REST for rest’s sake

The saying goes something like “you gain fitness when you rest,” so athletes are routinely encouraged to rest up. It’s part of your fitness-gaining! Don’t skip it! And don’t wait until you’re injured to rest—it’s part of injury prevention!

When I worked with a running coach, my full rest days were few and far between and I thought that was fine because my coach said so. An old friend once said “Life builds in rest days,” implying we don’t need to actively take them. With those two opinions in mind, my lack of rest days didn’t seem concerning. I had “active rest” after all (which can be fine, and often beneficial, depending on the athlete’s goals and situation), so I was “resting” in some way. My brain just never got a day off.

What if you’re not trying to gain fitness?

What if your MIND and muscles just need a day off?

Wait, no, what if they just WANT a day off?

What if you just want to take a break?

{Here is your unsolicited permission to rest for rest’s sake.}

Resting pup ponders rest.

I’m here to argue one point: Rest for rest’s sake rather than resting for fitness’s sake. I think this is especially true in eating disorder (ED) recovery. It can also be true if you’re not training for something specific, and therefore don’t need to chalk rest up to “gaining fitness.” Either way, giving your body and mind a day off shouldn’t seem any crazier than taking a day off from your job. Work is work.

Rest for rest’s sake rather than resting for fitness’s sake.

If it is hard to take a day off from exercise, ask yourself why.

We get used to the endorphin high, the adrenaline rush, the stress outlet, the social time, or whatever exercise might be for you. The moment it becomes hard to take a “break” from something is the moment we should reevaluate it.

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A break from ED behaviors may invoke anxiety, uncertainty, mistrust (of yourself), or an urge to overcompensate later—these are all reasons to examine your ED and what fuels it. Working with a dietitian, therapist, and ED specialist can help you get to the core of what’s driving these behaviors and the sense of control they produce. Once we rest from them, we start to know and trust our true selves. That can be a long process, but certainly a worthwhile one. It gives you your life back.

A break from exercise may be no different.

Ask yourself one or more of the following questions to get to the heart of why the idea of resting makes you anxious or gives you pause.

What emotions come up when you think about taking a day off? Why?

What is your mood like when you do rest?

What is your main inspiration to exercise?

Do you exercise as a compensatory behavior (e.g. “I hate xyz so I have to workout!”)?

Do you eat less on rest days?

If you go through these questions and realize that rest makes you feel anxious, out of control, lethargic, or {insert your emotion here}, that may indicate that exercise has a tight grip on you. That’s not its purpose.

Take a break, and give it a rest.

Try building at least one FULL rest day into your schedule. No 10,000 steps (that “rule” may not apply to all of us anyway 🙄), no light cardio, no short easy run, no compensatory standing desk or walking errands. Give your brain and body a break. Recharge. Take care of yourself, not just your muscles or your fitness. Rest for rest’s sake.

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