The last time I searched the Internet for fitness tips, the first things I found were a lot of photos of ultra-flat tummies and resources for no-carb diets. I also saw a lot of exercise regimens that promised to help me “burn,” “blast,” and “shred” fat. Well, I thought to myself while browsing Pinterest for articles on healthy living. That sounds harsh.
When I decided in early 2017 to overhaul my lifestyle and get healthy, it was not to drop pounds or build myself a bikini body (whatever the hell that means). It was not because I felt like I needed to look “better” or “thinner” (and those two words are NOT synonymous). It was not because I felt like my body was unshapely or unworthy.
I just felt terrible, and I needed to do something to fix it.
I had grown so depressed and anxious by the end of 2016 that the thought of simple tasks like buying groceries or talking to an acquaintance would send my heart racing. I wasn’t sleeping, in part because of my anxiety and in part because I had a job that required me to work 50+ hours a week and wake up at four in the morning.
In the two-year period where things felt darkest, all physical fitness or attempts at healthy eating ceased. At the time, I viewed this as a symptom of my stressed-out, depressed life—not as a contributing factor.
But when I thought back to happier times in my life, I remembered that I’d always been fairly active in one form or another. I took kickboxing classes or trained for half-marathons. I even tried my hand at dancing for a while, but all of that stopped when I deemed myself “too busy.”
So at the start of this year, I decided I needed to change my habits for the better.
I made a plan to start eating better and exercising regularly —not to lose weight, but to pursue more energy, confidence, and a positive outlook on life.
But when I began my journey, as some call it, I was in for a rude awakening: there are hardly any fitness resources written from a perspective of body positivity and self-love.
Just about every article I came across seemed to pinpoint “weight loss” or “fat loss” as the primary goal of exercising. Sites encouraged me to take before and after pictures to measure my “progress.” No matter where I looked, super-toned bodies were presented as the ultimate achievement.
Where did this leave me? Feeling hateful toward my size 12 body, for starters, and considering all sorts of extreme fitness programs or trendy fad diets in order to get down to a weight deemed more “acceptable.”
As I stressed over the number on the scale and tugged distastefully at my belly in the mirror, I realized just how counter-intuitive my perspective on health and wellness really was. My mission to make myself feel better was actually making me feel worse.
I had to unlearn everything I knew about fitness. I had to take my appearance totally out of the equation.
From then on, fitness was about accomplishments only.
One day, it was about finishing a yoga class. The next day, conquering a hike. The next, doing one more full push-up than I could before. I set skills-based goals, like running a 5k on a treadmill, doing 10 burpees without stopping, or reaching personal weightlifting records. Every time I reached a goal, my confidence in myself and my abilities would soar.
I worked hard to be more active in my day-to-day life. Nighttime runs eased my anxiety and helped me sleep better. Going to the gym a few days a week in the morning pumped me up and gave me energy for the day ahead.
When I felt the urge to weigh myself, I ignored it. When I felt the urge again, I threw out my scale.
Now, whenever I feel like scrutinizing myself in the mirror, I remind myself that, while my body looks nothing like a fitness model’s, it does everything I need it to do. It carries me to the top of mountains.
This shift in perspective has changed everything. I have never myself felt more confident than I do right now, because I no longer view my body as something made valuable by the opinions of others. I can prioritize my physical health without obsessing over my appearance.
I love my body. And I finally feel like it loves me back.