My relationship with exercise is one of the most complicated relationships I have.
Two thumbs up. This was the “gift” of encouragement from a stranger I passed on the street while jogging around my neighborhood. While I’ll certainly never know if this person makes a habit out of offering exercising randos non-verbal signs of approval, I can’t help but wonder if this gesture was fatphobic as fuck. “Look at that! A fatty trying to get her shit together. Thumbs way up!”
Shows what you know, man. I’m not even trying to lose weight. I’m toiling in the summer sun and not watching that extra episode of Forensic Files before work because... because... Oh god, because why?
Here’s the thing. When I was younger and the force of my youth was enough to have me feeling physically OK 99% of the time, I rarely did the thing we call exercise and I always thought that people who said they loved and lived for it (OMG the endorphins, OMG my stress management, OMG…) looked a little sad behind the eyes. I figured they were slaves to beauty standards and diet culture and I pitied them in between bites of double cheeseburger I refused (and still refuse) to live without.
I cast stones at the imbalanced appearance of their priorities from the porch of my glass house.
Years later, well into my eating disorder recovery, taking care of my body became a personal priority and not a moral issue. I started flossing my teeth and joined a gym. All it felt like at the time was adulting — not resolving or aspiring or transforming. It felt loving but firm, like the mom I wanted to be to my son, only this time to myself.
Then it got all fucked up.
Long story short, my ED recovery slowly and insidiously morphed back into what we clearly call dieting — monitoring, restricting, planning food with the added cherry of obsession and utter bat-shit craziness. And every time I fell “off plan” with my food, exercise was my white knight. It could absolve my “mistakes” and make me clean again. I got it so twisted that I thought this was progress.
After the tenth lap, a voice cracks into my head to remind me that a few extra laps might not be a terrible idea because it was a cake-for-breakfast kind of morning. I loathe that voice. It literally ruins everything.
Now I can see this wasn’t a long fall from grace. I have spent a lifetime in diet culture since I have watched my mom mess with her food basically my whole life, and also I don’t live under a rock. So I can’t escape knowing about calories and the myriad ways to count them. I know, by heart, how many are in that burrito and how many minutes on the elliptical it would take to "break even" for the day.
It's nearly impossible for my mind not to go there every time I work up a sweat.
But letting my toxic programming keep me from physical activity would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Ignoring the fact that my mental and physical wellness requires regular and consistent movement would make me just as ill as diet culture ever did. There is so much about diet and weight-loss culture that poisons the wellness well, but that’s exactly what I want — to be well.
Related: 6 Reasons Every Plus-Size Woman Nees A 'Fat Squad'
So I’ll answer the question I posed earlier — why WAS I jogging in the heat that morning? Don’t I hate it? Kinda. Just like I kinda hate flossing my teeth but not as much as I hate getting a filling. I don’t hate jogging nearly as much as the chronic neck and shoulder pain I have acquired from working at a desk for over a decade, which is so vastly relieved by regular movement.
I don’t hate it as much as I hate the mild depression that can creep over me as someone who works from home. Getting outside and seeing a person really helps. Even the Thumbs Up Person.
On the flip side, there are times I am moving in ways I love, like swimming. And after the tenth lap, a voice cracks into my head to remind me that a few extra laps might not be a terrible idea because it was a cake-for-breakfast kind of morning. I loathe that voice. It literally ruins everything. End of swim. If I keep going, it’ll be an internal argument over my motivations. It’s best to just leave the pool.
My relationship with exercise is one of the most complicated relationships I have. I don’t argue with my husband (or even my kid!) a fraction of the amount I argue with myself over why I move my body. And that’s OK. Just because this is a complicated relationship, it doesn’t mean it is an abusive one.
Checking in with myself regularly and often, having a routine that is established yet flexible, and moving my body in pleasurable ways is how I wade through the muck. Most importantly, I don’t talk to that voice. The second I take the bait in an argument about how many minutes is “best” on the stationary bike, I’ve already lost. Seriously, fuck that voice.