Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: You’re in your favorite coffee shop. You’ve only been awake for an hour, but somehow, it has already been the longest day of your life. You’re in line, ready to fuel your body and soul with an absurd amount of caffeine and then you see it: the most beautiful cinnamon rolls you’ve ever laid your eyes on. You immediately start to calculate how long you’ll have to suffer on the elliptical in order enjoy this goddess of a pastry. You pass. The future exercise you’ll have to endure is just not worth it. Why is that? Why does exercise have to feel like a consequence of eating?
Throughout my life, I’ve been in far too many situations almost identical to the one above. Each time I was presented with something that made life a little sweeter, for example, a perfect cinnamon roll, I associated it with some dreaded form of exercise. I ultimately viewed exercise as a punishment for eating foods that I enjoyed. Growing up, my weight and my weight loss goals were always my biggest priorities. From the age of 12, my hobby was dieting. This led to extreme weight fluctuations over the years, varying from under 100 pounds my senior year of high school to almost 200 pounds around the age of 22. While my weight changed drastically throughout the years, one thing did not: my relationship with exercise and physical fitness. At my lowest and highest weights, one thing rang true. Exercise was not supposed to be enjoyable. In fact, it was supposed to be hard and miserable. From my perspective, if I was hating it, it was probably working. After years of holding onto this negative outlook, I was ultimately led to a place of complacency. “Who cares if I don’t work out?” “Physical fitness will never be enjoyable for me.” “I will never be one of those people who look forward to a workout.” These were the intrusive thoughts that dominated my life. I had been trying to incorporate exercise into my routine for a decade and I could never stick to it. In my head, it was pointless to keep trying. At my heaviest weight, I was so disconnected from my body and my spirit. I was just going through the motions while my gym clothes sat in my closet, motionless.
At this point in my life, I was making a majority of my income from a second job where I submitted closed captions for movies and television. I worked from home, which meant I rarely needed to leave the house. I found myself becoming increasingly detached from the woman I knew I wanted to be, but I felt nothing. This all changed one day when I was unexpectedly let go from my captioning job. I felt defeated. I had never lost a job before and I couldn’t process the overwhelmingly bitter emotions that were crashing over me. I was angry, anxious and alone. The next thing I knew, I was running. Wait, what? Yeah, you read that right. After a year of neglecting my physical well-being, my first instinct was to literally run away from my problems. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this seemingly random decision was going to change my life. At the end of that initial run, I was overcome with a feeling of peace. I felt incredible. I didn’t run to punish myself for eating something I loved. I didn’t run because I was having a bad body image day. I just ran. The concept of exercising for enjoyment was something I was completely unfamiliar with. This moment was the beginning of my new relationship with fitness. Running allowed me to reconnect with the powerful force inside of me. The force of the strong woman who I had neglected for far too long.
Fast-forward, to my life two-years later: if you’re looking for me, I’m either running or eating delicious food created by my culinary genius of a boyfriend. I am running because I love it. I am eating because as a human being, I deserve to eat amazing, nutritious food. Food and exercise are no longer negatively linked. In fact, exercise has become an integral part of my daily routine that I looked forward to. While running will always hold a special place in my heart, I’ve recently stepped outside of my cardio comfort zone by incorporating weight-lifting into my routine. I’ve never felt stronger. My fitness journey has helped me realize that I am a warrior who can accomplish anything I set my mind to, in and out of the gym. I exercise after a long day of work to reward my body with movement. I exercise to get through mentally tough moments. Most importantly, I exercise to feel empowered. Yes, increasing my physical activity has helped me lose some weight, but what I’ve gained from this process can’t be measured. For the first time in ten years, I now know that weight loss centered around my appearance is not the key to my happiness. Exercise has shown me how truly incredible my body is, no matter how it looks on the outside. I am on a journey towards self-improvement, but that doesn’t mean I have to dislike who I am along the way. I am healthier than I have been in several years, both mentally and physically. I truly don’t know where I would be at this point in my life if I hadn’t taken that first, powerful step onto the running trail. I am so grateful I did.
The initial process of starting your fitness journey can seem overwhelming. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the idea that a fitness routine should be unwavering and stringent. It can be discouraging when you see others in your daily life mastering an exercise plan that you’re struggling to even start. Not everyone finds joy in a long run. Not everyone enjoys lifting heaving things and putting them down. That is okay. Your fitness journey is exactly that: YOURS. There are no rules when it comes to your process. Find an exercise routine that benefits both your physical and your mental health. Allow your body to move in a way that feels incredible to you. Don’t be afraid to take that first step towards bettering yourself. Your mental and physical well-being are too important to neglect. You are a strong and empowered warrior. Find a fitness routine that helps you feel like one.
- Makenzie D.