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When Good Fitness Habits Go Bad

Feeling the fitness buzz can lead to some amazing positive changes, but it can also cause you to lose sight of what's important. Don't let your enthusiasm cause you to fall into one of these classic traps!

We all begin our fitness journeys with the best of intentions. We want to look better, feel better, regain our confidence, and be healthier overall. So we embrace the wealth of information out there in books, websites, and locked in the brains of smart trainers and nutritionists. We do a little research, then a little more, and if we're determined enough, our everyday habits start to change in some profound ways. We start to experience the wonders of fitness, and soon enough, we're hooked.

I love seeing this change take place, because it shows the type of passion that's necessary if you want to keep growing and improving for years or decades. However, as most of us can attest, the fitness mindset can also lead you down a slippery slope. You can miss out on events that you'll regret later, damage relationships that deserved better, and beat your body into a pulp chasing an unrealistic ideal.

When do good fitness habits go bad? It's personal, and to be honest, sometimes we have to learn the lesson the hard way. But here are four classic scenarios that should have you nodding with recognition.

Good Habit Sticking to a disciplined regimen ...

This is something that many people struggle with, so if you've been nailing your four training days and two conditioning sessions every week, congratulations: You're already a cut above the rest. You've been at it for long enough that it's now become a regular part of your daily life, and you have no problem moving things in your schedule around if it means getting in your daily sweat session.

You also eat mostly whole foods, know when to say "when" in terms of alcohol, and you have no qualms about asking the waiter to hold the "this" and bring an extra side of steamed "that." After all, we've all had to make sacrifices, right?

"You also eat mostly whole foods, know when to say 'when' in terms of alcohol, and you have no qualms about asking the waiter to hold the 'this' and bring an extra side of steamed 'that.'"

... Gone Bad Unwillingness to be flexible

Your fitness and nutrition regimens may feel like they're chiseled into stone, but guess what? They're not. Once you start to believe that your program is holy scripture, it can—and usually will—begin to negatively affect the rest of your life.

If your best friend is having a birthday party on Friday evening and you're seriously considering bailing on her because that's your sacred deadlifting hour, a priority check is in order. If your boyfriend scores a table at a prestigious restaurant for a special dinner, and you order an undressed salad rather than the entree you really want, your "comitment" is teetering into "punishment" territory.

Don't become such a stickler for macros and workouts that you miss out on everything else in your life. If you're adamantly opposed to compromising for the sake of your friends and family, remember that you only have one life and the gym can only nourish your soul so much.

As I like to say, make your fitness fit your life—not the other way around.

Good Habit Pushing yourself ...

"You can find the sweet spot where you can train hard while still leaving enough in the tank to come back the next day."

When you first start training, every heavy lift and interval cardio session can feel like it has the potential to destroy you. But with time, you can find the sweet spot where you can train hard while still leaving enough in the tank to come back the next day.

Soon enough, you're heading to the local club pretty much daily for some O-lifting practice, metabolic circuits, bike sprints, or other high-level activities that used to be unthinkable. You always make sure that you get your sweat on, no matter what. The entire gym staff knows you by name, and people assume you've gone AWOL if they don't see you for more than one day in a row. You're living the fit life!

... Gone Bad Ignoring red flags

Look at enough motivational memes, and you might get the idea that all pain is just weakness escaping your body. But it ain't so. Push hard enough for long enough, and your bones, muscles, and connective tissues will send you some glaring signs that it's time to ease up for a little.

If you've been noticing that your muscles feel unusually sore, your strength has been decreasing, or you've been feeling particularly fatigued, perhaps you're not getting sufficient rest. All that exercise can be a lot for the body to handle; the body may be trying to tell you to hit the brakes. Ignore this message, and you might end up on the shelf for a lot longer than a day or two.

You may be driven by guilt or fear to continue well past the point of exhaustion. If so, ask yourself: What are you afraid of? That you'll undo all of your progress by taking a few days off? That you'll lose those biceps you've worked so hard to build? It's simply not going to happen. Depending on your age, gender, muscle group, and type of training you engage in, it can take anywhere between 2 and 12 weeks of inactivity before any noticeable muscle loss occurs.1

So if your body is screaming at you to relax, do it without fear! You might be surprised to discover that your body responds to rest by "catching up" to the growth stimulus you provide it. A week from now, you'll come back to the gym stronger, not weaker!

"If you've been noticing that your muscles feel unusually sore, your strength has been decreasing, or you've been feeling particularly fatigued, perhaps you're not getting sufficient rest."

Good Habit Drinking a gallon of water every day ...

Water is great, and most of us don't consume enough of it on a day-to-day basis—and just to be clear, I'm of the opinion that coffee and soda don't count, no matter what anyone else says.

We need water for healthy hair, skin, and nails; to keep our body's organs functioning; to optimize physical and mental performance; and so much more. To that end, you've made an active effort to chug down more of the good stuff throughout the day, and you've even resorted to carrying a gallon jug with you wherever you go.

... Gone Bad Working your way up to 8 liters per day

When it comes to water, more is better ... to a point. So what's that point? Say you're running off to the bathroom every 20 minutes, and it's disrupting your day-to-day life. You overhear people saying in worried tones, "What is she doing in there?" You can't even sit through a movie without hitting pause six different times, and yet, you continue doing it. Why? Because fitness! Never mind the fact that you haven't gotten a night of uninterrupted sleep in weeks; you're on a mission here.

While it's essential to stay hydrated, anything much beyond a gallon of H20 will probably yield diminishing returns. What's worse, drinking too much water can actually harm your health, and some people have even died from water overload. This is a phenomenon known as hyponatremia, in which the sodium concentration in the blood drops dangerously low. It's rare, but it can happen. Cap your water intake in the gallon range; it's plenty.

Good Habit Sharing your passion for fitness ...

You're so elated with the amazing changes that fitness has brought into your life that you're eager to let the world hear the good news. You know that if people only ate better and exercised smarter, they would finally see the results that they've been craving for years. You finally have the knowledge and the capacity to help, so you view it as your responsibility to do so.

Maybe you consider quitting your fulltime office job to become a personal trainer, or perhaps you'll return to school to become a nutritionist. Whatever the case, you're passionate about spreading fitness information, and you want everyone to hear what you have to say.

"You finally have the knowledge and the capacity to help, so you view it as your responsibility to do so."

... Gone Bad Judging, preaching, in-fighting, and shaming

Maybe you've heard the term "fat-shaming." If not, you can imagine what it means—and how ineffective it is at helping people change. So calm down, keyboard warriors, and understand that there is no single right way to achieve a goal. Regressing to insults won't help to prove your point, either. If anything, it'll only make everyone doubt the legitimacy of what you're saying.

Along the way, be careful not to become so overzealous in your beliefs that you judge fit people who simply do things a different way. If you're an intermittent fasting aficionado, who's to say that people who prefer to eat throughout the day are bad or stupid for the choices they make? They're not. You can point to this study or that one, but everyone is different when it comes to their body, needs, and lifestyle. You may think fasted low-intensity cardio is jive, but it may truly work for your friend better than sprints. If so, that is good for them.

In the same vein, "interventions" are highly, highly overrated. If your loved one is curious about what you're doing, let them come to you. Not everyone is as far down the path of fitness enlightenment as you are, and often, unsolicited advice is the most unwelcome advice. Respect not only other people's views, but also their space.

References
  1. Taaffee, Henwood, et al. Alterations in muscle attenuation following detraining and retraining in resistance-trained older adults. Gerontology. 2009;55(2):217-23.

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