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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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Tag: running

17 Mar

So here’s what concerns me about CrossFit

Ideas to Consider 10 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul


{image credit :: KaneStr}

When a good friend of mine told me several years ago that she had decided to join her husband at the “box” for a CrossFit session, I was admittedly incredulous. A swimmer in her youth and moderately athletic, it wasn’t that I didn’t think she had the guts to do an intensive workout. But CrossFit? Wasn’t that the place where runners go to die and Navy troops end up disabled?

It was, but she loved it. And she realized it wasn’t about weight loss, but getting stronger. Soon, she was going to the box several times per week, crafting her schedule around the class times and speaking the lingo like a veteran. She humble-bragged about the WOD (“Workout of the Day,” which CrossFitters can find online), which might be a six-minute AMRAP (“As Many Reps As Possible”) of pull-ups, push-ups, and squats.

As I learned more about the world of CrossFit, I was reassured in my belief that it was not a world for me. I’ll admit, I was scared of the intensity of the workouts. But I also found myself anxious about the community itself. As someone relatively averse to competition, it seemed to me that the CrossFit culture would emphasize the very part of exercise that I most disliked.

While I openly admit that I’ve thus never tried CrossFit myself and am likewise no expert on the practice itself, as an observer, a therapist, a friend, and an eating disorder psychologist, I have a few concerns.

A few caveats before I “bash” something I’ve never tried: I fully recognize that each box (“gym” for CrossFitters) has its own individual style and culture as established by the franchise owners, the staff, and the people attending classes. I’m going to be painting CrossFit with a bit of a broad stroke, so I acknowledge the limitations of doing so.

Okay. So here’s the thing –

CrossFit can seem a bit cult-like to me at times. Now, I acknowledge that any time a group of people spends a large amount of time together doing something they truly love and value, a subculture develops. What gives me the heebie jeebies about the whole thing though is the mentality I’ve observed among many CrossFitters that CrossFit is superior to all else and that other ways of exercising are for the a.) uninformed or b.) weak. Another friend of mine who dipped her foot into the CrossFit craze pulled it back out again when she was told that she was “stupid” for running. While the principles of CrossFit may be different and – who knows – maybe running is silly – I don’t respond well to things that seem to put other things down to advance their own agenda.

For some, the culture of CrossFit is the perfect breeding ground for their own insecurities and harmful beliefs that we must push ourselves to our absolute limits. While this may never be something that a CrossFit instructor says explicitly, my observations have been that this is interwoven into the fabric of Crossift. If we’re not pushing ourselves, what’s the point?

Unfortunately, a growing number of individuals have seen just where this mentality can lead – potentially fatal health complications resulting from over-exertion. The issue that has gotten the most publicity is an ugly little condition called rhabdomyolysis. “Rhabdo” for short, this is a life-threatening issue that can develop when the muscle cells break down from over-use, spilling myoglobin, a protein that can easily overwhelm the kidneys, leading to significant illness, kidney failure, or death.  And it’s not just a condition that affects the unfit. Military and police personnel and football players doing CrossFit are among those reporting Rhabdo.

Sure, any workout is going to pose potential risks. Cycling can lead to getting hit by cars or other serious injuries, for example. What concerns me though is the attitude with which CrossFit and its leadership have approach rhabdomyolysis. You might imagine they would disseminate information and put safeguards in place, but instead they simply created a cartoon named “Uncle Rhabdo,” a jacked-up clown with blood and sweat spilling out and hooked up to a dialysis machine.  The response to a 2005 lawsuit in which a CrossFitter claimed that he was permanently disabled due to Rhabdo caused by his workouts? A children’s workout was named after him, the obvious implication that this gentleman was clearly weak.

The dangerousness of the practice wasn’t downplayed. Rather, it seems to have been used to inspire its followers and create a culture in which “only the strong survive.” CrossFit’s founder, Greg Glassman, was quoted in the New York Times saying, “It can kill you… I’ve always been completely honest about that.”

Um… okay.

Do I feel that CrossFit itself is responsible for its members who end up hurt, either psychologically or physically? I suppose that depends on how we define responsible. What I will say is that a culture has developed in many CrossFit communities in which limits are not observed, pain is lauded, and danger is ignored. For someone vulnerable to over-exercise or extreme behaviors, CrossFit could create the perfect environment for dangerous behavior to thrive.

Have you ever tried CrossFit? What has been your experience? What kinds of physical activity do you enjoy? 

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.


22 Apr

Five for Friday :: 22 April 2011

Five for Friday 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Runners At Mile 17.

As I shared last week, this past weekend was spent in Boston cheering Justin on to an amazing finish in the most exciting marathon in the world. The speed and skill and passion of these runners was absolutely amazing, and my enjoyment of the race was only matched by my excitement over the delicious Italian food in the North End… You Bostonians know how to run and how to eat – two of my favorites! I wanted to say a quick thank you to all of you who offered suggestions on things to do and see in Boston, as well as encouragement and support of my husband. We both truly appreciated it!

As always seems to be the case, catching up after a few days away is tough and can leave you feeling like you need another trip away from it all. Fortunately, I have a weekend at home to take care of myself before heading off to the International Conference on Eating Disorders next week. I’m so thrilled to go take in the sights and smells and warmer temperatures of Miami while attending some great trainings and connecting with other eating disorder professionals. I’ll even be learning more about how technology and the internet impact those struggling with eating issues, a topic that I am fascinated by (imagine that, right?). I’ll be sure to offer a full report.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy a few of the posts I’ve rounded up for you this week!


  • I really do try to work hard to diversify the sites I share here, but some just always have amazing content that I have to share! is one of those and this week Sunny Gold shared an excerpt from her new book in which she explains what exactly counts as a binge – a question that I get asked all the time.
  • In the same vein of endlessly important and interesting content, I bring you the awesome list of Body Positive Resources for Girls and Young Women on Already Pretty. If you’re a younger reader, have a daughter, or are just young at heart, you’ll find some amazing gems over there.
  • I urge you to head over to Elephant Journal and check out this fascinating list of 32 unusual ways to bring abundance into our lives. One I love: “Learn to receive.”
  • Remember what I said about being excited for the ICED? One of the major thrills for me will be celebrating Aimee Liu’s launch of her new book, Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives, a collection of reflections on recovery. In this post, she shares some of these reflections.
  • Katie at Health for the Whole Self takes on the topic of the “set point” – the body’s preferred weight range. She shares that she would rather be at peace with her set point than at war with herself. What about you?


Reader Comment of the Week :: Marthe on What poem is inside of you?

I love poetry, but I haven’t really written much of my own. I’m inspired to try though! This poem is inside me today:

The floating river is a volcano
of ashes and fire.
Yet is is all translucent.
How can the river flow
when the waterfall is imminent?
How can it
let go?

You never know
when explosions
will paint the sky red.
Yet it is all floating.
How can the bird know
black from white?
How can it fly
on across the memories?

The heart is ablaze
and the mind is lavish.
But destruction is just
around the corner.
How can you stay
when the nature is at war?
How can I know
which one is me?


p.s. Go read all of the poems that were shared in response to this post. What creative readers!

Hope everyone has a lovely weekend. Be sure to share what wonderful things you’ve read or written this week!


08 Apr

Five for Friday :: 8 April 2011 (and a race recap!)

Five for Friday 6 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

medal Thank you to everyone who sent kind vibes and words my way last weekend for the half-marathon that I ran. I was thisclose to my goal of sub-2:00, with a time of 2:00:45. The perfectionist in me felt a tinge of disappointment (hey, I’m human!), but I was able to focus on the things that I was incredibly proud of – like, finishing, for instance. Not only did I cut 25 minutes off of my previous time, but I felt so much better physically and emotionally after this race. While my legs were of course aching, my feet sore, and my muscles exhausted, I felt incredibly strong and grateful crossing the finish line, doing my last mile as my fastest one.

Not only was my body more prepared this time around thanks to time, mindfully exercising, speed work, and cross-training with yoga, but so was my mind. There were several points during the race when I started to notice my thoughts go in an unhealthy and hopeless direction, like when the strong wind felt like it was pummeling me backwards. I made a decided effort, however, to refocus my thoughts and shift my attention to how I was feeling in my body – tired, but powerful. Despite the lack of crowd support (we’re talking deserted rolling hills of nothingness), I was my own cheerleader.

I also experienced a pivotal moment around mile eight. Chugging along on the pavement, I suddenly had the thought, “I want this.” For the several days previous, despite publically declaring my race goal, I had convinced myself that it didn’t matter if I achieved my goal – it was enough that I was trying. And it was, in a sense. I had worked extremely hard to get where I was at, so two hours or three hours or eternity didn’t matter. Sort of.

What I realized though, was that I was convincing myself that my time didn’t matter because I was scared of admitting that it was important to me. If I acknowledged that, I would have to experience the potential sadness and disappointment if I didn’t meet my goal. So instead of pretending that I didn’t care for the sake of preventing difficult feelings, I decided at that mile to say it aloud… I want this.

It was an invigorating feeling, one that made me run harder and faster than I had the previous seven miles. In retrospect, perhaps my burst of energy made me more tired later in the race, but it felt amazing. It was liberating to acknowledge to myself that I wanted something, badly. Despite not quite making my time, I feel really amazing about the race. I left feeling strength and gratitude, and I was touched by those who sent me messages of encouragement.

Aside from recovering from achy legs, I did stumble upon some really great things this week that I of course want to share with you:



Reader Comment of the Week :: Per the random number generator, the winner of the blogoversary giveaway is… Dorry of Living with Healthy Hunger!

Thank you to everyone who commented, tweeted, and facebooked. I have had a wonderful year getting to virtually know so many of you, and have become a better clinician, blogger, and person because of it…


Signing off, but wondering… Have you ever almost achieved a goal? How did you feel?


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