Not too many people know this about me, but I struggled with an eating disorder through much of high school. I wanted to be thin and perfect, and I never felt I was good enough. I suffered in silence, starving myself until my fat melted away and my skin clung to my bones. I felt my heart getting weaker both metaphorically and physically. I was an athlete and nearly collapsed at swim practices because my body was so weak. I hated myself, I hated my body, and I hated who I had become. Things didn’t get better until one night I sat in my bathroom crying, and I realized that if I didn’t change, I was probably going to die soon.
I recovered in relative silence, too. I slowly stopped skipping meals and started eating more. I learned to find my identity in Christ rather than in my body size. My new boyfriend showed me that I was worthy of being loved. It’s simple really; It’s all about love. Love from God and from people washed over me, and I learned to love myself. Love was all I really needed, and now I’m healthy.
I’ve gained 45 pounds since high school. I’m a curvy Puerto Rican young woman, and I’ve learned to embrace that.
That being said, I decided to join a gym in August. Not to “lose weight” necessarily, but to be healthier. I want my body to reach it’s potential. I want to be able to do those crazy yoga poses you see on Pinterest, run a mile without feeling like I’m going to die, keep up with my future energetic kids, and whatever else I feel like doing. I want to love my body so much that I enable it to do amazing things. (And I’m very proud of that last sentence, because it shows me how far I’ve come since the days of hating my body so much that I forced it to wither away to nothingness).
So, I coughed up $250 and joined the gym. Here are some observations from the past two months of immersing myself into the world of fitness.
- As soon as I signed up for the gym, I knew that I had to keep my mind in check. It’s important to know that while eating disorders may go away, the mentality of the eating disorder lingers. I know that I’m prone to negative thoughts about my body, so I knew right away that I was going to have to work hard to keep those thoughts at bay. Because of that, I decided that I was not going to step on a scale until October.
- I was offered sessions with a personal trainer to obtain my measurements, set my goals, and work one-on-one with her in the gym. I promptly declined these sessions. The girl who would have been my trainer is the one who I spoke with while signing up for the gym. Her first series of questions for me at that meeting were, “What is your current weight?”, “What is your goal weight?”, and “What are your problem areas you’d like to focus on?” Those are dangerous questions for anyone who has ever struggled with their body image. I was taken aback by her questions, and initially responded with, “I just want to be healthy and strong.” The trainer looked really confused, and seemed to be completely unable to understand my answer. She countered with, “Um, ok, but how much do you want to weigh?” So no, thank you, I do not want any personal training sessions with you.
- I have actually gained weight since joining the gym. Five pounds, to be exact. My initial response was to freak out, but then I took a look in the mirror and calmed down. That five pounds is from fat giving way to toned muscle. If there’s one thing I remember from high school heath class, it’s that muscle weighs more than fat. So I’m actually proud of those five pounds. Since my recovery from anorexia, my mantra has been, “It’s not about the number, it’s about how you look and how you feel.” I look pretty darn good, and I feel stronger and healthier. Sure, I still have a long way to go before my body reaches its full potential, but I’m making progress and I’m proud of that.
- Comparing yourself to other people is not helpful. During my first month at the gym, I would find myself looking around and comparing myself to the other women there. I’d be doing my cardio and thinking, I wish I had her legs, She’s going so much faster than me, or, Why can’t I look like her? Those thoughts plant seeds of negativity that take root in your mind and grow the more you dwell on them. That’s why I hate #Thinspo and #Fitspo (body inspiration) so much. There is a fine line between being inspired by someone and being destructively jealous of someone. I unfollowed a bunch of fitness accounts on social media except for a few that are real people who are actually encouraging. It’s true that comparison is the thief of joy, so I’m learning to focus less on others and more on myself at the gym.
- It feels great to love myself and have confidence. Going to the gym is empowering. It’s cliche, but I really do love the feeling of accomplishment after a good workout! I like knowing that I’m taking the time and effort to take care of my body. Since I started my full-time job, I’ve only been able to make it to the gym a couple days a week, but it’s still better than sitting at home watching Netflix. I feel good about myself, which is no small accomplishment for me.
I was afraid that joining the gym would trigger the destructive behavior patterns of my past. I’m proud to say that I’ve been overcoming those harmful thoughts. I work out and I feel good about my body; I work out to strengthen it, not to shrink it into submission. Attitude and strength of mind make all the difference. Working out, whether it’s at the gym or at home, shouldn’t make you feel bad about yourself, it should make you feel healthy and alive and strong.