You can love exercise and love your body at the same time.
August 14, 2017
Content Warning: Eating Disorders, Exercise
I just ran past you on the street.
I’m wearing a sports bra and shorts so you can see the soft layer of skin covering my tummy jiggle with each step.
“She probably hates that,” you think to yourself. “She’s going to keep running until that goes away.”
Wrong. I don't mind that skin. And I'll likely keep running until, well, until I'm tired.
Don’t beat yourself up. We’ve all had those thoughts. Many of us just don’t know any better. You’ve been taught to assume that I hate my body just as you’ve been taught to hate your own body. You’ve also likely been taught that movement exists to help us make these bodies that disgust us so look more like they’re supposed to. Our culture associates exercise with weight loss to such an extreme degree that it’s hard to imagine the two could exist separately. When you see me exercising, you probably assume it’s in the pursuit of a different, “better” looking body but that is not the case – at least not anymore.
What’s funny is that despite what we’ve been led to believe, physical exercise is only a small factor in weight loss for those who need or seek it. While it is okay to want to lose weight for you and for your health** it’s also okay to NOT focus on weight loss. The idea of fitness does not have to be connected to weight loss, at all.
We’re not all meant to look one way. There are so many factors that affect the way our bodies look – and exercise can only do so much to change that. But it can do so much more. Exercise, whatever form you chose, is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body in terms of prolonging life. Studies have shown that it can improve brain function and mood while simultaneously reducing the risk of disease.
Your physical appearance may change as a result of your continued work and there's nothing wrong with that. It's even okay to enjoy those changes. You can like the way you look as a result of exercise-gasp!-but it shouldn't be the only thing that lets you love your body. Will you like the way you look if exercise doesn't change it in the ways you expected? When life happens and exercise can no longer be sustained at the same level, you might soften and change again; will you still like the way you look then? Our bodies benefit from a relationship with movement in so many physiological, emotional and spiritual ways that it’s almost unbelievable we’ve come to see it solely as a way to shrink ourselves.
As someone who’s suffered from various forms and degrees of eating disorders for over ten years, it goes without saying that I have an interesting relationship with my body and exercise. I have abused exercise in the past and spent years thinking that if I moved enough, I could somehow shake off all the things about myself I disliked. I still sometimes find myself feeling vulnerable to the influences of the “fitspo” ads and messages.
But I will never stop moving. During my recovery process, my relationship with exercise and body movement has changed drastically. Exercise is no longer a tool of destruction that I wield on myself in hopes of growing smaller. It has evolved into a form of empowerment. Movement is where I find my strength, stability, and resolve.
Much of my life has been spent disconnected from my body. This is something you hear a lot from people with ED. The acts of suppressing hunger, ignoring pain, and othering your body sensations can result in a sort-of silencing of the body that we feel so trapped in. Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? If you can’t actually escape the trap, might as well do your best to forget that it's there.
I didn’t know what it felt like to feel strong or steady in my own skin. But then I started to change my mindset. As I made my way through recovery, I began to wake back up to my body and to wake back up inside my body.
Movement became transformative. Movement stopped being the means to a smaller-bodied end and instead became the celebratory, life-exalting end itself. Every mile was an exploration of my perseverance. Every modified pushup was an exercise in patience and respect. When those modified pushups turned to real pushups, each additional rep was a reward for the process. Each new yoga pose was a trophy of feeling and experience. There was purpose in the action.
Exercise is no longer a tool of destruction that I wield on myself in hopes of growing smaller.
Exercise and movement connects me with my body in ways that I never thought were possible for me – it leaves me feeling thankful for its capabilities and in awe of its grace.
This is how I’m able to confidently preach body love while also teaching fitness. This is how I’m able to sustain a healthy relationship with myself without giving up exercise. The ability comes from the why. It’s not the exercise that creates an issue, it’s the purpose and power you give it.
Our bodies were not all built to look the same but they were built to move. To dance, to shake, to bend, to lift, to step, to exalt. I firmly believe that our bodies want to do those things and that when you move with your body, it thanks you. How you chose to move is up to you. You and your body can have a conversation about what you’re able to do safely, what feels goods and what serves you. And that? That process of mutual respect and understanding? That give-and-take? That’s love.
Because you can love exercise AND your body at the same time.
So the next time you see me running on the street, do not picture the person you think I’m trying to become. Just see me for the person I am. That I love.