Running with It

Will I ever not struggle trying to figure out blog post titles? Probably not. But I really wanted to share a new discovery I have found recently stumbled upon, and that is a true, healthy, passionate relationship with exercise.

For as long as I can remember, I either hated exercise or did it strictly with burning calories in mind. Even when my outward intentions were to live a healthier, more active lifestyle, the amount of energy I was burning off from my food was always present.

I think that mindset isn’t only one found in those with exercise addiction or eating disorders. Good ol’ society loves to emphasize diet culture and weight loss. Everywhere you turn, we see advertisements for new weight loss techniques and work out routines to lose weight and tone up. We are set up to strive for smaller clothing sizes, lower numbers on the scale, and how little space we can take up. Especially in the summer with “bikini season,” the weight loss industry sells us the notion that we should be concerned with how fit we look in our swim suits, so we better buy a new product or gym membership. It sure doesn’t help that most equipment and machines have calorie counters on them. We can’t just exercise in peace. Every step we take has to have a number attached to it.

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Such a fancy, shiny building. I always feel a little out of place with all of the athletic people around, but I have to remind myself that my end goal isn’t to have an unreachable “goal body”; my goal is to take care of myself by doing something I enjoy.

This is the first time I’ve actually had a gym membership (perks of a student ID using my college’s wellness center), so I had only occasionally actually used a gym for exercising prior to this. Otherwise when I felt like I needed to “exercise more” (aka my mind telling me it was time to lose some weight), I would extensively research new ways to sneak in burning more calories throughout the day and search YouTube for workout videos. I was doing this out of compulsion and obsession, not for any reason to actually take care of myself. So I’m very glad I had never gone to the gym during these moments of weakness because I know I would have probably spent hours of time driven by a need to lose weight. 10/10 would not recommend.

During my last relapse with my eating disorder, I was so weak that I couldn’t even think about doing anything beyond just living my life without wanting to sleep. I distinctly remember when I was at my lowest weight being scared to death after struggling to climb a single flight of stairs that I was going into cardiac arrest. That was only five months ago.

So as I have been recovering and have been less active with a 9-5 office job, my high carb/low fat vegan diet as been giving me such energy that I got an urge to try exercising again. But this time, it was out of pure desire and curiosity. It’s been a few weeks now that I’ve committed to going to the gym throughout the week, and my results have been very exciting.

No, these results aren’t a dramatic before-and-after comparison of a physical transformation. I mean yes, I am blown away by my own progress in these few weeks (I started my journey being able to finish a mile in over 12 minutes. Now I’m down to 11 minutes. For somebody who was always last to complete that dreadful mile run in elementary school, that is beyond exciting. Don’t even get me started on how much I loathe the PACER test), but the majority of my results cannot be captured in a photograph. Not only have I increased my overall endurance, leaving the gym uplifted rather than discouraged, but the way I view exercise has done a 180. Obviously I still have to look at the numbers in my face when I step onto the treadmill, elliptical or stationary bike, but they aren’t the reason why I keep coming back. I have come to realize that living a healthy lifestyle through physical and mental exercise, along with plant-based food, gives me confidence. I don’t even exercise for that long at a time, but it still makes a huge difference.

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Having goals for yourself is great. Shoot for completing a marathon or lifting a certain barbell. But don’t shoot for a body that isn’t yours, or hitting a certain calorie mark during each session (might I add that numbers on exercise machines aren’t even accurate? So just stop using them).

And that should be your purpose, as well. It’s about time we stopped buying into the idea that the end goal of exercise is an ideal body shape and size, whatever that may look to you. Exercise isn’t about trying to change a body you don’t like: it’s about taking care of a body you love. Just because we can’t see the majority of exercise’s benefits when it comes to preventing disease, improving internal health and alleviating mental symptoms doesn’t make them inferior to physical changes.

Your body is already fantastic the way it is. Exercise is just another way to appreciate that when you go about it the right way. Move your body however you want, for as long as you please. Whether it be going to the gym, dancing, swimming, running, or simply stretching, exercise is a personal activity that requires no specific rules and guidelines. And if working out starts to feel like a chore, or you feel compelled by it, take a step back and reevaluate. For me, starting to exercise for the right reasons has been quite the learning experience, trying to wipe the slate clean from how I used to perceive it, and taking several months away from anything related to exercise was necessary for me. But you do you. I’m no fitness trainer or gym rat.

So long story short, exercise has become a stress-relieving, enjoyable part of my everyday life. I wish the media would advertise this aspect of fitness instead of what I grew up learning. I would love to see a magazine, rather than show off a model with six-pack abs teaching readers how to achieve a “killer body,” show off a normal looking person preach about how energized and mentally clear they feel after a nature walk. I hope you begin or continue your own journey, realizing the amazing capabilities of the human body and an inner strength you always possessed.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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