Thank you so much for the overwhelming feedback on my reintroduction post from last week. It was a hard post for me to write but I am glad it resonated with so many of you. This positive response solidified my decision to share my fitness journey with you. If my story resonates with your habits, current or old, please let me know! I want to hear your feedback and hear about your path. I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post, I just didn't think any felt appropriate.
phase 1: finding fitness
I wasn’t very active as a kid. I played outside, and went on adventures through the woods, but I didn’t participate in organized physical activity until high school. Those that know me from college and beyond might find it funny to know that in grade school I was picked last or nearly last in gym class. I HATED gym class. I just was not athletically gifted, had (have) terrible hand eye coordination, and just felt totally uncomfortable. Joining a sports team in high school was scary. Truthfully, I wasn't very good, but through sports I realized I loved exercise. I loved the sweat, and the adrenaline, and pushing myself through fatigue and pain. I loved practice, hated games and eventually abandoned sports for a gym membership.
Through college my love of fitness grew. When I was a freshman I was diagnosed with compartment syndrome in my legs and had surgery to fix it. This history of pain and frustration with my legs' inability to cooperate motivated me to stay active. I got a job at the student fitness center, had numerous coaches, went to a boxing gym, did CrossFit for a while - I really tried everything. As a formerly unathletic girl I felt pride in being recognized as a "fit chick". I had more confidence and was less self-conscious. Exercise did a lot for me and I would never change that. My senior year of college I was named "Miss Fitness" among the fitness staff I worked with and then "Most Athletic" among my sorority sisters. Like most college students, my habits were not always healthy. I did a lot of binge drinking, overeating, and "balanced" it with a fairly strict exercise and diet regimen Monday - Friday. It helped me keep my weight under control and quieted the hate and guilt I felt after a wild weekend. It's amazing to me that it took years to truly grasp how poorly I was treating myself.
Each year of college was more fun and more stressful, and with that came more self-inflcited pressure to maintain my physique, fitness habits, and pursuit of perfection. There were so many things that I now realize were red flags: I was weighing myself daily, I was losing weight weekly, I was blacking out from alcohol almost weekly, my period stopped [it took years to get it back and sorry if this is TMI but the doctor told me I was okay and I had fat on my body and wasn't over exercising and there must be something else wrong..... turns out how we look on the outside doesn't mean much... we need to find out what (weight) is healthy and right for OUR body and makes our body feel good and function properly].
phase 2: frustrations
When I started grad school I still planned my day around my workouts. I tried new programming and challenged myself to get stronger. My meals were planned and packed every Sunday and I used fitness as my (only) hobby. Why did I do it? I think it was to prove to myself I was capable. But also, it was to maintain a fit "look". I don't think it was as toxic as it could have been. I was still social and took days off from the gym. But, I did have increased anxiety related to exercise and unexpected missed workouts - another sign that something deeper was going on.
For me, this pressure to create my 'best' self led to negative self-talk. I had the tools to reach my physique goals (early morning gym schedule, routined eating habits, student life) and for the most part I had confidence in myself, but month after month I found that I was never content with what I saw in the mirror. And looking back, both inwardly and at pictures of myself, I realize I NEVER saw what the mirror showed me.
My most terrible habit over the last 5 years has been comparing me to me. Telling myself I could be/look like that again if I just did x, y, z. The negative self-talk worsened as I started to have an adult life as a dietetic intern and then full-time employee. It was like this quiet little voice whispering to me that I could do better, be better, look better. While I was still active, it was not in the way I once was and certainly not enough to maintain the appearance I once had (which I will remind you was not healthy for my brain or my body). For this reason I found myself with anxiety, fear of my appearance changing, and just general negativity around myself and my inability to find time to exercise as I wanted. As an adult, my red flags were: I was chronically constipated (again, TMI, but important because my body was not functioning the way it needed to - I was dragging myself to the gym earlier than I should have - eventually I became so fed up and realized the stress of the gym could be halting my digestion - it was), I had stress and anxiety about my ability to fit in a workout, I got angry if something came up at work and kept me longer than expected, I skipped fun events with friends for my workouts.
Just like school, my life had become this cycle of pressure and stress. And then on top of it, I decided I wanted to start my own business. The more I gave myself to do the less control I felt I had, and the more I pressured myself to make exercise happen, so the more I felt frustration with myself...
phase 3: finding fitness freedom
A combination of seeing my sister develop a better relationship with exercise and having a boyfriend who isn't a gym rat helped me immensely. The idea that fitness should not be done out of stress or pressure to meet physique goals has been on my mind for a while but I have not been able to embrace it. An important question for me to ask myself is WHY? Why do I exercise? When it gets down to it, my main reasons are: stress relief, spending time outside, and refocusing my mind after a day at work. The thoughts of appearance creep in (this is still a new journey for me), but I am mostly okay about quieting them.
My body has been changing over the last three years. And guess what else has changed? A LOT - including me getting serious about my business. To be honest, there just isn't enough hours in the day for everything. I just listened to a podcast and a few quotes blew me away. Literally I was like YES, YES, YES (give it a listen, ~ minute 27). The guest said "Because I accept what is and isn't my priority I can live in freedom," she followed it up to say that whatever area of your life you feel like you don't have enough time for (exercise, time with friends, relaxing, meditating, business, etc) "decide you are going to make time for it either now or in the future or stop putting that expectation on yourself when you don't have the time and you're not willing to deprioritze something else in order to make the time".
Because I accept what is and isn't my priority, I can live in freedom (elizabeth saunders)
THIS IS ME RIGHT NOW!! I want to exercise, and I can add movement into my day even if it's just 15 minutes. What I CAN'T and don't WANT to do is focus on getting back to the "way I used to look" because I have way more important priorities, and who really cares or notices anyway. Since I am accepting that my physique is not and should never be my main priority then I can let go of the guilt and frustration I feel with myself around exercise length/quality, my appearance, how my clothes fit, how my arms look. No more expecting myself to be known as and look like the fit, in-shape girl.
what if we felt perfect just the way we are
As of today I am saying good-bye to that fit-girl.
I am breaking up with her. I don't want that to be my identity. My relationship with fitness this summer and hopefully forever is focused on what I have time for, what will make my body feel good, what my mind is in the mood for, and that is it.
I am not quite sure what my new identity is...but I bet you it is going to be someone a lot more fun, successful, and happy.
Thanks for coming, reading, and staying.
Share your thoughts with me. What is your relationship with fitness? How could it be better?