My Breakup with Exercise

In November, I met the amazing Ragen Chastain at a conference. She was the keynote speaker and blew the minds of college health professionals about Health at Every Size. During one of her talks she explained that many people are currently experiencing a “bad breakup with exercise.” That phrase was a gift to me – I finally have the  words to describe my fraught and complex relationship with exercise.

I was never an overly active kid. I loved to read, play with plastic dinosaurs, and find salamanders in the woods. I hated gym class. I did not like sports. Nor did I like hiking or cross-country skiing, my parents’ favorite activities. Once I hit puberty my body became soft and pudgy and my dislike of physical activity was no longer just a personality trait – it became a flaw. It became an indicator of my laziness and bad attitude, or at least, that’s how my parents seemed to interpret my spirited protests. I quickly understood that I was being forced to go hiking because I was fat. My mom encouraged me to go to the gym with her. I felt out of place there and embarrassed. My presence in this dark, smelly, scary adult space was punishment for being a fat and lazy kid.

I didn’t touch exercise again until my junior year of college. My university required everyone to take a certain number of gym credits and I signed up for a step aerobics class I had heard good things about. I loved it. The instructor was an athletic female coach who was all about strength and fitness, not about appearance. She wore a giant t-shirt and long, baggy gym shorts. I started coming to the gym a few times a week and doing the elliptical machine, crunches and pushups. I signed up for Pilates and a strength-building classes even though I had already fulfilled my Phys Ed requirements. It felt good. It was a happy time for me. I finally was developing some positive experiences with exercise.

In 2009, I moved to Boston to begin my first full-time job.I got myself a gym membership. I started doing Weight Watchers with a coworker, and religiously tracked every morsel I ate. I signed up for personal training. I went to the gym at least 5 times a week. My sessions at the gym now lasted about 2 hours. I would start with 15 minutes of cardio on the elliptical to warm up. Then I would do 30-45 minutes of strength training. Then I would do 45 mins-1 hour of cardio – rotating between the elliptical, stairmaster, and bike. Then I would stretch for 20 minutes. For a month or two, I added another 15 minutes of ab work each night before I went to bed. I turned down offers to go to dinner or evening events in order to go to the gym. I knew that I needed at least a 3-hour block of time to do my regular workout, shower, and change; there was simply not enough time to do anything else on a weeknight. I had no hobbies to speak of, besides working out. I did this for about a year.

Everyone thought I looked great. I lost 25 lbs and fit into size 8 pants for the first time since high school. For a brief period, you could actually see my ab muscles when I flexed. I could wear really short shorts. I ate mostly processed frozen dinners, raw vegetables, and Greek yogurt (no time to cook). I got compliments from friends, coworkers, and my family. Guys asked me for my number. My parents no longer chided me for my behavior; now they were asking me for tips. They soon signed up with personal trainers themselves.

I was down to 145 lbs, but I was convinced that I needed to get to 125. I believed that was considered “normal weight” or “healthy weight” for a woman of my height. I was excited and happy about the changes I felt and saw in the mirror, but I in no way considered myself “done.” I was in the best shape of my life, but I still thought I was fat. And according to my BMI, I was technically still “overweight.”

This too can be yours! Just eat hardly anything and exercise 2 hours a day for the rest of your life!

This too can be yours! Just eat hardly anything and exercise 2 hours a day for the rest of your life!

Then I started grad school. I was working full-time and taking a full course load at night. Suddenly, there was no time to go to the gym. I had night classes and homework. I still tried to go as often as I could, but if I wasn’t able to complete my full 2-hour workout, it felt like failure. A waste. Moderation was simply not in my vocabulary. My new body was slipping away.

Soon I become so mentally exhausted that I had no room left for tracking Weight Watchers points. I had no time to go grocery shopping. I started living off of cafe sandwiches, takeout, and Red Bull. My beloved trainer experienced some health problems and had to retire. The trainer assigned to replace him was a douchebro jock who kept talking about getting me a “hot bikini body” and I hated him. Eventually, I stopped going to the gym altogether. And, naturally, I started to gain weight. Like so many people, I ended up gaining more than I had lost.

Three years later, I am the heaviest I’ve been in my life. My parents have expressed their concern, and I have pushed back on their well-intentioned but incredibly painful statements with every ounce of spirit in my body; I will not feel like a worthless fat girl again. And no, exercise is not so simple as “Just do it.”

For most of 2013 I was sedentary. I had multiple false starts as I tried to “get back into the gym.”  Each time I returned, there was a new manager at the personal training company who would spot me on the elliptical and approach me, saying “Congratulations on taking the first step towards a better you!” or some bullshit like that.

I wanted to punch them every time. I am already a better me. I have hobbies now. I have friends. I have a life.

Then the manager would encourage me to try personal training because “beginners always need someone to show them how to do things properly.”

“FUCK YOU, I am NOT a beginner,” I would think.

“If you only knew me when…” And then my anger would dissolve into shame. I was embarrassed at failing so spectacularly.

But looking back on it now, I wonder how could I have done anything else but fail. My Biggest Loser-esque workout regime was extreme and unsustainable. Dieting was unsustainable. My abs were unsustainable. And no matter how thin or muscular I got, I always thought I was fat. I always needed to lose more. I was never not unhappy with my body. Losing weight did not improve my body image whatsoever.

In 2013 I vowed to stop dieting forever and began the long process of making peace with my body. Though I was making progress on the eating and body image fronts, I was still having a really hard time with exercise. Friends would say, “Couldn’t you just go to the gym for like 20 minutes? Couldn’t you just take the stairs? That’s better than nothing!” The thought of going to the gym for 20 minutes or taking the stairs was foreign and confusing. How could you do anything worthwhile in 20 minutes? I would never get my abs back by going to the gym for 20 minutes. I would never lose 40 lbs by taking the stairs. It became obvious that thinking of physical activity in moderate and sustainable terms was going to be extremely challenging for me.

I spent a lot of time thinking of ways to get active that would be fun and sustainable. I didn’t come up with any radical new ideas. There was yoga and hiking, which I have learned to like now that it isn’t mandatory and I can choose to do it on my own terms. But I haven’t found a yoga studio I like yet and hiking is difficult to do on a regular basis when you live in a northeastern city. I kept coming back to the gym – the first place I ever really enjoyed exercise.

But I was, as Ragen deftly stated, going through a bad breakup with the gym. The gym had ghosts of my thinner self in every mirror. The gym was full of people who would assume I had never worked out before. And I still never had enough time to do the kind of workouts I felt were necessary. “Do it right or don’t do it at all” would echo in the back of my head.

I took my time. I thought about things. I let myself get comfortable with tenets of Heath at Every Size. I practiced self-compassion. I forgave myself for “failing” and gaining weight. But most importantly, I worked on letting go of the idea that I could someday be 125 lbs or “get my abs back” or achieve the extreme physical transformation I did back in 2010. This has been, and continues to be, the hardest part. There is a very real sense of loss involved in abandoning the idealized, aspirational vision of yourself that’s been in your head since you were a teenager.

Then I agreed, for the first time in my life, to participate in a fundraiser stair climbing challenge. I knew this would force me to get back to the gym, and it did. The stair climb event is two days away, so last week I forced myself to return to the gym for the first time in many months.

Walking in the door was really hard. I could barely finish my first 20-minute cardio workout on the cross trainer. Five days later, I can do 30 minutes without too much difficulty. I think it’s amazing that my body can adjust back so quickly after so long. I am grateful for its strength and responsiveness. I suppress the faint urges to pull my scale out of storage.

This time, I’m trying to commit to realistic goals. 25 minutes. 30 minutes. Mostly cardio, with some Yoga Meltdown or free weights every now and then when I want to work on building strength. No more than 45 minutes per workout, 3-4 days a week.

Workouts that will help keep me active and give me the health benefits I’m looking for, but won’t consume me. Workouts I can squeeze into my busy life without having to sacrifice other hobbies or time with friends. Workouts that have absolutely nothing to do with losing weight or achieving a “hot bikini body.” Those are the kind of workouts I am aiming for now.

I’ll have to wait and see how it goes, but I’ve got a good feeling about this “moderation” thing. Maybe it could work for you too.

Size 14 and that’s okay.

134 thoughts on “My Breakup with Exercise

  1. What a great piece! I hear from people all the time who have experiences like yours and think that they are the only one. Thank you for being brave and open and eloquent about your experience. You’ve really inspired me. Rock on!

    ~Ragen

    • Hi Leah,
      I have been exercising pretty much all my life. Just a few minutes every morning. (Except when life gets in the way) Just don’t feel right without it. I wrote a song about that situation – when life gets in the way, it’s called Getting Nowhere Fast. If you go to my web page you can sample it from iTunes.
      Leslie

  2. Leah! Awesome post! Thank you for being brave enough to share some very vulnerable feelings and history about yourself. You perfectly described my experiences with exercise, diets and weight loss to a T. Except it was not grad school that made me stop, it was a full blown eating disorder that culminated with a suicide attempt and hospitalization.

    Clearly, there was more going on for me than just an obsession with counting calories and an over enthusiastic exercise regime for me to end up in a psych ward. So here I am 3 years later doing pretty good. Working full time, making my mortgage payments, keeping up with friends and family and all I all living an ordinary life.

    Yet, just like you, I have made amazing strides on the eating. But I still struggle finding the happy medium with exercise. I miss the strong, accomplished feeling I’d get when I was exercising regularly and feel like a failure when I cant do now what I did then.

    I also have struggled with letting go of the dream of ever again looking like I did then (though I was not happy ever with what I looked like then. BMI 21.2? Not good enough. Need to get it to 20.) Thank you for sharing and letting me know I am not alone and for reminding me that I am not a failure. Rather, I am keeping company with a whole boatload of amazing, strong women who were temporarily sucked into believing the cultural b.s. that we must have a “hot bikini body” to have any worth in this world.

  3. What an amazing post. Thank you for expressing, way better than I could, a fraught relationship with exercise, and those nagging thoughts about getting back to something “better”.

  4. I love my gym, but I told them from the get-go that losing weight was LAST PLACE on my list of why I joined. They were/are okay with that, and I work out, go to classes (Sliver Sneakers since I’m 57) and did have a trainer I loved was was teaching me how to box but he moved on and I hurt my shoulder in a non-gym related incident. Some weeks I go a couple of times, and since I recently took on a full-time 13-year-old grandson, some weeks I don’t go at all. That’s okay. They’re happy to see me when I’m there and I’m happy to be there when I go. That’s what “good” excercise should do–it should make you happy..happy to move your body, happy to be upright, happy to be able to do whatever you can do. The other day I saw a not-skinny woman do 45 minutes on the stair master. I seriously wanted to bow down and worship her!! My shoulder is feeling much better now, and I’m hoping to get back in the pool soon (my all-time FAVORITE excercise). I’m glad you’re happy exercising again and I’m really glad you wrote this!

  5. What a fabulous story! You rock!!! (And if you want something fun to do with that bathroom scale in storage, I can make it into a Yay! Scale™ for you…or tell you how. It’ll show compliments, not numbers.)

  6. I got to you from Ragen’s page and thought, “Hey I remember her from JWA!” where I worked one summer. This is a great post and I hope you keep up the good work.

  7. This is a really fantastic piece that completely resonates with my own experience. Here’s to all of us finding some moderation and hopefully some positive body vibes along the way. Thanks for sharing it.

  8. I feel compelled to respond to this because as I was reading I thought I could have been the person who wrote this and I’ve never met anyone with such a similar experience. I used to do exactly 1000 calories of cardio everyday, strict dieting, and tried to manage that in college and immediately found it extremely overwhelming. I wasn’t truly happy either – I was 155lb and felt 250. Most of my
    mind set was very all or nothing – if I skipped one day of the gym I might as well not waste my time going, my view of my weight (I wasn’t thin because I wasn’t 125), or if I ate something “bad” I might as well eat a lot of it.
    After gaining a lot of weight (and losing and gaining and losing) I went to a cognitive based therapy for weight loss class where the therapist eventually decided I have binge eating disorder or a problem with binge eating (strict dieting/exercise combined with a perfectionist all or nothing personality can set someone up for this – also an FYI if you google this you will find a lot of articles that very inacturately describe what BED is and leave out the strict dieting aspect).
    I’ve found it helpful to go to the gym with only/mostly my mental health in mind – to get the “high”, to feel good. I don’t do any more than 30-40 minutes, don’t track calories burned only my hear rate, I skip if I’m feeling tired, have a range of 3-5 times a week instead of 7 days a week. It’s SO much easier to go when I accept that it’s ok if my workout isn’t perfect – 20 minutes can be better than nothing. I no longer push myself through injuries either. I’m still working on the eating part and finding the grey area in the rest of my life (not being perfect does not equal failure).
    I can also relate to feeling the pressure of weight loss from your parents – I’ve slowly lost 30lbs, told my dad about it and he sent me a check…
    I also hate how my boss assumes I don’t take care of myself because I’m overweight or like I’ve never stepped into a gym. (She has actually suggested that I eat veggies like that’s a foreign concept to me.)
    I’ve found intuitive eating to be helpful, Chris fairburns overcoming binge eating, geneene roth overcoming emotional eating, and isabel foxen duke’s blog are all very helpful!

  9. Such a wonderful, revelational personal story. The attainment (and preservation) of a feeling of comfort with one’s self and one’s own body inevitably improves the tone of the entire Universe. Go forth in majesty!

  10. Pingback: Sunday links, 3/2/14 | Tutus And Tiny Hats

  11. Pingback: Her breakup with exercise is hitting close to home for a number of us. | Bits and Bytes

  12. Thanks for sharing! I’ve never really liked working out, it feels like such a waste of time. Before I got married almost 8 years ago I was 125-130 lbs (I’m about 5’3″) and never really appreciated my body! Today I am 174 lbs after having 4 babies. This is the heaviest I’ve ever been not pregnant, but I am also a size 14 and OK with that. My only real complaint about my body, when I realize that I don’t have the genes or desire to have the lifestyle that would give me a socially acceptable body, is that my wedding ring doesn’t fit right now. in 2012, before I got pregnant with my 4th child, I worked hard by counting calories and working out to get to 147, which is the lowest my weight has been since before I got pregnant with my first child (I gained 25-ish lbs during the 6 months between getting married and getting pregnant the first time).

    I am just recently learning to be content with the body that I have because I am content with the lifestyle that I live. I have the energy and health to do the things that I need and want to do. Who cares if I fall outside of the socially acceptable weight range?

  13. Great piece! I just rejoined a gym for the winter (too effing cold and snowy to run outside) and I forgot how much I hated the posturing. I don’t want training, I just want to work out and leave. I have similar issues in my past too and you voiced them perfectly.

  14. This is a great article! Thank you so much for detailing the issues you had with trying to obtain unreasonable fitness goals. I think this is what H.A.E.S. is all about. I’m glad you are much healthier in both the mental and physical sense.

  15. For many reasons I would so much love to have an exercise instructor of any kind who wears long T-shirts and baggy pants! That would be a great motivator to me, and help maintain more modest (read as less perfectionist) goals. Great post.

  16. your words came right from my mind as well. great post. I believe you are right about changing your goals to moderation. I am even more pro loving and accepting my body as i am now, size 14, than worrying about eating 500 cals a day and exercising 2 hours a day, which works like you said, if you can keep it up for the rest of your life. Thank you again for your post, keep healing and loving yourself.

  17. Hi Reckless. I am in exactly the same shoes as you, and a size 14 too. I recently bought a treadmill of which my husband gets more use out of, but that’s okay. I do about 20 minutes on it when I can and lift 3 lb weights at my desk when I can. I just started, but like you, I have a long history of 2-hour workouts when I was a size 6-8. I finally gave up that life and also like you, I have good feeling about this moderation thing. Let’s see how it goes. Good luck to us both!

  18. Glad you found a good balance. It’s no fun obsessing about exercise and body image but apparently that’s a very easy trap to fall into. I do about an hour of cardio and weights 3 or 4 times a week. If I do any more it feels excessive and if I do less I start to feel like blob-man. Hiking is great too, especially when combined with prayer, if you’re a believer. It clears the head, nourishes the soul, and burns the legs up something fierce. Physical and Spiritual exercise go hand in hand, imho.

  19. Exercise isn’t always the answer.
    What helped me is reading Wheat Belly by cardiologist Davis. I used to be happy just not gaining weight.
    I’d already tried to eliminate transfats and high fructose corn syrup. I never did diet products because of aspartame and migraines, etc. etc. I also avoid GMO corn & soy products.
    I’m happy to say it was the easiest, steadiest way to lose ever, and I’ve kept it off two years now.
    Good wishes to you.

  20. Take it from a former body builder/mountain climber who spent 24 years in hard core gym culture who nearly died from burnout: stop doing anything that’s not pure fun.

    I mean it. If there’s even a droplet of “this is healthy” or “this is what athletes do,” you will fail in the long run. Humans are easy to self-program but they don’t understand why some stuff works and other stuff doesn’t–and why different stuff works for different people, at different times.

    It’s very simple: humans are all different and they change day to day. (Duh.) If you want to enjoy health and energy effortlessly, you have to go about it effortlessly. There’s no happy ending to an unhappy journey–your body is not something to conquer or dominate or overcome. It’s YOU. And you deserve to be treated like a fucking rockstar.

    Do this one thing and nothing else every day and you will win: do what feels good NOW for as long as it feels good. That’s it, that’s all. No calories, no BMI, no heartrate monitor, just pleasurable movement. PLEASURABLE. It will feed off itself and you will improve at just the right rate for you.

    If that means stretching and then taking a nap, then do that. Maybe your body is fighting off the beginnings of a cold and you actually need the rest. If going for a walk sounds good, do that. If lifting a weight, playing a sport, pruning a tree, doing some yoga, vacuuming the house, playing with kids on a merry-go-round, hiking to a lookout, or meditating by a river sounds good, do it. Do it now. Explain yourself to no one. This is not their ride.

    The secret is to listen to your body’s requests–YOUR body, not what others are telling you your body needs. You are complex and ever-changing and they don’t know. Your body is Einstein on the topic of itself and everybody else is Homer Simpson. Never listen to them and never, EVER compare yourself to them: not what you look like, not what you’re doing, not what you desire, not what you think is fun. Experts are only using you to make themselves feel correct. They don’t know.

    And a year or two from now, when people ask you how you do it, how you manage to look so good and have so much energy, when they ask you what your secret is, just smile enigmatically and say,

    “I listen.”

  21. That was a great post, thank you. I love to hear stories like this, about coming to peace with oneself. I may have to share it with a few friends who are a little body-conscious. Good luck with your new regime! 🙂

  22. I agree with a lot of your points, however, when you say things like This too can be yours! Just eat hardly anything and exercise 2 hours a day for the rest of your life!”…your argument starts to be a little exaggerated. Actually, a healthy diet (yes, actually eating food NOT starving yourself) works much better. I’m proud of your accomplishments and happiness in your own skin; however you seem to put all gym goers in the same category of anorexic and overworked.

  23. I completely understand!!! I am nearing the end of grad school work load and trying to get back into working out. I can not believe how fast You lose the stamina the took a year to build up!! I am currently in the phase of having several false starts but now that I am finally starting to see an even number of warmer days along with the cold I a trying to stick to it! congrats on finding piece of mind!

  24. Right there with ya! I’m on the upswing of an exercise breakup too…

    Just like you, it’s become clear to me that making peace with my body exactly as it is right now is paramount.

    Thank you for sharing your story 🙂

  25. Never being happy with how you look is the hardest part. I’m in those shoes right now grrr. Really enjoyed that read! And if I could say anything it’s changing your lifestyle not dieting that works x

  26. I love this! Making peace with your body is so hard with all the images of “perfection” thrown at us. Yours a truly inspiring story. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Wow, you know I’m 50 and I think I didn’t honestly accept my physical self until I was into my 30’s. In reading your experience with your self-image and exercise I felt as if I was reading me. I went through very much many of the same things as you are going through. It’s ironic isn’t it – you truly have to love/like yourself enough to want to lose weight, get healthy, drop inches or whatever it has to be labeled. And that’s where it gets tricky – if your motivation comes from the wrong place you’re almost dooming yourself – but you sound like you’ve got things well under control – and you have a good head on your shoulders. You’re on your way!! – I wish you peace and happiness…
    AnnMarie

  28. Thank you for the honesty you have shared. Many thoughts you have shared are thoughts that I have had in the past as my fitness/health have yo-yoed with grad school and working full-time as a night RN. I am also working on the moderation and working on my expectations and perspective to just get to a place where I can workout for the right reasons instead of having an all or nothing attitude. Good luck with your endeavors!!

  29. I live your inspirational piece (and you look awesome, too, btw!). I am into my body/mind/spirit, and had gone from buff to fat to thin myself (as pictured in my “about” page in my blog). Here’s what I learned (if I may humbly impart). I see people bodies as dog bodies. Some of us are Greyhounds, some Labs, some Rottweilers. All 3 dogs are truly beautiful they way they were created to be. However, no matter how much you starve a Rottie or how many miles a day you run him, he will NEVER look like a Greyhound. Conversely, now matter how much you force-feed a Greyhound or how much weight you force him to pull, he will NEVER look like a Rottweiler! You work with what you’ve been given and totally ignore all the bullshit the magazines and TV push upon this nation where young women starve, puke, and abuse laxatives to achieve a body they were never born to have! Thank you for letting me stick my 2-cents with in and again, you are truly beautiful in the size 14 you are! 🙂

  30. This post was so timely for me. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am currently heavier than I’ve ever been, and I’ve been feeling really down on myself about it lately. But not doing anything about it, because the only free time I get is about 2 hours in the evening and the LAST thing I want to do is a workout in the living room! But maybe if I do what you have done it will feel a little more manageable. By the way I think you look amazing! ❤

  31. I can definitely relate to the “do it right or don’t do it at all” mentality. I struggled with this for a long time because I wanted to work out until I was about to pass out every time. Then: cue grad school. As you know, it sucks all of your time (and a bit of your life) and makes it hard to do anything else. My friends who are still in undergrad or working part time would work out daily and I felt jealous. Simply because I couldn’t do that. People always say “someone busier than you made it to the gym today” and I would feel guilty again. But now I know my limits and I understand that I’m never going to be the person who gets up at 4am to work out before getting ready for work at 5. I can’t expertise after a 13 hour day because i’m too tired. What I can do is cut myself some slack.

  32. Well, yes choosing something that you like forever….and do it because you like it.
    http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/a-fitness-match-made-in-heaven-your-personality-and-your-favourite-sport/

    I was the nerd girl for 3 decades. Then rediscovered biking. You see, it’s like walking….I have to get around. While true it’s fitness, it’s also transportation for me. We are car-free…so half of the time I don’t think about it. I don’t think of it as “exercise”.

    Maybe the best thing about eating in a way that suits you is just buy some clothing that you can wear and like wearing. And that keeps you in check naturally….ie. a fitted waistband on dress pants or jeans. So just small stuff not the weigh scale treadmill.

    Lots of luck with your studies!

  33. First thing I thought when I saw your photo is “What’s wrong with her body?” You have a wonderful figure! I think you are beautiful! I appreciate your vunerability in sharing your story and your struggles. Go to the gym for your heath, that’s important, but your body, it’s lovely the way it is.

  34. I gave up on the exercise nightmare too! You might as well just buy a lifetime membership to the gym. Unless you live there you won’t maintain anything. Eat earth foods and do active stuff that’s fun! When you focus on the body you hate, it will get worse. I think you can still get to 125 if you want to. It’s a lot easier than you think without torturing yourself.

  35. I identify with this quite a bit! I have been jogging and exercising on and off for about 4 or 5 years now…before that I didn’t do anything, and was way more interested in books. My parents also tried to get me to go to the gym. So much so that I kind of resented them and thought of it as ‘betraying my nerdy life.’

    But I got over that in college, and started jogging. It was off and on, and more off in the winter. I hated jogging in front of people at first too, so I tried to use treadmills, or if I was outside I would stop running and walk whenever people were coming towards me.

    It took me awhile to get over that and now, overall, my weight is in a steady but slow decline. There are times it goes back up, but in general, it’s been going down.

    But the greatest thing that helped me was Blogilates. If you search for her on Youtube or even just Google you’ll find her easily enough. She uploads pilates vids (for free) that you can do at home. She also writes really positive blogs about body image and comes up with cheap healthy recipes (again, free). It’s worked really well for me, so I just wanted to share. I wrote a blog about it here: http://greanerpastures.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/getting-in-shape-preferably-that-of-an-hourglass/

    It’s worth trying at least! She keeps the exercises fun by talking about ditsy things, or doing themed workouts, like Beauty and the Beast, Great Gatsby, etc.

  36. This is a really good blog piece. So many people think they have to be in the gym ‘all or nothing’ completing marathon workouts. HIIT is brilliant for slashing gym time and feeling fitter and healthier inside and out. As I’ve gotten older, I have to train smart not longer and shorter bursts of higher intensity work fantastically for me.

    As an exercise professional and someone who has suffered a life long battle with hating what she sees in the mirror, I am still someone who truly exercises for feeling great not slashing calories; and I’m an advocate that exercise is about achieving a great quality of life over aesthetics. However, this is fairly hard to convey when 99% of gym goers are there to change themselves physically. It breaks my heart watching the women in the changing rooms take it in turns to shyly go up to the scale buff naked and weigh themselves and the flicker of consternation or happiness pass across their faces like their worth is directly correlated to a digital number.

    Thanks for sharing your journey xx

  37. I noted that stress is the major factor for weight. We eat on the run and eat what is not good to eat. I paid the price at fifty three I had a stoke. I took off ninety pounds and changed my diet. I do not eat meat except for tuna fish which is rarely. No bread, no soda and no sugar and salt. I go for the low salt variety. I agree weight is a mind set and applaud you for your blog.

  38. Eeeeeeee I LOVED THIS!!!!!!!!!!!! As a woman (which implies the fact that I have struggled with my weight, obviously…) I really truly appreciated everything you said. I have often thought that, “If you could have seen me when…” when people will tell me little “tips” on how to do things better or healthier. It makes me infuriated when people see my size and assume I am unhealthy or that I sit on my couch eating chips all day long. And thank you, for saying that grad school made you so busy that it was hard… I am in school now and always try to be like “I can find 30 minutes…” but it really is hard to maintain working full time, taking graduate classes, and somehow keeping my apartment in a resemblance of order and buying food every once in a while to feed myself and my dog with.

    Also, I’m excited to follow you now. 🙂

  39. Reblogged this on Running for Baby and commented:
    Body image is a major issue with women and an increasingly big deal for many men. On her Blog, Talkin’ Reckless, Leah explains her complicated relationship with body image and exercise. It’s wort a read.

  40. Wow, that was like your weight biography. I have read a book by India’s most famous author on nutrition and dieting. Her name is ‘Rujuta Divekar’ and her best selling book is “Don’t lose your mind, lose your weight”. One of the best ways of dieting is to not cut down on food but eat the same amount of food in 7 to 8 meals instead of 3 to 4 meals.

  41. You go girl. You’re beautiful, and how empowered you are is just another indicator of how all of us women need to stop being insecure, and to start loving our bodies!

  42. Omg – I literally feel like this could have been written about me. I was overweight my entire life, joined weight watchers in college, followed it and my workout routine like the gospel, lost 40 pounds, but at 5’4 and 150 pounds I was still considered “obese” and not eligible for lifetime membership (even though I wore a size six). I kept it off for a few years, gained some, lost some, gained some, and now, eight years later, I weigh more than I ever have. I, too, have been trying to make the decision to stop dieting forever (with the help of a nutritionist and counselor), but it is SO HARD when I’m used to seeking instant and drastic results. Thank you so much for writing this.

  43. It is fantastic to read about anything sustainable. In plenty of cultures there are so many unrealistic goals. Eating, exercise, finances, relationships, government, and on and on and on… Doing things that you can actually keep doing is so important in all areas of life.

    Also, I appreciate you talking about this in such detail and honesty. As a man I never have the same expectations put on me in the area of how I look and what counts as “responsible eating and exercise.” As such I rely on description to help me even attempt to understand. I really appreciate this. Thank you. I am glad you were freshly pressed.

  44. What a beautifully written and inspirational post. It’s made me feel better about some of the health related decisions I made of late. Good luck achieving your goals!

  45. Exercise is not to keep us looking ‘thin’ is essential to keep us healthy. To stay ‘thin” hate the word- is slim better? Anyway weight has more to do with diet rather than exercise. There is much misinformation about I am not surprised people are giving up. I do daily yoga at home, nothing elaborate, just a few minutes per day. I eat anything I can find that is not heavily processed. Sometimes it’s so hard to find anything at all that. Is not full of chemicals, fried, or microwaved. Anyway! I just keep on trying. I have some recommendations on my blog.

  46. Leah, I do not know you, and this is the first essay of yours that I have read and I am new at this posting (I am averse to the word blog) stuff. Thank you so much for such a thoughtful reflection. It gives me a lot to think about!

  47. This is such a great read! I’ve been all over the map with exercise too, and I’ve found that what works changes pretty regularly. I’m working on an info graphic that details the changes in my thought cycle around exercising that have made the biggest difference. Good for you, this is so inspiring!

  48. I just read this post three times in a row. Thank you for your honesty, and for articulating *so well* feelings I have but couldn’t pinpoint about gyms, bodies, “bikini ready,” and the like. I’m been at vastly different ends of the body image spectrum (both in self-perceived body image and actual numbers on the scale), and this moderation thing is the first time I’ve felt myself in a long time. Cheers!

  49. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! That bikini comment about sent me over the edge! I’m a 12-14 up from a size 4 when I got married 9 years ago. Back then I smoked instead of eating and rarely ate carbs when I did eat. I remember so many times having my stomach growl and stifling it with a cigarette. I get very defensive at the idea that I must somehow work like a dog to make myself acceptable to anyone. I recognize a need in myself for a healthy balanced view of exercise, eating, and overall health. The trouble is I’m having a hard time “selling” it to myself. I’ll never be a 4 (I was skinny and completely unhealthy), don’t think I can physically maintain an 8, but hope to create a healthy 12. Thank you so much for sharing your story with such honesty and for your encouragement.

  50. You look awesome and this is the best thought process for being HEALTHY! I’ve had similar experiences and I’ve broken up with exercise too. My last boyfriend was a “lunk” and went to the gym all the time. He was obsessed with being thin and “ripped.” He chided me when I didn’t go for at least a half hour everyday. I snuck candy bars, burying them deep in the trash so he wouldn’t see. He thought really thin models were fat. It was crazy! Now I have a husband who struggles too – we get through it together and find our own way with exercise and eating. We’re happy and healthy now in all aspects. This is a great post and so worth reading for everyone. Thanks for sharing.

  51. Yes Yes Yes. There are whispers of every girls relationship with her body in your journey and this peace. Personally, I find it so frustrating to hear my friends, who are beautiful and healthy – inside and out – complain about that extra ten pounds or if they could just FINALLY stick to their diet, then they’d be happy. Because how do you make someone see that their standards are neither sustainable or healthy? Everyone has to learn that lesson on their own…I’m glad to hear you’re well on your way! Congratulations =)

    Valentine
    Flux: Encountering Adulthood
    http://www.fluxforum.com

  52. All you have to do in your situation is exercise harder for shorter periods of time. That gets a better health benefit than people who sit on the bike for 1 hour at level. But I’m glad you came to terms with your body and your exercise routine.
    dailyquizquestion.wordpress.com

  53. Such a great post! Even though I am around exercise all the time, I can truly appreciate you story. Life is too short and it sounds like you have found your balance. Good luck!

  54. Great Piece! I felt the same way as you about the gym for a while but got back into exercise the last year and a half after discovering Aerial/Pole and Ballet! I think it’s much more important to help people find exercise that they enjoy rather than to make people feel forced into spending ages at the gym doing something they don’t like.

  55. Reblogged this on rijasblog and commented:
    Amazing how many of us can think alike on these terms, i went through the same process as the writer of this blog and this article has put light on a new aspect of getting fit- ‘moderation’.

  56. Nice to see your article. I have the same feeling, do not do exercise for your appearance. I can’t insist on that. Until one day, I found I like the feeling about the muscle give to me after exercise. I really like it. I call it the feeling of strength, the feeling of I am still alive. So I kept doing it nearly everyday. But I didn’t go to gym. I dislike the place. I do pushups and ab in my bed. I am planning to ride bicycle next weekend, to speed up my blood. I am still looking for a balance between rest and sport.

  57. What a great, inspirational article! I want to get active too, but am intimidated by going back to the gym. Thank you for putting it all in the right perspective — realistic goals. Thanks for this post!

  58. Keep it up! No matter how hard it gets. I too just got back into working out and this has been the first time I set real goals for myself. I just keep moving. Now it is becoming second nature to work out. Keep us posted

  59. Chasing numbers never leads to happiness. Eating healthy and lifting to build strength will do wonders. From your post it seems like you’re fairly confident, I wouldn’t have been able to post my health history lol

  60. Reblogged this on turnipgenes and commented:
    Nodding my head repeatedly after coming across Talkin’ Reckless’ post about self acceptance and her relationship with her body. If you don’t love yourself now, you won’t love yourself when you reach that ‘magic’ number. It’s wonderful to come across stories that really focus on the truth of how we see ourselves and the peace that comes with accepting who we are. Cheers!

  61. Great Job! As a personal trainer I cannot tell you how many people I witness turn up the burner all the way and then they just smolder out as the months go on. I always advise realistic goal making and pacing yourself. I’m pulling for you.

  62. This post really resonates with me! I’ve experienced the love-hate relationship with moderation and have felt the need to go to extremes. Now I devote 25 (brief but intense) minutes to exercise on weekdays, and for once I actually enjoy it – probably because I can still have a life 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story!

  63. A little over a year ago, I went for a medical check up and discovered I was one very fat, very out of shape, metabolically screwed up dude. I weighed in at over 300 pounds, every blood marker was screaming TROUBLE. My doctor basically said shape up or die way before your time.

    I didn’t have a clue where to start, what to drop or what to add. I had friends at work who were always counting calories (for awhile) and talking about various alien sounding exercise and never seeming to enjoy much in the way of success—at least in terms of looking a lot smaller or being more active. It didn’t look like any fun at all and I pretty much knew I would never stick with having to count every morsel of food or having to go to a gym filled with the body beautiful types.

    I knew I had fallen into the habit of eating out too often and that most of this eating out was at fast food outlets. I knew I drank too many beers and glasses of wine after supper, on the weekends, etc. I knew I watched too much television and spent too much time sitting in front of the computer.

    I did not want to go on any diet or any kind of formal exercise regime. I didn’t want to starve myself or spend my days obsessing over how many calories in a muffin vs a cookie or whether a small slice of cake was too many calories.

    My plan, if it can be called that, was to reduce or eliminate all fast foods, most highly processed foods and eat more vegetables and fruits. I also decided to reduce my alcohol intake to a minimum. I also started walking each night and found excuses to add more walking than needed to complete my normal errands and shopping routines. I also made it a rule to be mindful of my eating so I didn’t watch the television or computer while eating.

    And that was about it: I found I quickly grew out of the old habits of fast foods and highly processed foods; I hardly ever drink any booze and I am walking and hiking many miles every week and enjoying every minute of it.

    I never once weighed myself over the last year. I noticed clothes that once was tight became too big for comfort and this felt good. I felt great! I revisited the doctor recently and he said he was amazed at how all my blood numbers had gone from being a disaster to being those of a healthy man. It turns out I lost nearly 80 pounds over the past year. BMI still says I am overweight, but I am healthy and feeling good and plan on changing nothing at all.

    I refuse to count calories, count exercise calories burned, weigh myself or think I am doing anything other than living a healthy and good life. If the weight continues to come off this is a bonus, but not my one and only goal.

    Best of luck to all of you!

  64. This is a great post, and reflective of my changed outlook on life – I’m trying to change my lifestyle to be healthier and more sustainable, and that includes quiting my obsession with how much I weigh. Thanks for the inspiring post!

  65. Thank you for sharing your (weight loss) journey I like to say, I want to lose 25 lbs. myself but, I won’t get there until I am both mentally and physically ready. In my mind, I’m getting there however, it is hard when so much other priorities in (my) life takes top billing i.e. my husband. I had to take a stand and simply “just do it” because in the end, once we start (whenever we start) will just ‘simply’ do it! When I get sick and tired of being sick and tired, I decided, these lbs to lose is for me!
    Wishing you a productive journey. One more thing, eating right and exercise is not a diet, it is a life style! The best part about this weight loss (journey) that I am on, I get to cook my own food!
    And this makes me smile…
    AMH

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  67. This is really inspirational. And it is true that it doesn’t matter what size you are, it is easy to wish to be thinner. Even when I was only 118 pounds, I thought that I would be happy if I could just lose a few more pounds. I was never happy with how my body looked and I could always find flaws. It was a good thing that my husband stepped in and told me to cut it out, because sometimes that weight loss can get out of control. I started losing weight at an alarming rate because I was doing too much exercise.

    It is so easy to take those goals to extremes, but it is not sustainable or healthy. I feel much healthier and happier now that I am focusing on sustainable exercise and eating a healthy diet (and yes, I have gained quite a bit of weight.) There will always be those doubts and thoughts about how much I’d love to be super thin (well, not really. I felt awful back then.), but now I have twice the energy and more time for the things I love (like reading a good book!)

    I loved this blog post! 🙂

  68. Hey there. I decided to take a chance and look at the Freshly Pressed page for once. And I came across your blog/entry.

    It’s wonderful to see how many different stages in your life that you’ve taken to fitness and nutrition. Lots of compelling consideration if I may add. I really think it’s wonderful. I think it’s wonderful how you never truly gave up. You keep on going back. You change your workout style. You change your outlook. I think it’s awesome!

    You rock because there are masses of people out in the world who would never step foot in a gym, let alone start an exercise program or consider to eat healthy one day at a time or find the courage to experience what a good trainer could do for you and with you. There are tons of reasons why you rock, but most of all, it’s because you don’t give up! You continue on like a flame that wants to grow forever and forever. I also admire you because you are consciously deciding your own path to what’s moderate and self-fulfilling for you, your health and your body.

    Much love and respect! 😀

    P.S.

    At this point of the fitness/training game, I would love to consider breaking up with it. Perhaps one day?

  69. Yes! Size 14 and loving it as well!! I exercise every day but I don’t lose much weight – probably because of the meds I take. I just tell myself that my exercise keeps me feeling well and feeling good about myself. That is so crappy about what the trainers at the gym would say to you!!! Too bad they are so clueless.

  70. What a great post! I find myself constantly struggling with body acceptance. I was also the bookish kid who didn’t like sports or the gym. I was the “fat kid”. I had and continue to have a dislike for any sort of competitive physical activity, and prefer to go it alone when it comes to the gym and such. After committing to exercise for 3 hours a day with a minimal diet, I became overexhausted and fed up. My relationships suffered and I had zero social life. I’m slowly recovering (I still get anxiety when I don’t get to the gym). It is truly so hard to accept that you will get anything worthwhile accomplished in 20 minutes, but its true, its better than nothing. We don’t all have it in us to be a size 6 with normal food intake and minimal exercise. We need to accept ourselves for who we are, and how we look, as long as we do our best to be healthy.

    Kudos to you for taking the path to acceptance! I’m right there with you!

    Tara

  71. Hooray! I am in the process of writing a post about being “healthy enough” and found your blog. What awesome timing! I hope you don’t mind if I reference your post in mine! I am also a size 12/14 and have had some emotional ups and downs becoming happy about being there on a permanent basis (I’ve been on the other end of the spectrum, though – once a size 22/24). So happy to find a like-minded, “moderate is key” person!

  72. Pingback: Letting go of Shakira | Weather Vane Sisterhood

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  74. I don’t know if it’ll help but here are my personal rules:
    1. NO SCALES. EVER.
    2. Remember that you always gain a little weight in winter and lose it in summer and don’t stress about it.
    3. Try to only eat when hungry, not out of boredom.
    4. That said, don’t get so hungry you overeat.
    5. Diets don’t work cause they make me think about food all the time and thinking about food makes me HUNGRY.
    6. Hard exercise also makes me hungry. I’m better off with a long walk or a ballet tone video.
    7. Just don’t buy snacks. Just don’t.
    8. And most important: NEVER, EVER, EVER LISTEN TO WHAT NANA SAYS ABOUT MY WEIGHT. Hands on ears. Start humming.

  75. I feel like I could have written this myself. I’m constantly struggling between wanting to lose weight and hating to exercise. I was 120lbs at the end of high school and always was thin. I ballooned out after high school and sometimes I look in the mirror and can’t figure out where I went and who this fat girl staring back at me is… I found your post very inspiring, thank you.

  76. This is truly beautiful! I recovered from an eating/exercise disorder about a year ago, and yes it is hard to think of your “previous” body when you get in front of a mirror, but always remind yourself how your looks are not your identity! I have always disliked most exercise, but I do enjoy volleyball and dancing. Mind you, I never did or intend to do classes and join a league that takes the sport too seriously, because I feel that it is better for me to be in a healthier mindset than in what the world perceives to be a “better body.”

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  78. Great article! I just want to say… when I go to the gym I don’t have the mentality of ” Doing it right or don’t do it at all” my mentality is any workout is a good work out. Even if its just a 10 min walk outside. Working out shouldnt be consuming anyones life the way it did yours and im glad to hear that you’re happy with who you are 🙂 working out has many benefits for your health but like you said… in moderation. Same goes with food. I don’t agree with weight watchers cause the truth is that counting calories doesn’t work. Not all calories are the same. Alot of being healthy is food. And almost all of losing weight ( if that’s what you want) is what you eat. Say you have X amount of calories you can eat per day. You eat exactly that amount in junk food you’re gonna be blubber… You’re gonna be moody… You’re gonna be unhealthy. You need to eat healthy food… not to lose weight but to live!

  79. Amen. You go, girl! Lately, my pet peeve is the “no excuses!” mantra. Sometimes there are lots of good excuses. Play your own game.

  80. Pingback: WTF is “lifestyle change” supposed to mean anyway? | Talkin' Reckless

  81. I enjoyed this article. No matter what we do in life we are all accountable for ourselves. I was kicked out of the military because I got too big. 8 years have passed, and I believe that I’ve given myself every excuse to not want to try again. I’m now divorced, and have more time on my hands. It’s all about not making excuses, and understanding accountability. I am not in the process of getting my weight down, in hopes of maybe trying to get back in the military. Great post.

  82. Thank you for this piece. I just found your site and really like it. It’s nice to find a health and fitness blog by a “real person,” as in, someone who is not Polly Perfect. I can really relate to having a bad break-up with exercise. I’m 52 and stopped being able to push myself with exercise back in my senior year of high school. I tried in early college, but really couldn’t stick with it. I had been dieting and exercising to lose weight, to an extreme degree, since my first year of high school, and was simply burned out. I’m still burned out, and it’s been 34 years :/

    To this day, I struggle with doing any exercise without immediately going to weight loss goals and thinking, “Now, if I do this every day for x # of minutes per day, and keep building up, I will be slimmer/lose weight at this rate ……………… and by blah blah time later this year I’ll be x # of pounds….”

    What a shame that weight stigma and compulsive dieting and exercising have done this to my mind and body.

    Earlier this year, I was under extreme stress. I told my nurse practitioner I felt like checking into a psych ward, but really didn’t want to, and would prefer to spend hours at a nearby, incredibly beautiful state park, with vistas of rolling hills stretching for miles. She prescribed two hours, every day, at the park. Not doing anything, just being there, for my psychological well being, to take a huge break daily and refresh and recharge.

    I took her prescription very seriously. I knew it was just what I needed, and never gave myself permission to do. I went two hours every day after dinner. At first, I was too weak to walk beyond the parking lot. (I’m disabled and severely deconditioned.) I just sat for 2 hours, or took out a big fluffy comforter that I keep stashed in my car trunk for lying down in parks and watching the clouds (once or twice a year.) Because I was going each day, I would walk a little more most days, and got stronger. But the emotional/psychological improvements were almost immediate, just from getting away and being out in all that beauty and peace and natural order/evolutionary organization and synergy. I find nature refreshing because it is so logical, practical from a physics and evolutionary biology standpoint. There is a logic to how everything is that is peaceful, relaxing, wise, and instructive. It allows my head to rest.

    Well, I had to leave the area for awhile, and have now returned, my schedule is different, my commitment isn’t the same, and I’m not going 2 hours every day. I try to get in a little walk somewhere else most days. I guess exercise will always shift for me. But when I go out, I try to focus on 1) exercising to feel good, and 2) to refresh and relax, and perhaps over time my muscles will build if I keep going: it’s the refreshing and relaxing and fun that’s the goal, only.

    Thanks again for this piece. Very affirming of my own experience with compulsive exercise for weight loss goals. I really like what brilliant HAES advocate Kelly Bliss writes about weight loss goals: when weight loss is the goal, and the weight loss doesn’t occur via healthy behaviors, people begin adopting all kinds of unhealthy behaviors to achieve their goal of weight loss. However, if health is the goal, then it keeps us on track with healthy behaviors.

  83. Every time I’ve met a woman I feel safe talking about the diet/exercise socialization mess with, it turns out we both love Yoga Meltdown. Something about flexibility-measured goals, maybe? It’s just a weird constant.
    This was a nice read. I’ve never been a dieter, but still can’t stop moralizing having exercise induced asthma or just, you know, not being really good at things.

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