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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Category: Exercise

04 Mar

How I Stopped Hating Exercise

Exercise 16 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul


{image via pinterest}

Growing up, my greatest athletic accomplishment was managing to not get injured by any of the basketballs that flew off the court and towards the bench – the one I was dutifully warming. I was the kid who begged my mom to let me bring Virginia Woolf to the volleyball game that I was supposed to be playing. The kid who would rather be tortured slowly by geometry than run a mile.

I was not an athlete, to say the least.

I remember when I told my family I was running my first half marathon. Running? They looked skeptical. From what? 

Just because I enjoy it.

Enjoy it? Is something wrong? Then came the hand on my forehead, the head shakes, and the worried looks. Honey, I think you might be ill. 

Amazingly enough, I had come to love exercise. Today, I treasure the moments I can get outside and feel the cool breeze on my cheeks on a run. My body feels alive and invigorated when I stretch my arms out long to swim. I feel centered and calm when I hold my body in a yoga pose. Movement awakens my spirit.

But like I said, it wasn’t always this way. And I want to share with you just how I stopped hating exercise.

1. I ignored those that linked exercise and weight loss. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – there’s minimal evidence that exercise actually leads to weight loss. While this news comes as a major disappointment to those that slave away on the treadmill in hopes of a smaller figure, it’s actually really freeing news. It means you can step off that monotonous treadmill and start doing something you actually have a chance of enjoying.

2. I stopped doing it mindlessly. When exercise is associated with struggle and pain, of course we want to disconnect from the experience. Who wants to hurt? Like most people, I was initially addicted to Bravo and my iPod during exercise and couldn’t fathom doing without distraction. It was only once I gave mindful exercise a chance that I realized just how… dare I say it? … good movement could feel.

3. I started practicing yoga. Some of you might remember when I took my first real yoga class (Spoiler: It was unpleasant!). Since then, however, I’ve become a total convert. Yoga (and other eastern pratices like Tai Chi) has a way of transforming the way that you view your body and your experience in it. You won’t look at movement the same way again.

4. I ditched competition – with others or myself. Humans, particular ones in western society, tend to run on the obsessed side when it comes to competition. From road races to CrossFit competitions to pie eating contests, we can’t seem to get enough of beating the heck out of each other. For me, competition takes the focus off of myself and my own experience and moves it outside – something that diminishes the experience for me. When I start to worry about being faster or stronger than someone else, I immediately enjoy what I’m doing less.

5. I stopped the same thing all the darn time. It’s easy to fall into a rut when movement means doing the same activity again and again. I couldn’t get myself out of bed if it meant running for the fifth day in a row. But when I have some variety to look forward to, I anticipate my exercise time with excitement.

6. I started savoring the time alone. I spend a lot of time talking with people. It’s sort of part of the job. So I like being alone and quiet while exercising. It’s one way that I can decompress and look inward. I especially love the early mornings.

Do you enjoy exercise? Have you always? What’s your favorite part? 

20 Jun

Exercising to lose weight? Think again.

Exercise 38 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Exercise bikesphoto © 2010 Keith Ramsey | more info (via: Wylio)

I just got back from a sweaty four-mile run, and as I sit here typing I’m noticing the familiar pangs of post-exercise hunger creeping in. My body is signaling to me that it has expended my energy stores – it wants fuel to keep operating. I know that if I don’t feed myself soon (usually within 30 minutes after intense physical activity), I’m going to start getting light-headed, irritable, and unable to focus.

This post-workout hunger – and the necessary response of eating – are what experts consider the reason that exercise doesn’t usually lead to weight loss. Yes, you read that right. Exercise and weight loss do not go hand in hand.

Study after study suggests that, contrary to popular belief, spending more time on the elliptical does not lead to a smaller figure. That might be frustrating news to the 45 million Americans who belong to fitness clubs, a number that has increased since 2001 according to the IHRSA.

While not everyone joins a gym to get skinny, it is the primary reason cited for exercise. Sometimes it’s snuck into a litany of other reasons – to keep up with the kids, get my blood pressure under control, to make my partner happy – but people will usually still identify weight loss or weight control as a reason for hitting the treadmill.

Perhaps disappointing to these individuals, doctors and researchers have fairly solid evidence that exercise won’t result in a slimmer waistline. In a 2009 Time magazine article, Eric Ravussin, prominent exercise researchers and faculty at Louisiana State University stated unequivocally,  ”In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless.”

Ravussin and others in the field explain that exercise tends to increase and stimulate our hunger, resulting in a reversal of the energy expenditure we just created once we eat. And we need to eat! Experts agree that it’s important to nourish your body after a workout to replace glycogen in your body.  It’s also important in order to avoid excessive hunger that could lead to a binge later.

So why I am telling you how ineffective exercise is for weight loss? Because there are so many reasons to exercise that have nothing do with our size – reasons that got so lost in the bombardment of messages of how our cardio routine can blast belly fat.

In a 2009 study, participants who considered themselves sedentary and had body mass indices in the obese range, took up supervised exercise for twelve weeks. What researchers found was that weight did not significantly change. Before you call the experiment a wash though, consider that most of the individuals did increase their aerobic capacity, decreased their blood pressure and resting heart rates, and improved their mood.

Other benefits of exercise include building healthy bones and joints, reducing the risk of diabetes and cancer, and improving circulation. Even more fascinating, exercise, especially mindful exercise, has been shown to improve mood, increase learning ability, and improve body image. And that’s all without the scale changing a bit.

Once we can let go of the association between exercise and weight loss, we can start to focus on doing things that we actually enjoy. Rather than a punishment to whip our bodies into a certain size or shape, we can approach exercise as a way of honoring our bodies as another expression of our selves. This means taking rest as seriously as movement, and finding activities we truly love– even if the calorie expenditure is low.


02 Feb

Mindful Exercise

Exercise 27 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul


{Image Credit :: Josh Janesen}

I often hear fitness experts promoting various ways of distracting ourselves from the pain that many believe to be inherent in exercise. I’m not talking about mantras or visualizing yourself crossing the finish line, both tools that can be very positive and body-affirming; I’m talking about tips I’ve heard such as “mentally prepare your grocery list” or “listen to an engaging audiobook.”

The problem with thinking about milk and eggs while engaging in exercise is that, like worrying about tomorrow’s budget meeting while having sex, it takes us out of the moment and into our minds. And our minds, amazingly enough, are not always the best places to be.

I would venture to say that the vast majority of us are not present during 99 percent of our lives. Being present means approaching our thoughts, feelings, and actions with awareness and intention. When it comes to mindful eating, it means attending to the full range of sensations in the experience of an orange.

But what is mindful exercise all about?

Mindful exercise involves being aware of our bodies and minds during physical activity. It means tuning in rather than tuning out, and allowing ourselves to be fully present, even in moments of discomfort.

Why the heck would we want to do that?

Great question! There are numerous benefits of practicing mindful exercise. Consider a few of them:

  • Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer and her student found that making women more aware during physical activity resulted in lowering their blood pressure, decreasing their body weight and body fat, and improving waist to hip ratios. The women in the study did not change their behavior, they simply became more aware that they were engaging in physical activity.
  • Mindful exercise serves as a great practice of mindfulness in our daily lives. If we exercise daily – whether it’s more formally by going to a gym or simply by playing with our children or shoveling the snow – we have a built in time to practice being more present in our lives. And we know that this practice can lead to decreased depression and anxiety, decreased stress, improved immune functioning, stronger relationships, and better sleep. It’s like a magic pill!
  • Mindful exercise also tunes us in to our bodies. If we stay focused and aware of the various points of tension and stress, we can detect problems more quickly and potentially avoid more serious injury. Personally, I blame too many treadmill workouts watching the Today Show for my late-in-the-game marathon training injury a few years back. Had I been focusing more on the signals my body was sending me sooner, I may have been able to resolve the issue and avoid being sidelined.
  • Mindful exercise can make us better athletes. When we’re able to tune in to the way that our bodies move and flow, as well as increase our awareness of our surroundings, our performance improves. To be on top of our game, we have to be operating with intention and focus. In competitive sports, mindfulness gives athletes an edge by increasing perception and reaction time.

So, how do I do “mindful exercise”?

If you tend to be an on-the-go runner, like me, it may help to supplement your more intense aerobic workouts with a lower-intensity, mindfulness-based practice, such as yoga. A recent study found that even a single session of yoga or Feldenkrais produced mood-enhancement in participants. Stepping off the elliptical and into a class such as these will help you learn to focus your awareness and stay more present as your body moves.

While anywhere your mind goes is okay (You’re not doing anything wrong if you do start planning your grocery list. It’s a judgment-free zone!), it might be helpful to start by becoming aware of the following:

  • Breathing – Notice the rate of your breathing, the feeling as your chest rises and falls, and even the sound.
  • Heart Rate – Notice how your heart feels as it pumps blood to the rest of your body.
  • Muscle Pangs – Observe all the little twinges, and make sure to stop if you the twinges are actually pain.
  • Areas of tension – Notice where your body feels tighter and looser. Focus on what it feels like to have your muscles contract and release.
  • Joints – Observe the feeling as your body moves at your joints. Is it smooth? Creaky?
  • Thoughts – Notice any thoughts that come into your mind. If they are critical, observe them and come back to your breath.

Just like everything related to mindfulness, mindful exercise takes practice. You’re likely to find your mind in all sorts of different places and tied up in all different ways, and that’s okay. Stay aware that even by engaging in a few moments of mindfulness per day, you’re treating your mind, body, and spirit in a whole new way.

Do you ever turn off the iPod and focus on your body during exercise?


24 Jan

When Exercise Becomes Unhealthy {Guest Post + Giveaway, Oh My!}

Exercise, Guest Post 97 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Let’s all give a hardy welcome to the fantastic Charlotte Hilton Anderson, bloggess (that’s blogger and goddess combined, in case my stellar word creating abilities are not so… stellar) and author of the blog-made-book, The Great Fitness Experiment! Charlotte has been a total inspiration to me as I delved into the world of social media and blogging. She’s not only a devoted mother, enthusiastic fitness expert, and brilliant writer (seriously, if you suffer from urinary incontinence, watch out), but she’s also someone who’s been there. While it’s not the focus of the book, Charlotte talks extensively and in poignant detail about suffering from compulsive over-exercise, which for her developed into an eating disorder.

In today’s guest post, Charlotte shares with us her journey through this disorder. Please be advised that some of the details of this post may be triggering for those struggling with eating and exercise issues. Got it? Once you’ve read the post, make sure to enter the giveaway for a free copy of Charlotte’s book!

It wasn’t the runs in the dark in the middle of winter at 4 a.m and again at 10 p.m. It wasn’t leaving my son’s hospital bed to go do a high-intensity interval class instead of showering for the first time in three days or sleep. It wasn’t when I fainted after running a marathon followed by an hour of kickboxing – can’t miss a workout! – without drinking or eating anything and then being carried down the gym stairs by a friend who tried to make me drink a Vitamin Water which I refused because it had 50 calories. It wasn’t even when my heart started doing this weird sick jumping in my chest and I briefly wondered if I was going to die on the floor in front of my young children.

No, the thing that made me finally take a break from exercising was when I gained ten pounds in one month because all my over-training (fancy codeword for compulsive over-exercise) had suppressed my thyroid. Those 10 pounds completely unhinged me. That is how deeply ill I was.

I know how it began. Right after my third child was born, still reeling from the trauma of the protracted court case against the ex-boyfriend who had sexually assaulted me (and many others), I was looking for a way to heal myself. All of my guilt, pain, self-doubt, fear and anger found a focus in my goal of “losing the baby weight.” To tell you the truth I didn’t gain much during the pregnancy- I was too depressed and anxious to eat – but I still had a few lingering pounds and thighs that I hated and a tummy that looked like an uncooked bagel. So I took up exercise. Exercise can be a fantastic way to deal with emotional stuff but when you’re using it to run away from (literally!) rather than work through your problems, you will never be able to run fast enough or far enough to fix yourself.

Unchained from rational thought, the exercise took on a life of its own, slowly growing until after my 4th baby was born I was totally addicted to it. Exercise became my #1 priority. Everything else in my day was organized around my workouts. I never rested, never took days off. I was always trying to sneak in more exercise by doing everything from endless fidgeting to refusing to sit down to making myself do push-ups every time I had to get up with a baby in the night. In addition I was also heavily restricting my food. I became a vegetarian and then a vegan and then a vegan who didn’t do grains or soy until I finally ended up with a safe list of 5 foods and that was it. I remember people telling me then how skinny I was – some with concern, others with envy – but I didn’t see it. I still thought I looked fat. Moreover, I didn’t really care anymore. Fat, thin, whatever – all I wanted was my next high.

If I wasn’t exercising I was consumed with anxiety about my next workout (Would the baby get sick and make me miss the gym? What if the car doesn’t start? What if they cancel my class? What if my husband doesn’t get home on time?). Anxiety that would get so intense I’d be shaking, heart racing. The only way to calm myself was to workout. And I’d feel really awesome as long as I was exercising – it was the only time of day I felt good about myself – but no sooner had the sweat had dried but the whole cycle started over again. It was all I thought about.

So when did I finally realize I had a problem with exercising too much? People ask me a lot of questions about my very public battle with exercise addiction – I blogged through the whole saga – but this is one I still don’t have an answer for. The thing is, I never did know. It took my family stepping in – my sister saying she’s worried about me, my friends forcing me to leave the gym, my readers e-mailing me their concern, my doctor threatening me with death, my husband literally taking away my keys and my shoes so that I couldn’t leave to exercise. It took them lovingly but firmly telling me that I needed to get treatment for my eating disorder. Even then I told my therapist I was fine. I refused to talk to the nutritionist beyond the initial required visit because I didn’t think my disorder had anything to do with food. Turns out, I learned later, no eating disorder is really about the food.

After nearly a year of treatment and the worst of it being two years in the past, I can finally see it for the pernicious disease that it was. There is a certain inherent denial that is part of every eating disorder but I think that compulsive over-exercise is unique in that the denial is sanctioned by society. Anorexics are often told to their face that they’re too skinny and overly thin models and actresses are dissected all over the internet, even while they are perversely praised and idolized. Bulimics with their overabundance of bodily fluids are gross-out spectacles or punchlines. Binge eaters are either woefully ignored or publicly taunted. (All of which are completely unkind and inhumane ways to treat eating disorder sufferers.) But over exercising ends up being the eating disorder everyone wishes they had.

“I wish I had your discipline!” “You’re so strong!” and even “You’re an inspiration!” People often mistook my manic exercise for passion – and don’t get me wrong, I am definitely passionate about fitness! – but my punishing 2-a-day workouts, sometimes adding up to 6 or more hours per day, were based off of one thing: fear. And that’s the main difference between an athlete and an exercise addict: the former exercises out of love for her sport while the latter exercises for fear of what happens if she doesn’t.

I’m not going to lie to you – I’m not perfectly recovered, there are many days I still walk that line between obsession and passion and those voices of never being enough still scream in my head more often than I’d like but now I have a system set up to check me. I build in breaks and rest periods into my Experiment schedules. I also seek feedback from my friends, family and readers and really listen to them if they are concerned. And sometimes I just grit my teeth and try to breathe deeply until the scary feelings pass. But whatever I have to do is worth it because I refuse to leave an eating disorder as my legacy to my kids.

If you think you are an exercise addict, know that it can kill you and it will not get better on its own. And then know that you are not alone in your fears and that there is help. Getting this message out there is one of the main reasons I wrote my book and I’m so grateful to Ashley for helping me do that!




For a chance to win a copy of Charlotte’s book, leave a comment answering, “Where do you draw the line between passion and obsession?” OR simply share your reactions to Charlotte’s experience. For additional chances to win, tweet about this post and leave a comment telling me you did! All entries are due by midnight on Sunday, January 30th.

{Image Credit :: Charlotte Hilton Anderson}
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