TW: Discusses diet and exercise, please skip this blog if these are difficult or triggering topics for you!
Disclaimer: I am not a fitness or health professional, nor do I have any background in nutrition, this is just a personal, observational anecdote.
You might be asking yourself, why is this a blog topic? It’s hardly a revolutionary idea?
But, you see, it is.
Exercising regularly is synonymous with weight loss discussions, especially if you are carrying a few extra pounds. (Well meaning) people are far more likely to compliment the inches you lost, than how fit, healthy or muscley you look. Most people I know who exercise, either regularly, or on and off, do so with one goal in mind: to shrink themselves.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, I am by no means shaming that as a goal. It’s just that, recently I started exercising, for the first time in my life, without weight loss as the goal. So, I just wanted to share some thoughts about how different it has felt to me,
For context: I have always been one of those weirdos who enjoys exercising. I enjoy feeling fit, I enjoy being strong, I enjoy that moment at the height of a sprint where my lungs and legs burn. However, I have also sprained my ankles a bunch of times playing netball and then I had whiplash from a car crash when I was 21. After a bit of time stubbornly not giving these injuries the space to recover and after a bit of physio, all those minor injuries were pretty much fine. Until, in 2019, when I starting get stabbing pains in the sole of my foot, which were soon joined by jolting electric-feeling pain down the entirety of my left leg. I could literally sit there and watch my leg twitch. I went to the physio I used back-when for the ankles and the whiplash, and he determined that the problem was a trapped nerve.
It was excruciating pain. The kind of pain that makes you feel sick. To anyone who lives with chronic pain, I salute you because it was so hard to function like that. Unfortunately my workplace at the time was not willing to make any concessions about how active I was within my role there, until my physio sent them a letter informing them of the damage it was doing to me. After some physio, I then also left that job and a global pandemic forced me to stay home and, as a byproduct, I was less active, so the problem went away overtime from rest.
Cut to the lock downs’ finally ending in 2021, I start to go back to the gym regularly and my fitness and strength is the lowest it has ever been. I am also the chonkiest I have ever been (like most people after the lockdowns). I am okay with the chonky part, that would resolve itself just by being more active. However, I have never been that unfit in my life. I was a sporty kid, I did gymnastics, trampolining, tennis, swimming, diving, netball and dabbled is various other sports teams whilst at school. I have never started from scratch post-injury before and it was harder than I thought it would be.
So, we come to the present where I’ve been working with a personal trainer, who has particular experience in injury recovery too. My entire ‘gymming’ experience this time has been focused on rebuilding, on strength, on feeling better in myself, feeling fitter, feeling more confident in what my body is capable of. Unless you have ever significantly hurt yourself or been laid up in some way, it’s really hard to describe the experience of your body becoming not your own, not what you are used to, something foreign to you. I don’t know if that’s dramatic but that’s how it felt. I used to sprint for an hour as centre in netball and then suddenly I couldn’t go up stairs without being out of breath and in pain.
This shift in my mind set, where a workout was no longer about how long I spent working out, no longer about how many calories, no longer about hitting a target that would mean I get to do some ‘guilt free’ eating. This time it’s been about taking care of myself, making sure my body is capable of everything it should be able to accomplish at 27 ish. I won’t say it makes it easier to get through the workout, if anything it was easier to drive myself when it was motivated by a less healthy mindset such as ‘earning’ food or ‘paying’ for something I’d eaten. But something I have always enjoyed doing shouldn’t be driven by punishment, or guilt.
Now, I feel essentially neutral about this exercise. It’s like taking vitamins, eating your veggies and getting enough sleep, it’s part of what I need to do to be healthy/ functioning adult, especially while I have sedentary job.
(as a side note, there is a form of eating disorder that frames maladaptive eating and exercise, as ‘health’ driven, so I just wanted to acknowledge that, as the ‘healthy’ mindset isn’t a one size fits all philosophy and can easily spiral out of control. Please understand I am speaking from my personal viewpoint, as someone without a history of food/ exercise/ ED issues, I am by no means promoting a ‘lifestyle’, nor do I the authority or educational background to do so. I simply wanted to share how different it felt to exercise free from the pressure of it being motivated by weight loss, which I think almost every person who struggles with this could relate too.)
This has been somewhat rambling because this is a delicate topic, so I didn’t want to do get too specific, or give advice but I just wanted to talk about it. Exercising for the joy of getting moving, feeling strong and energetic has just been such a different feeling. Without pressure, without guilt, without any motivator besides feeling good. This time my measuring stick is the changes I feel: the stairs aren’t my nemesis, I’m not in pain, I can tiptoe to get things, I can crouch again (seriously guys, don’t fuck around with a back injury, get it seen too), I am faster, I have more energy, I am stronger. My body feels like it’s mine again. I am not filled with dread at the idea of a day trip to London (the tube has SO many stairs) and I will not be in sickening pain by the end of it.
Yes, there has been some chonk reduction but it has really been a ‘huh, would ya look at that’ feeling, which is freeing in itself, with no scale to watch, no inches to obsess over, just good vibes as my measurement for ‘success’.
Was this interesting? I don’t know? I hope you enjoyed this semi-rant.