The past four weeks have marked the beginning of my journey here in Europe, where I’ll be studying for the next six months. I have spent the past month in Germany studying the language at university, so I had school every day, homework to do, scheduled activities and more.
I knew before arriving there that I probably wouldn’t be able to train at a gym and that I wouldn’t always have control over my meals. I also knew that the past few months of training had left me quite exhausted and demotivated so I took the opportunity to take the four weeks off lifting and to allow myself to eat whatever, whenever.
Now, I know some people may be reading this and thinking to themselves: “if it’s really important, she’ll make time for it”. That saying is 100% true and I don’t dispute that. But over the past few years I spent so much of my time focusing on my body and everything else that comes with competing. So I decided to just focus on my mind and my education for a few weeks and it was a decision I don’t regret and one that I would make again without hesitation. I had spent the past few months in a cycle of demotivation and temporary motivation. Speaking metaphorically I’d say I felt like I was stuck in a hole of de-motivation and every time I would try to climb out of it I would lose my footing and fall back down again, making the hole deeper when I landed.
(Does that make sense? Have you ever felt like this? Maybe I’m not the only one).
Honestly, taking four weeks off has put my feet firmly back on the ground and I’m back with a focus on both my health and fitness and also my education and mental wellbeing. If you’ve ever felt like I described above, you may be surprised by just how calming it can be to step away from everything you considered routine for years and years. It may, like it did for me, leave you recharged and re-motivated.
Four weeks with minimal exercise and minimum focus on food taught me a few valuable lessons about health, fitness, nutrition and priorities that have helped me to refocus and recharge. Here’s what I learned:
Your body composition will fluctuate. Instead of fighting it, embrace it.
In terms of actual weight, mine didn’t change much at all during my “four weeks off”. In fact, I think I may even have lost a little. But I did notice a difference in my muscle firmness and I did notice myself beginning to look a little more ‘soft’ towards the end of the four week period. This can be attributed to both my diet as well as the lack of training.
Seeing my body become a bit more ‘soft’ did affect me initially, but then I decided to kick the negativity, focus on what my rest period goal was and to embrace looking a little different than usual. And I even began to like the way my body looked when it wasn’t so lean and muscular, a look I had been chasing for the past few years.
Taking time off social media can be so refreshing.
Social media invites constant comparison. It’s no secret. We scroll through photos, read paragraphs and watch videos about the lives of others while inadvertently comparing our lives to the ones we get to know on the screen in front of us. And we know in the back of our heads that people only post an edited version of their lives, their highlights or their best pictures but for some reason we still choose to compare what others have to what we don’t. And as you may have heard before, ‘comparison is the thief of joy’.
I’ve hardly posted on Instagram in the past four weeks and I’ve spent hardly any time on the app. And it’s been a welcome change. It’s given me perspective on what is real and what isn’t. I did miss it because I have a wonderful community on Instagram but time away from it has allowed me to refocus my priorities and my perception of “reality”.
There’s more to life than counting the value of everything you put into your mouth.
I’ve spoken about this before (see my post about that here) and the past few weeks have confirmed that opinion. In the past I have spent time weighing out and measuring every gram of food I put into my mouth. And yes, it may only take a few minutes to weigh and enter the food into MyFitnessPal, but those minutes add up and the people around you will notice your absence during that time.
Additionally, I’m of the opinion that it isn’t healthy to obsess over particular numbers and figures for a long period of time. I know people who weigh every single thing they eat and drink and they become anxious if their numbers are just a little bit out or if they think they ate “over” their allowed number of calories, macronutrients or whatever. How is that way of living healthy? Sure, you may be nourishing your body with a scientifically supported amount of each nutrient but how are you supporting your mind and mental wellbeing?
Note: this doesn’t include competition prep or dieting for some particular and specific reason – it’s for every day, normal living.
Good food makes you feel good.
Right now there is so much focus in the fitness community on the idea that “a calorie is a calorie”. Want to know my true, honest opinion? It’s not. (And this is coming from someone who used to be the biggest advocate for eating whatever so long as it ‘fit my macros’.)
Sure, losing or gaining weight is a matter of calories in vs. calories out. That’s indisputable.
BUT, food quality does matter. Nutrient sources do matter. If you put nutrient-void food into your body, it is going to negatively affect your health, fitness and mental wellbeing. On the contrary, eating nutrient-dense food will positively enhance many aspects of your health, fitness and mental wellbeing.
I’m not saying that no “bad” food should be consumed, but nutrient-rich foods should be a priority.
Getting a bit of exercise in every day is not that difficult.
I knew I wasn’t going to be training in a gym during the four weeks but that didn’t mean that I was happy to just be completely sedentary. So, I walked everywhere and went on morning walks until I found out how to rent a bicycle and then I used my bicycle to travel to places.
The university was located on the top of a hill so every morning was a bit of a workout but it was a welcome start to the day. And it didn’t even feel like exercise because I was surrounded by friends and beautiful scenery. (The ride home was the best part though!).
It would have been much easier to continue to take the bus everywhere but by renting a bicycle I was able to both travel around and exercise. Sometimes, little trade-offs like that can really help us reach our health and fitness goals. And yes, the whole bus-for-bicycle trade-off may only be a little thing but small steps forward are better than standing still or going backwards and I didn’t lose much time out of my busy day. It was a win-win decision!
If you feel tired, lethargic or demotivated, it can be a good idea to take a break instead of pushing through.
I had been struggling with tiredness and lethargy for the past few months and kept trying to push through in the hope that it would go away. I’d train while exhausted and keep on trying to stick to my regular routine despite the fact that my body couldn’t keep up.
After taking this break I can appreciate the importance of resting for an extended period of time and feel like my energy and motivation levels have positively benefited from the whole experience.
I honestly recommend a de-load and rest period to anyone who has struggled like I have. It doesn’t have to be a month-long thing, even a few day or a couple of weeks may help you to reignite your passion and motivation.
Have you ever taken time off training and benefited from it? Or perhaps it didn’t work for you in the same way it did for me. Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about your experiences!