I’ve talked about my fitness journey here and there before, but I’ve never really put it all in one place. It’s not all that riveting, minus the exercise addiction part, but I do want to share my journey with you, because fitness is such an important part of my life now. My relationship with fitness has evolved a lot over time. I spent most of my life hating exercise, but about two years ago, I fell completely in love with it. Now, I cannot imagine my life without it. My relationship with fitness went from nonexistent to half-assed to misinformed to unhealthy to unsure to comfortable to confident. I’ve had a big mindset shift about it very recently, and I feel better about exercise than ever before.
Let’s start from the beginning. I was never the kid who liked to be active. I always preferred to sit inside and read. I hated walks. Hated sports. Hated going outside at all. Hated getting off my butt. LOATHED P.E. I was always the worst at it. And four square during recess? You didn’t want me on your team. Academics were my strong suit.
When I was in first grade, I started Irish dancing. It quickly took over my life. I lived for curly wigs, socks glued to my legs, and cardboard dresses. I danced for hours every day of the week and went to competitions on weekends. Not to toot my own horn, but I was pretty damn good. Long story short, I got to the highest level in competitions fairly quickly, and then I got bored. I ended my Irish dancing career at the end of third grade, at which point, I turned to sports.
I played volleyball and basketball at school in fourth and fifth grade. Was good at volleyball, sucked at basketball. I continued to play volleyball until my Senior year of high school for school teams, and played on club teams from sixth grade up until my Junior year. Volleyball and school were my entire life, and most of my pre-college memories are related to volleyball.
I never thought of volleyball as “fitness.” It was just something I did, because you’re supposed to play a sport in high school…right?! That was my form of exercise, whether I realized it or not. The reason why I liked volleyball, though, was because it wasn’t really exercise. At least, not with my coaches. There were a few seasons where we did have to actually get in shape, but that wasn’t the norm. I hated coaches who actually made us do conditioning. Volleyball was mostly just standing around in line waiting for your turn to hit the ball, which was a total of maybe five minutes of actual movement over the span of two and a half hours of practice. It was probably realistically more than that, but that’s what it felt like. I mean, we did run the track, we did some conditioning, we squatted for hours, we had tournaments from 6 A.M. to 10 P.M. 2 days in a row, practice every day, and so on.
Anyways, for me, exercising never went beyond volleyball in high school. As my volleyball career ended, I kind of just didn’t do anything to replace it. I had off seasons for the first time in my life when I was a junior and senior, but I didn’t change anything. I just had way more free time. I knew other girls my age were actually going to the gym, but that seemed like a completely foreign concept and unnecessary activity to me. First of all, I had it in my head that I hated “working out.” “Working out” was much different to me than a sport. Second of all, why the hell would I pay for a gym membership?! Third, I wouldn’t know what to do at the gym, anyways. Fourth, I didn’t really have any motivation to go. I wasn’t worried about my weight, and I was lazy. I didn’t care about any other potential health benefits, and I liked having extra time for school. I thought it was weird that girls were going to the gym. Like, isn’t that something we only have to deal with when we are 25? Or only if we have a weight problem?
Flash forward to college. I entered my freshman year with chronic mono, and I laid in bed all day for over a year. I wasn’t playing sports anymore, and I was eating complete shit. My sophomore year, I started binge eating out of depression. My digestive issues became unbearable. Things were spiraling out of control, and for the first time in my life, I felt truly unhealthy. I didn’t know how to fix my mental health, but I realized I could at least attempt to take control of my physical health to try to turn my life around. So I did what the girls around me were doing – I started “working out.”
I started off with the only thing I knew how to do – run. I have always hated running, and I don’t have the body for it. I have horrible knees, and when I go on a run, I basically can’t walk for a few days afterwards. It happens with long, fast walks, too. My joints are really weak, and they can’t take the impact. I tried to run 2-3 miles 3 times a week, like I used to do in volleyball conditioning. My miles were slow, and I was bored AF. I hated it, and I dreaded going to the track. But I felt good mentally, because I felt like I was doing what I was “supposed” to be doing. At least I was getting out of bed!
After about two weeks of that (short-lived, I know), my body felt like hell. I could barely walk to class because my knees and hips hurt so badly. My friend suggested I try the elliptical at the gym, and at that point I had never even heard of an elliptical. I went to the gym, though, very nervously, and I found the mysterious machine. It took me an awkward amount of time to figure out how to use it. I went backwards the whole time the first time I hopped on. I couldn’t figure out why it felt so strange. I didn’t know what I was doing, but it was way easier on my joints than running, so I stuck with it. I decided not to run ever again.
I turned into an elliptical bunny, because that’s all I knew how to do. I had zero idea how to use any other machines. It’s what other girls at the gym were doing, too. I slowly got into my routine. I started seeing familiar faces at the gym, and I liked the ritual. Going to the gym made me feel like an adult with her life put together. Ha! I would do 45 minutes on the elliptical while I watched TV. 50 minutes if I was feeling extra feisty (or ready to torture myself). I covered the numbers on the machine with my iPad or phone, because I got so irritated when the girls next to me would try to catch a glance. So competitive. I still hated working out, but at least it didn’t hurt my knees. I thought it would get easier with time, but it didn’t. I couldn’t distract myself from how bored I was, or how out of shape I felt. Every gym session was torturous, but I pushed through.
I did start to feel better, though, as I became more active. There was something about just making the effort to do something “healthy” that made me feel good about myself. I felt like I was taking control of my life, but I still wasn’t satisfied. There had to be another way – one that I didn’t dread, and one that made me feel like I was actually making some kind of progress.
I reached out to the only person in my life who I knew was interested in fitness – my cousin. He explained to me the importance of strength training, introduced me to the world of weights, and gave me a workout plan. At first, I couldn’t believe it. It seemed too easy. So formulaic. I loved that aspect of it. I love things that are clear-cut and straightforward, so it seemed too good to be true. At first I was really intimidated by lifting weights. Could I really do that?! He sent me videos to show me how to do the moves properly, FaceTimed me to demo proper form, and took me to the gym with him when I came home during spring break. I practiced my form with him until I got it right. He drilled the importance of safety into my brain, as well as quality over quantity, taking me around the gym and showing me all of the people who comprised their form for the sake of lifting heavier weights. I did not want to be that person. .
It was during this time that I fell in love with fitness. It relieved so much of my stress and anxiety. I felt like I was actually making progress with something. Lifting weights made me feel strong, capable, and productive. I loved my routine. With my foot in the door, I started doing my own research. I spent all of my time looking up information about weight lifting – reading blogs, forums, books, articles… everything I could find. Bodybuiding.com was pretty much my home page. I wanted to learn about different splits, training styles, cardio vs weights, circuits vs straight sets, and every other topic I could think of. I’m not sure why, but I loved the whole bro culture of weight lifting.
My routine was very formulaic. It was very bodybuilder-style, but never super heavy weights. I realized I hated the gym and didn’t want to go there if I didn’t have to, so I invested in adjustable dumbbells so I could do most of my workouts from my dorm room. I realized how much more I liked working out when other people weren’t watching me, staring at me, and comparing. I was also way more efficient when I wasn’t at the gym, because I didn’t have to wait for equipment. Plus, I could wear a sports bra and spandex and call it a day. So I lifted weights in my room, and on cardio days I would go to the gym to use the stair master and stationary bike. My elliptical days were very much over.
Lifting weights made me feel amazing, and it truly transformed my body. I saw muscle definition really quickly, and I toned up like never before. I was getting stronger, and my clothes were getting looser. I could hardly believe how effective my training was, even as quickly as a month into it. As I learned more on my own, I adjusted my split, and I eventually cut out the cardio completely. I hated it, and based on everything I read, I deemed it unnecessary for my own personal goals.
At this point, my health started to spiral out of control. I was losing weight for a number of mysterious reasons, one of which was my exercise routine, but I wouldn’t change it. It made me feel so good and had shown me such great progress that I was too afraid to adjust anything. As my weight got lower and my stomach pains got worse, I clung to exercise more and more as a way to reduce my mental stress levels and help my stomach feel better. I realized that exercising was key to helping with my digestion, which was a wreck. I didn’t want to face the fact that exercise was actually a huge stressor on my body, as well.
My exercise routine felt like the only thing I could control, and I became addicted to it. It was my hour and fifteen minutes of “me” time. That was my magical number. The one time a day no one and nothing could touch me. I didn’t have to think about anything else. I started working out harder, adding more exercises, making sure I was always doing “enough.” I didn’t even know what that was, but I thought it was definitely no less than what I was doing. The overachiever in me told me that more was always better. I didn’t know any other way. I had severe body dysmorphia and didn’t realize how much weight I had lost. When I looked in the mirror, I saw the body I had before I ever started working out. At this point, things started to hit rock bottom very quickly…
Part 2… the REAL stuff.. is coming very soon!