The Greatest Lesson I Learned Going From Inactive To Exercise Obsessed To Healthy Movement Habits
I don’t talk about my workout habits anymore but it’s not because I’ve gotten “lazy” and don’t do anything now, it's more just because I don’t feel obligated to be all “fitness-y” now that I’m not a trainer anymore and also, well, my relationship with exercise has changed. I just move, whenever, however I want and don't really think of it as exercise - because exercise, is punishment but movement, movement is nurturing. See, as messed up as my relationship with food was for most of my life, so too was my relationship with exercise. My first experiences with exercise were, as with dieting, as a teenager - when I learned that I needed to diet to make my body more acceptable, I also learned I needed to exercise for the same reason. I had books & magazines (back when the dinosaurs roamed & we had no YouTube) that told me what exercises to do to “fix” the “problem” areas on my body & a few dumbbells with which to perform said exercises. The cycle went like this: I’d stare at the “problem areas” in the mirror, hating myself for them until I got “motivated” enough to “fix” them - and the cycle of punishment & failure would begin, again. I’d “get back on track” and restart the futile diet and exercise attempts - which meant trying to willpower my way through cutting out carbs and “getting a workout” in every day - making sure to focus on fixing all those “problem areas”. Now that I’m out of it, I can see it so clearly for what it was - punishment - for not looking (or being) good enough. And, as with the dieting, that was my relationship with exercise. It was punishment. Punishment that I’d try to start every few weeks or months - only to quit within a couple weeks with my fears that I was lazy and useless confirmed. Until the next time I tried again. Then in 2007, I actually made it stick. Desperation and self-hate are powerful forces when they’re deep enough and by that point, mine were deeeep. But as powerful as they are, they don’t drive positive change and while I had finally learned to make the whole exercise thing part of my life, it most certainly wasn’t in a healthy way. It was still punishment - only it developed into much more corporal punishment. The harder I could physically punish my body and make myself ache, the happier I was and the more powerful and better about myself I felt. And this concept of exercise as punishment for weight gain or not looking perfect, is one I see repeated sooo very often in women everywhere. Because that’s what we’ve been taught. We’ve been taught so many unbelievably toxic and unhealthy thoughts and behaviors in the name of “healthy living”. The entire time I was training like an animal and beating the hell out of my body I was celebrated. The more I made my body suffer, the more praise I got. And who eats up praise more than someone who hates themselves? Nobody. I ate that shit up. I lived for it - without it, I felt worthless.
The more I physically transformed my “problem areas” the more I needed to. It was all I cared about. Health, or what was best for my body wasn’t driving any of it. Desperation to punish myself into perfection was driving it all. If it wasn’t something that would contribute to improving the way my body looked, I wanted no part of it. And all I got from any of it, was a fleeting transformation (because physical transformations need constant work to maintain or they’re completely undone) and a crapton of injuries that plague me to this day. Punishment and self-hate never drive positive change. But that’s what we’re taught. If we just reject our bodies enough, if we just feel enough shame, if we just criticize ourselves enough - THEN we’ll be motivated to make healthy changes. Yanno, start “eating right and exercising”. We’ve been hosed by it all so unbelievably bad. All I needed, as a teenager was someone to help teach me how to listen to and respect my body - listen to what it was telling me it wanted and needed and how to care enough about myself to want to give it those things and it would have saved me decades of pain and suffering. Because, and this took me decades to figure out on my own, our bodies want to move. They aren’t lazy. They know when they need movement, instinctively, they often even sort of know what kinds of movement and they want it. They know when they need rest. They know what foods make them feel best and they don’t want to consume the ones that make them feel like crap. The entire problem we’ve been having with ALL of this mess is that we’ve been taught some really unhealthy things. Like that exercise (and healthy eating) is punishment. As long as you continue to view exercise as punishment, you’re going to struggle with things like constantly searching for ways to stay motivated or feeling like you need accountability tricks. Movement is not punishment and you’re not “too lazy” to start being more active. You've just been taught, like most of the rest of us, that exercise is punishment. You can learn to listen to your body when it tells you it needs some - and even learn to want to give it what it needs. I swear you can and it will tell you, if you just listen. Start by giving it some much gratitude for all it does for you - no matter how badly you treat it. Thank it. Seriously. And start connecting with it. That is, paying attention to what you sensations you feel in your body and where you feel it. Aches? Pains? Immobility? Weakness? Connect with all those sensations. How does it feel to experience life in your body today? How do you want it to feel? What one thing can you do right now to address any of those sensations you're feeling? It's a process that takes practice - when you've spent decades ignoring or punishing your body, understanding what it's trying to tell you isn't easy. But when you get good at it, nurturing your body with what it tells you it wants and needs, when it needs it, becomes automatic and there's never another diet or exercise program to "fall off". Just a constant connection with your body, asking it what it needs and giving it that.
If you need help, I've built the process of learning to add movement to your life in this way into Cognitive Eating. Learn more about CE here.