Anyone who has known me for longer than six years will know that exercise was not something I ever really committed to in the past.
In my youth and early twenties I actively avoided it. I would attend the gym sporadically (usually before a holiday) but I never got much fitter and just pegged exercise as something I didn’t enjoy and wasn’t very good at. In any case, it didn’t really bother me because my sole measure of health was my weight. As long as I weighed a certain amount and didn’t go above that I was happy.
At twenty-seven I had my first child, followed by my second eighteen months later. I put on forty two pounds during both pregnancies and by the time I turned thirty I still hadn’t shifted the last twenty one pounds. I felt so dejected that I considered meal replacement shakes, even though I knew this wasn’t a healthy way to lose weight. I just couldn’t seem to hit that magic number, the target weight that would make everything okay, the weight at which I could allow myself to be happy.
My husband was really supportive. He didn’t think I needed to lose any weight, but he could see how down I was and suggested I try one more time with exercise and healthier eating. This is when I discovered Jillian Michaels and her 30 day shred DVD. I didn’t know it at the time but the steady workout habit that these DVD’s helped me to build would be the first step on the path that would lead to me seeing myself as a physically active person.
When I first started exercising the why of exercise was all about how much I weighed and how I looked; specifically for me how flat my stomach was. The less I weighed and the flatter my stomach the more comfortable I felt in my skin. Of course the reverse was also true. I weighed myself every day and if the pounds had risen slightly or if my belly was bloated I would berate myself for not eating healthily enough or not exercising enough.
Over the next six years my exercise habits and routines would be established. I started off with Jillian around four times a week, then my friend suggested I try a boot camp. I resisted for a couple of months; I could only do twenty minute DVD’s in the comfort of my own home and had once fallen off a step at a step aerobics class in front of a hall full of people, what business would I have at a boot camp exercising with people who were actually fit?
Eventually I relented and went along. It was tough but I did it; and I kept doing it, and eventually I started to like it, (or more accurately, the feeling I got after it).
Of course there were periods when my exercise routine would slip for a couple of months and it would take some motivation to start again. But eventually, even if I couldn’t make a class I’d do a Jillian DVD or a Joe Wicks YouTube video at home (yes, even before he was the UK’s saviour of PE he was my personal saviour).
In short, I internalised the habit of exercise to the point where it just became something I did, and the resulting changes to my energy levels, strength and body meant that I began to see myself as someone who was fit.
This was a massive transformation for me and also a massive awakening. I had chosen something, I had stuck with it (mostly) and I had seen results. Apart from my husband, who I met at the tender age of eighteen, I’d never really stuck with anything (I got some pretty good results there too, in case you were wondering).
The change in mindset was to become as important to me as the physical changes. However, I was still focused on the magic number and my appearance. My exercise became more and more focused on losing body fat, developing my muscles, I became concerned with macro nutrients and protein intake. All of it was focused on achieving the best outward appearance possible.
Over the past couple of years there has been a growing divergence between how I have felt physically and what the numbers have said on the scales. I might feel great one morning and hop on the scales only to find out I’d put on a few pounds. I would try to tell myself it was muscle gain or water weight but whatever narrative I tried to insert it wouldn’t change the fact that I would instantly feel diminished; that energy and strength that had been there moments before would evaporate. I would begin to berate myself for not eating healthy enough or not exercising enough. Whilst my intuition told me this was wrong (after all, I’d woken up feeling energised and strong hadn’t I?) I could not silence my negative inner dialogue.
It took a long while for me to become fully conscious of this discord and even longer for me to pinpoint the reasons behind it: I had tied my self-worth to my weight.
So, how did I get past this? Well, it’s a work in progress. I stopped weighing myself daily for a start. I relaxed my eating habits, (I was getting pretty fed up of chicken salad anyway), and currently I’m trying to focus more on how my body feels rather than how it looks.
I don’t want to tie my sense of self-worth to my exercise habits any more than it was tied to my weight, so I am endeavouring to be more intuitive about the whole process; if I need to stretch I’ll do some yoga, if I need to get outside and burn off some energy I’ll go for a run. There are days when I don’t feel energised but I know a workout will make me feel better and there are days when I know I’ll be better off doing nothing more than walking the dog.
Fitness aside, the most important thing I’ve gained from this whole process is the knowledge that it is within my power to make positive change and that this change doesn’t require a whole lot of effort; what it does require is consistency and time. It is this mindset which I’m endeavouring to apply to my writing practice, as I chant my inner mantra: slow and steady, it’s not a race.