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Mar 26 2013

All These Years I Thought I Was Just Lazy

[Content note: eating disorders/weight loss stuff]

My arms are on fire. When I woke up this morning I felt the burn immediately. I’ve been stretching and moving them around all day, simultaneously wincing and savoring the feeling because it tells me that I’m getting stronger.

I’m on spring break right now and have been taking advantage of the sudden free time by going to the gym every day. It may not sound like a big deal, but for me it is–with the exception of a few random workouts, I’ve been largely avoiding the gym for at least three years.

When I was in high school it was a different story. Back then going to the gym was punishment. I felt that I’d done a lot of things that I deserved to be punished for; not looking right being the main one. I was furious with myself because no amount of exercise seemed to be enough to make me look the way I wanted to, so I combined that with brief spurts of severe caloric restriction. That didn’t help, either. I couldn’t tolerate the feeling of hunger.

So I went to the gym and took my fury out on my body. At least, that’s how it felt to me psychologically. In reality, of course, exercise within reason is good for you. But I couldn’t feel that. Working out for me was only about two things: 1) losing weight, and 2) punishing myself for not losing enough weight quickly enough.

Then I stopped. Partially because I got too busy to make it to the gym, but also because I realized that, at the time, the only way to recover would be to give up on exercise for a while. I still did stuff like walking, swimming, and biking in the summers, but that was only because I find that stuff fun, not because I was trying to work out.

And, to be sure, whenever I attempted exercise for its own sake, I quickly fell back into my old mentality of “needing” to lose weight at all costs. Along with exercising came calorie counting, bending over naked to assess the gap between my thighs, pinching my stomach mindlessly while sitting in class and trying to hide it, freaking out when my jeans came out of the wash a bit too tight, dreading buying new clothes, and on and on and on.

So I’d inevitably stop going to the gym after a few days. When it feels like that, it’s not at all worth it.

But when spring break started a few days ago, I decided to try it one more time. And this time, it worked.

This time I look forward to it. This time I keep eating whatever the fuck I want. This time I don’t even touch the scale in the locker room. This time I don’t tell people about my workouts if I know they’re going to preemptively congratulate me on the weight I’m going to lose. This time I get to do the exercises I feel like doing, not the ones that burn the most calories. This time I get to do what I thought was impossible–see exercise as a treat, not a punishment.

And let me tell you something. I am fucking furious that this–the ability to feel such joy and pleasure from exercising, to focus on how my body feels rather than how it looks–was taken away from me for so many years. I don’t mean literally taken away. Nobody forbade me from choosing to exercise because it’s good for you. But the way we talk about exercise, both among the people I knew and in our culture in general, precluded that. It’s almost like we lack the language to talk about working out without also talking about losing weight.

And when I go to the gym now and see signs advertising personal training programs to make you “Lose X Pounds in Just Y Weeks!”, it makes me sad. Not because it affects me anymore, but because I know what it’s like to walk into the gym and know in the back of your mind that you are there for that reason only. Not because you’ll feel good. Not because you’ll sleep better at night. Not to feel your muscles ache the morning after. Not to finally be able to run a marathon or bike to work every day without being exhausted or just so that you never have to ask anyone to help you carry things. Not to make friends with people who like doing the same stuff you do. Not because it helps keep depression at bay. Not even because it’s a better way to pass the time than sitting around looking out the window.

Only, only to watch the numbers slip further and further, not even knowing when you want them to stop.

For all these years I thought I didn’t exercise because I’m lazy and pathetic. I never thought to ask myself why someone who somehow has the wherewithal to do well at a competitive university and write 1000-word blog posts several times a week suddenly finds hidden reserves of laziness whenever the question of exercise comes up.

I wasn’t lazy. I straight-up didn’t want to, because I’d never found a way to think about exercise, let alone actually do it, without feeling waves of shame, inadequacy, boredom, and misery.

Now I have. Maybe because enough time has finally passed, or because of feminism, or because of the fantastic friends I have who work out and make it clear that for them, it’s got nothing to do with weight.

I’d be lying if I said that I’m not hoping to lose weight at all, or that I won’t be at least a little bit happy if it happens. I’m not sure that’ll ever completely get out of my system. But even if I lose absolutely zero pounds, it won’t feel like working out is all for nothing. If a doctor told me right now that there is absolutely no chance that I’ll lose any weight given how I’m exercising and eating, I’d keep doing it anyway.

Two years ago, I would not have done the same thing.

For me, personally, that’s as close as it gets to silencing the countless voices telling us to be thin and perfect. That’s as close as it gets to declaring victory.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    Katy Kay

    Fabulous, evolution towards ourselves for reasons other than appearance/approval of others is so wonderful, as you so wonderfully expressed.

  2. 2
    carlie

    That is very moving. Totally different trajectory and details, but I’ve just recently gotten over the huge hump that if I don’t exercise for a few weeks, it’s all over and I might as well give up (for a year or two or five). It’s finally that it’s ok if it’s spotty, and that missing sometimes because other things get in the way doesn’t mean I fail. I’m so glad that you’re able to enjoy it now.

  3. 3
    researchtobedone

    Strangely, one of my favorite things about exercise is having trouble lifting heavy things for a few days after a good workout. Back when I did kung fu, that’s the consequence I latched onto that said to me, “Man, I worked really hard yesterday”. When of my sharpest memories from kung fu is having trouble lifting a gallon of milk to pour into cereal the morning after a really intense workout. Made me feel great.

    1. 3.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I love that too. Being sore is a mixed bag, obviously, because sometimes it really is inconvenient, but otherwise it’s definitely my favorite kind of pain. :P

  4. 4
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Awesome! Congratulations on this mental victory.

    I had a different kind of troubled relationship to exercise, that I am only somewhat recovered from. I don’t imagine I’ll ever do group sports, but I do love my walks, bike rides, dancing, yoga and weights. In much the same way – it’s about moving my body and feeling healthy and strong, not what I look like, or the numbers on the scale.

    I experienced plenty of shame, inadequacy, boredom, and misery, too. I had years of torment in school sports because I was too small & too uncoordinated (because I was a year younger than anybody else); couldn’t breathe right (because I had constant terrible sinus infections); didn’t know the rules or the techniques (because I was never taught them because I moved schools too often). But of course it was all my fault for being lazy!! ugh.

    In the last year, I’ve been finding fitocracy very motivating. It’s a great community, very welcoming, and I love the whole tracking & gamification aspects. But I’m wary of recommending it to people with a history of eating disorders because there is a *lot* of diet talk floating by. You don’t have to participate in it, and it’s mostly of the “clean eating” and “care about inches not pounds”, but it still could be triggering. Lifting heavy things is highly encouraged!

    1. 4.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      OH MY GOD. I discovered Fitocracy a few days ago thanks to my lovely friend, and it’s been a huge help. It’s really helpful to be able to see myself improving over time. There are definitely groups on it that are more for diet/weight loss stuff, but my friend and I have found that if we don’t go near those groups it’s pretty much fine. I love it.

      I also had a lot of trouble with school sports because I never really learned basic stuff like how to kick a ball effectively or catch a frisbee or whatever. My only form of exercise for many years was ballet, which was intense as fuck but not helpful for gym class.

      Nowadays I really wish I could play intramural sports at school for fun, but everyone’s so ridiculously serious about it that it’s not an option for me. It’s like people have no concept of just playing a sport you suck at because it’s just fun. You have to be good, even if it’s just a pickup game with friends. Bleh. Maybe someday I’ll meet people who take themselves less seriously.

      1. 4.1.1
        Alethea Kuiper-Belt

        Cool! Can I follow you? (I’m cajela.)

  1. 5
    Link Miscellany: Unconvinced Edition » Ashley Miller

    [...] writes about exercise. I’m, unfortunately, not quite at the point she is in terms of attitude. But I’d like [...]

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