From Punishment to Empowerment: How My View of Fitness Has Transformed
As a kid, you would never have described me as “athletic.” Goofy, unique, artsy, creative, chubby, theatrical, and nerdy? Yup that more like it. I played softball and basketball when I was younger, but unfortunately you can’t get too far in most sports when you’re afraid of the ball, so I joined the swim team.
Even while I played, I never really enjoyed what I was doing and instead found joy in painting, crafting, acting and improv classes. When you’re younger the world is a lot more black and white. When you’re bad at sports and you’re more interested in the arts, you label yourself as “un-athletic.” Rather than finding your potential, you let your label define your abilities. You tell yourself you don’t like or care about sports or fitness, it’s “just not me.”
In my junior year of high school, I wanted to lose weight. Part of that meant changing my diet, but also exercising on my own, away from the stress and embarrassment of team sports. My innocent quest to lose a couple pounds took a dark turn into a full blown eating disorder. Not only was I starving my body, but I used exercise as a way to purge and punish. I poured over endless fitness and health magazines absorbing their factoids and misguided advice like a sponge. I viewed my body as a math equation and all I cared about was coming up negative.
I was the queen of cardio working out for sometimes two hours on the stairmaster and treadmill. I didn’t count miles or steps, I only cared about the calories I was burning. If I missed a day I became anxious and ate even less. I used fitness as a tool to help me disappear, to become less. I didn’t feel joy or accomplishment when I worked out, it only felt like a punishment.
As I slowly recovered from my first battle with an eating disorder during my senior year of high school, fitness and exercise were put on hold or at least dramatically scaled back. I was learning to feed my body again and my time was devoted to acting in the drama club and musical, applying to college and working on the school paper. Exercise became more of a tool for balance than punishment. After my freshman year of college I relapsed into my disordered eating, which is when I began to run, my only goal being to lose more weight.
But a crazy thing happened.
I started falling in love with running. Each run gave me such a sense of accomplishment. Slowly I stopped counting the calories and started counting miles. This switch of mentality wasn’t night and day. In fact, many of my obsessive behaviors transferred into running. While calories weren’t as important miles became a new crutch, numbers I could go over in my head over and over again. Each day had to be better than the last. Despite, my obsessive tendencies running gave me permission to fuel my body again.
I think the most important gift running gave me was a love and appreciation for fitness outside of controlling my weight. I loved what I could do, the way it made me feel. I could identify myself as a runner. That label I had created for myself so long ago no longer applied. When I began to add miles instead of subtract calories that’s when I began to really heal. This wasn’t overnight. In fact, it’s taken me five years long, rocky years to change my view of fitness into a tool for gaining and building health rather than just a way to burn calories.
Finally I understand that fitness is a gift, not a punishment.
I use it to celebrate my body, not tear it down.
- I love running because it makes me feel alert, focused and present. I love the endorphins, the sweat and I even respect my bad runs.
- I love lifting because it makes me feel strong, capable and empowered. I’m proud of my progress as slow and steady as it may be.
- I love yoga because it makes me feel relaxed, mindful and connected. I hope to develop a practice and allow it to enhance other parts of my life.
I love fitness because it isn’t about losing yourself, it’s not being better than someone else, it’s about building yourself into the best version of you. The race medals are nice and I don’t hate my baby guns, but for me the real reward isn’t a visible trophy. I’ve grown so much mentally over the years because of my journey through fitness and health. At times I might have lost my balance, but like my physical training, I’ve learned to bounce back, each time stronger.
- I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories about your own fitness journey