For many, exercise is synonymous with health and wellness for the body and mind. More exercise and greater fitness often leads to higher praise and recognition for being healthy. But what happens when a fixation with exercise becomes mentally and physically detrimental? 

This was the case for Olivia Summitt, who is now a therapist at Ellie Mental Health Counseling. Olivia grew up in Memphis as an athletic child who loved team sports like soccer and lacrosse. However, in high school, she began a scrutinous focus on exercise to cope with stress and pressure. “I was exercising at least twice a day and getting praised for it, and while this felt so in control, I was actually not in control at all. I was using exercise to avoid feeling anything at all,” Olivia recalls. “It was really hard to accept that what I was doing wasn’t healthy when so many people viewed exercise as something you could never do too much of.” 

During college and graduate school, Olivia dedicated time to rebuilding her relationship with herself and exercise, but she still recognizes that these struggles are a part of her that will always require work. She remembers that gradually, after years of ignoring the signs from her body and mind telling her to slow down and rest, she began to feel gratitude for all that her body carried and supported her through. 

After years of developing her healthier mindset, Olivia hopes to bring this sense of transformation and healing to others through her work as a therapist. “It helps in my work that I have had my own ups and downs. I have been on both sides and can relate to my patients’ journeys.” Olivia assists clients in developing a balance in how they experience and express emotions, as she has learned first-hand. 

Olivia credits her yoga practice as a significant pillar in her recovery journey. “Yoga requires a connection between mind and body. My home studio, Hot Yoga Plus, encourages students to notice and be aware of their body, listen to it, and give it what it needs.” Olivia emphasizes the importance of rest, recovery, and giving your body the energy it needs to support you. In addition to her yoga practice, Olivia enjoys walking in her neighborhood and also running and walking the St. Jude half marathon each year. “I can now enjoy mindfully running once a year for a cause I care about, without focusing on training or finishing in a certain time, and without using it as a punishment or coping mechanism.” 

In summary, Olivia reflects, “Exercise is a gift that for so long I exploited. I have now made a vow to cherish and honor that exercise is something that we are able to do, not something we have to do or are supposed to do.” 

By Zoe Harrison 

Photo by Tindall Stephens