Personal: Exercise & Body Image

A couple of weeks ago, I was asking you guys whether or not you exercise regularly, and I noticed the results were pretty all-or-nothing. It got me thinking that perhaps sharing a bit about my experience could be helpful!

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I never really played sports growing up apart from one season of soccer and some dance. My family didn’t exercise much either (but they do now — Woo!). None of that bothered me much until I graduated from college and would try joining my friends at a workout class or for a hike and could never keep up. No matter what I tried - yoga, pilates, running - nothing worked for me. At the time, I was also struggling with severe anxiety and a quick jog felt a lot like a panic attack.

It wasn’t until my husband and I moved that I was able to clear my head and get healthy enough to try working out again. His school offers three free training sessions for students and spouses, so I was hopeful that having some one-on-one attention would help me find my footing. The week before I started, I was at my annual check-up with my doctor and shared a bit about my experience with exercise. I’d discussed it with doctors before and never got any answers, but lucky for me, this doctor’s daughter had the same problem. After a couple of tests, we discovered that I have exercise-induced asthma, which explains why I could never get past that initial out-of-breath feeling at the beginning of a workout. My lungs couldn’t keep up!

It was definitely great to know, but it was also pretty sad to look back on so many years of trying to “push myself” and feeling like a failure, when it wasn’t my fault at all. To cope with my low self-esteem, I would make jokes about not being an exercise person. Looking back, I hate that I did that because working out is so important for our health, and it is something our bodies were made to do! By making a joke out of the situation, we don’t allow people to address the core issues and insecurities they face.

When I met with my trainer for the first time, I told her all of this, and she worked with me (and my inhaler!) on the baby steps. Even though sometimes we would just be stretching, I cried regularly for the first few weeks. It was such an emotional process and brought up all of my past frustrations with myself and my body.

This spring marks a year of working out with her once a week, and I’m so glad my husband and I decided to prioritize my training in our budget. I’m continually amazed by what my body can do and how good it feels to move it! I never would have built the foundation I have now without her.

Don’t get me wrong — I haven’t lost a ton of weight, I can’t do fifty pushups, I am not running half marathons. But now working out is something I do to care for myself. It’s not attached to a “goal.” I think goals are motivating for some people, but for me, I needed to gain a better perspective of exercise in order to desire it from a healthy place. I also needed a healthier view of exercise in order to accept my body. Now I think a lot more about my joints, muscles, and heart than I do about my pant size.

It is no coincidence that I currently have a healthy body image. I am not by any stretch of the imagination the “smallest” I have ever been, but I am the most in shape. And no, that doesn’t mean I’m pure muscle. It would be easy for me to name off my flaws, but I find that by giving myself grace and healing my perspective, I don’t think about them like I used to.

If you’ve struggled with body image or exercise, please don’t give up! You can and will find what works for you if you’re open, patient, and kind to yourself. I’m happy to chat further if you’d like to!