When you think of exercise, what comes to mind? For me, exercise is something positive I can do for myself. It’s empowering; it helps me honor and celebrate my body and the things I’m physically capable of. As an added bonus, it clears my head and puts me in a fantastic mood. Working out, however, wasn’t always such a positive part of my life. For many years, exercise was an obsession and a punishment.
I was an athlete my whole life, so I was used to strenuous workouts and pushing my body. Unfortunately, my athletic career ended after a knee injury and an atypical recovery. Without the rigorous practice schedule and no parents to tell me what I could or couldn’t eat, I gained weight in college.
For the longest time, I wanted to be skinny; I didn’t realize that skinny does not necessarily mean fit.
When I returned home for the summer, I went to see a holistic doctor in an attempt to lose the weight. The doctor put me on a restrictive vegan diet that consisted of 600 to 800 calories a day and two workouts a day. I dropped almost 40 pounds during the three months of summer, and when I returned to school in the fall, I felt like a new person; full of newfound confidence.
What I didn’t realize was that I had become completely obsessed with my weight and exercise and based my confidence and happiness on how skinny I was.
Living a “Thin” Life
Working out and maintaining my thin frame became my main focus in life. I dropped several classes in college that interfered with my second workout. If I felt like I ate too much food, I’d immediately weigh myself to see if I gained a pound. There was a time where I would weigh myself four times a day: when I woke up, after a meal, after a workout and before bed.
As time went on, it became harder and harder to maintain this low-calorie diet and rigorous exercise regimen. As I slowly began to gain weight, I found myself growing more and more depressed. I was ashamed of my body and became withdrawn and isolated.
My life became a vicious cycle of restricting my food, binging out of frustration and over-exercising to punish myself. I knew something was wrong with my behavior, but I didn’t know how to stop.
The Transition Time
I moved to Los Angeles after college and found out about a program to help individuals with eating disorders. I didn’t think I had an eating disorder because I wasn’t anorexic or bulimic, but I soon learned my behavior wasn’t uncommon or rare, and more importantly, I learned there was a solution to my problem.
I started meeting with like-minded people on a regular basis. One of the first lessons they taught me was I wasn’t allowed to “call in fat to life.” Prior to getting help, I would bail on friends and obligations if I felt fat or uncomfortable. This is “calling in fat.”
Next, in addition to creating a plan to stop my disordered eating (binging and restricting), I committed to only one workout a day and no weighing myself. I threw my scale in the dumpster when I was 25 years old and I haven’t weighed myself since.
I didn’t think I had an eating disorder because I wasn’t anorexic or bulimic.
The Long (But Worthwhile) Journey Back to Health
It took several years, countless meetings and support from friends and fellows to repair my relationship with my body and my outlook on exercise. Now, I choose exercise programs that challenge me but make me feel good about myself. Weight training is my favorite because it helps to relieve stress and makes me feel confident. I also love HIIT workouts because they’re quick and effective.
I no longer wish to spend hours in the gym pounding on a treadmill because I hate my body. While I’ll commit to different exercise plans, I usually base my workout on what I feel like doing that day. I also make sure to take rest days, even if I don’t feel like it.
Resting is a way to celebrate my body, reward myself for your hard work and give myself time to recover.
The Mindset Change
For the longest time, I wanted to be skinny; I didn’t realize that skinny does not necessarily mean fit. Now my reasons for fitness have become much different. I now use exercise as a means to do more of the things I love.
- I enjoy hiking with a group of friends in San Diego, and I exercise so that I can keep up with them on the trails and enjoy the time with my friends.
- I’m a basketball official, so I work out to can keep up with the players on the court.
- I recently married the love of my life, so now I work out so I can stay healthy enough to keep up with our future children.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t think about being skinny or losing weight anymore, that desire will probably always be there in some capacity. The difference is I no longer base my happiness on how much I weigh and I no longer spend all day thinking about food and exercise.
If I don’t feel like going to the gym one day or cut a workout short because “I’m not feeling it,” I let myself off the hook instead of berating myself. Exercise is something I look forward to, the “me time” I carve out of a busy day to celebrate my body and honor myself.
Sure, there are some days where I don’t look forward to a workout; sometimes I’ll do it anyway and I usually feel much better after. Other days, I’ll give myself permission to skip my workout and I won’t restrict my calories because I didn’t exercise.
It took a lot of hard work, self-discovery and support to develop a positive relationship with my body, food and exercise. I’m so grateful that I found the help I needed so I can enjoy life instead of hating myself and my body.
If you’re struggling, know that there are people out there with a similar experience and people who are willing to help. If you use exercise to punish your body, remember, it’s the only one you have. Take care of it so it will last and let you enjoy all the wonderful, more important things in life.
What is your relationship with your body and exercise? If you can relate to any part of my story, start by understanding that you’re not alone. It can be scary to be vulnerable and ask for help, but it’s the best thing you can do.
Even if you have a positive relationship with food and exercise, how can you shift your mindset to celebrate and honor your body? Commit to workout classes you enjoy, find a workout buddy, and plan gym dates so you can spend more time with people you love.
Rather than feeling bad if you can’t do everything perfectly, congratulate yourself for making the effort and be grateful for the things your body allows you to do. Don’t exercise to punish your body, exercise to strengthen YOU, physically and mentally.