Good morning! It’s been a while since I’ve written a long post, so I’m taking the opportunity to link up with Amanda and share some thoughts with you today.
I was in a class at my gym recently, sweating profusely and awkwardly attempting whatever move the instructor was imposing upon us, when it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t hating it. For the most part, I have hated formal exercise for as long as I can remember. I have forced myself to do it rain or shine, in sickness and in health, but I have hated every minute of it. In early recovery, when I took a break from exercise for my health, it was difficult not because I loved exercise so very much but because I feared how my body would change. I, like many people who decide to take on weight loss, was under the impression that I would need to be duct taped to a hamster wheel for the rest of my life, and I got used to making myself do something that I hated every day because I believed it was what I needed to do.
Even as I have come to exercise from a healthier place through recovery, I have still struggled with it being something I genuinely enjoy because I have still done it out of a desire to change. I have loved riding my bike for as long as I can remember, but even that felt like a chore after a while. In the last few months, though, something has shifted. I don’t have the same anxiety if I can’t make it to the gym. When I do go to the gym, I can’t force myself to spend hours on machines like I used to. It drains me and I simply can’t do it. However, I love riding my bike. I adore taking fitness classes that kick my ass and make it so I can’t sit down for a day. I can’t get enough of long, sweaty hikes in Portland humidity. I have realized that I am somebody who truly loves exercise, but I love it in a way that feels entirely new and different. Over the last few days, I have been thinking about what has caused the shift in my attitude toward exercise, and I think that I know what it is: I gave up.
Since I was ten or eleven years old, I have wanted my body to look different than it does. I have hated it, and I have spent countless minutes and hours thinking about how much I hate it. I dieted for no other reason than to look better, something that I believe a lot of people would relate to if they were being honest with themselves. I was under the (false) impression that weight was in direct correlation not only to health, but to happiness. I wanted to be thin because I thought thinness equaled happiness and beauty. That is the cold, hard truth. And I didn’t want any part of an exercise or diet plan if it didn’t get me the results that I wanted. All I cared about were results, and anything that didn’t feel like a guarantee of them was a waste of time to me. Because that was my attitude, my favorite activities of riding my bike and walking became insufficient. I didn’t bother to try any classes at the gym because I worried they wouldn’t give me “as good” of a workout. I needed control and, because I was playing for results, I felt like I had to follow a regimen that would get me there. I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t like spending my days obsessing over exercise and searching for motivation that was quickly running dry. But I wanted those results, and I was doing the only thing that I believed would get me there.
I’m not sure exactly what has changed in me over the last few months, but that is not who I am anymore. I gave up on results, and I’ve never been happier with my relationship to exercise. I have realized that my body image truly does not change when my body changes. I had the same insecurities when I weighed thirty pounds less and thirty pounds more that I have now, so what is the point of forcing myself to do things I hate? I decided to stop exercising with results in mind, even though I feared that I would turn into the slothful beast I imagined I would become in my natural state. Maybe it was because my mom had just died and I didn’t care about much of anything, but I decided that the risk of turning into a sloth was one I was willing to take.
Shockingly, in the months since deciding to exercise in ways that I like because I want to rather than out of a desire for specific results, my fitness levels have improved. I can bike more miles, and I can do it faster. I am able to keep up in every class that I go to at the gym. I feel healthy and strong and I love it. The best part, though, is that I don’t tie what I do for exercise into how I feel about my body. I used to come home at night and pick myself apart in the mirror, thinking of what I could change in my exercise routine that would guarantee a specific result. Now, I don’t even think about that. I love going to a class and knowing that it is good for my body, even if I don’t get the triceps or abs that I have always wanted out of it. I adore being able to speed up a hill on my bike, knowing that my legs are strong enough to power me up even though I think they’re big and wobbly. People may not see a fit person when they look at me, but that is okay. People have biases and I can’t hold myself responsible for those biases. I know that I am healthy and happy, and that is all that matters. Removing the knots between exercise, weight loss, and appearance in my mind has freed me to do what I love without anxiety or fear. I gave up, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.