These days, it is so hard to separate the connection between exercise and weight loss. Fitbits, apps like Runkeeper, and workout equipment all tell you not just the distance and time you’ve covered but the estimated calories burned.
Though they are few and far between, I can remember being active as a kid without knowing or caring how many calories I burned.
I am the oldest and only girl in my family with three younger brothers. My brother Adam and I are 22 months apart in age so we were playmates as kids.
We played freeze tag, hide and seek, basketball, football (I was the QB and had to play two hand touch while the boys could tackle me because they said I hit them too hard, haha), and kickball.
When I was 10 years old, my mom signed me up for softball and Adam up for baseball. He played 2 seasons; I played 4. I loved playing softball because I was good at it. I’m super competitive which led to some emotional meltdowns when we lost, but I could hit the ball nearly out of the park and throw harder and further than any other girl on the team. (And people were always surprised that a chubby kid and teenager like me was such a great softball player, which spurred a love of defying others’ expectations and stereotypes of me as a fat person for the rest of my life.)
When I think back on all of this, even though I’ve been conscious of my weight and body since I was 5 years old, I don’t remember wondering how many calories I burned. I don’t think I was of the mindset yet of bargaining with myself over how long I had to work out to eat whatever I wanted to eat.
That came along with the Jane Fonda workout tapes and aerobics classes I did at the gym with my mom.
Even back then, exercise did not help me lose much weight, but it made me leaner, but I still equated the two.
They are still so deeply intertwined in my brain, exercise and weight loss, and trying to exercise because I enjoy it (I actually really do) has felt impossible because it keeps triggering thoughts and hopes for weight loss. Being unable to separate them has actually kept me from working out altogether even though I really want to.
So in some ways, I’m not sure if it is all me grieving or feeling fearful in my heavier body over where I am physically now versus then or if that nagging desire to lose weight is behind it all. Either way, I’m not doing anything. And I’m tired all the time and feel weaker and it is mortifying for me when John and I walk somewhere hilly and he’s ahead of me and asks me if I’m going to make it because I am breathing so hard and unable to keep up with him. It just reminds me of all the other times I was the one in the back of the pack gasping for air and feeling like I was a burden to the group.
Maybe it is all of those things, but how do I proceed from here?
I think I need to start thinking of exercise the way I think of other important parts of my life, like my job, marriage, friendships, finances, and etc. I do actually love to exercise, like I love my husband, making money, spending time with friends, and etc. even if I don’t always want to get out of bed to do any of those things. Moving my body is as vital as brushing my teeth. I can tell the difference in my body when I’m not moving it regularly and not in a weight loss/weight gain sort of way. My legs, back, and hips are so tight and inflexible from not stretching and moving them enough and that contributes to the pain I feel when my endometriosis flares up.
I decided to re-join LA Fitness back in February because there are gyms by my job and apartment and I want to get back into Zumba and have a place to do the Couch to 5K training when it is raining or cold outside.
I think I have been maybe four times since then.
I’ve “graduated” from the C25K program several times, the last time outside where I was able to run four miles without stopping and it was glorious, but now I can barely run for more than 90 seconds. I am so awkward and uncoordinated in Zumba because I am so out of practice with dancing because I struggle with how I look now while dancing in my bigger body. I haven’t dared to hike the mountains around here like I used to because it feels so uncomfortable trying to move and breathe with my lost endurance. I haven’t cycled either even though I now have a bike for similar reasons.
I also want to work on letting go of the all-or-nothing mentality that is the dying breaths of the diet mentality and perfectionism. To stop feeling like everything has to be structured and organized or it won’t work. I’ll never have a clean desk at work, for instance, but I don’t stop going to work for that reason and I still go home when it’s time to go home even if I’m not “finished” with everything.
Self-care in re-learning exercise outside of the diet mentality means letting go of the rules that diet mentality brought to exercise. Moving my body in ways I want to for however long I want to. Not forcing myself to stick to a schedule, but still finding time for myself to move my body so it stays strong and flexible like I find time to brush my teeth so they don’t rot and fall out and time to shower so I don’t become the “smelly coworker” and I don’t slip out of John’s arms when he hugs me because I’m so greasy, haha.
This is easier said than done, but I don’t have to get it right. It’s an experience and an education and there are no right or wrong answers.
How do you dissociate exercise from weight loss and the diet mentality? What do you enjoy doing? Tell me about your experiences with exercise and moving your body out of self-care.