your blog, Ragen!) and you begin to see how the lies are all stitched together. Thank you for all the important topics you bring forth here!

  10. I recently discovered the rap artist Macklemore. I’m not much for the rap genre, but I have to admit – I love his lyrics! Just a small piece from his song Wings:

    “Look at me, look at me, I’m a cool kid
    I’m an individual, yeah, but I’m part of a movement
    My movement told me be a consumer and I consumed it
    They told me to just do it, I listened to what that swoosh said
    Look at what that swoosh did
    See it consumed my thoughts”

    I have to agree with OldTrout – marketing (and thus TV) is the devil! lol. They sell us everything. They sell us our sense of self. And even when we are aware of it, it’s hard to keep from wanting those things, because they trick us with their marketing ploys. It’s so very hard to keep our eyes open, constantly questioning what we are being told.

  11. I can’t stand those types of ads. “Doing more” isn’t always “doing better”. It’s taken me years to learn how to relax and enjoy life; ad agencies don’t need to guilt-trip me about it.

  12. I just read earlier that April is “Stress Awareness Month”. Perhaps all this “do more, not enough” mantra is what is causing us to have to become aware of the stress it causes. There is a lot of actual evidence out there that stress causes more physical harm and death than obesity yet I see no war on that. Only more sources of stress.

    Thanks Ragen for continually giving us a different point of view on what we see every day so we actually take a moment to think about it rather than just accept it as so.

  13. Unfortunately, over-exercise is so often overlooked as the exercise bulimia it often is, but rather rewarded and praised as you’ve unfortunately experienced. But it doesn’t end there; we’re frequently fed distortions about what’s “enough” and what’s realistic. I addressed this in my last post as well
    Change needs to start with a focus on the imminent benefits–of the physical activity, of eating, of any self care. When we are on solid ground with this focus, it’s easier to be dismissive of the absurd messages that no doubt will continue.

    Lori Lieberman, RD, MPH, CDE, LDN

  14. In my dorm hall I saw a poster for a high-intensity “fitness bootcamp” promoted by my school’s fitness center. Needless to say, I never bothered going to the fitness center because they use body-shaming tactics to promote themselves. I’ll just stick to my “light” walking and swimming, thanks.

  15. Today a friend posted on FB advertising her friend’s new page which is about exercise. I was so bothered by the wording:

    “This is a place to discuss our work outs, the motivation to become better people, and hard we work to get there! If you know someone working on being a healthier, fitter person, send them over too!”

    I read it and Karen’s grandmother’s quote came to mind. Better people? So working out is how you become a better person? Am I not enough now if I’m not working out? The implication is that these people will BECOME better once they start moving. Do they mean better personally or better than everyone else?

    I’m all for moving, and for supporting one another but I wanted to respond that if they don’t feel like a worthy person now, no amount of moving is going to make them feel like “better people”.

    That sentence just really irks me. But that is how ingrained this has all become in society.

  16. Sometimes I lose track of the intense profit motivation driving our media messages. Not just the “be thinner” and “own more”, but also the idea that we should never relax, veg out, take time for ourselves, etc. If we are consumed by consumerism and its accompanying work ethic-Do more, Buy More, Be More- we won’t have time to ask important questions such as who is my 80 hour workweek truly serving? They’ve got us on a constant seesaw of guilt and desire.

  17. This is really excellent — and I really liked that video. I often feel so much resistance to exercising exactly because of this pressure I feel about it. Either not doing enough of it or doing it for the wrong reasons or blah blah blah. I’m also getting married next year and there is such noxious culture around exercising pre-wedding.

    So anyway, this week, I was having major back pain and I went to see my chiropractor**. He gave me a few stretches to do (the main one being basically cobra pose from yoga) and just the physicality of doing those has caused my muscles to be sore. Lightbulb. My aversion to the pressure of “fitness culture” has caused me to become even more sedentary and unfit than before! I don’t actually have to go anywhere or do anything particularly special to be more in shape than I am right now. I don’t have to wait until I am able to commit to hours a day (or even week) to be doing something.

    Anyway, that was just my personal ah-ha moment and I think that video also nudged me along in the right direction, too.

    ** My chiropractor is AWESOME btw. Has NEVER mentioned weight as a possible cause for any pain I’ve had and I didn’t even coach him about it. Also has never chided me me even jokingly about not perfectly executing directions he’s given me in the past. Also, he’s a feminist. Hit me up if you need a great chiropractor in Chicago.

    1. I have a fantastic chiropractor in mid-Missouri who also keeps weight out of the picture when providing treatment.

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