Training for Joy : Confessions of My Former (Overly-Zealous) Fitness Fiend
“I need to lose weight.”
“I ate so much; I need to burn off hundreds of calories.”
“I have thunder thighs.”
“I will never be happy with my body.”
I am sure we have all heard these stories before. They are firmly entrenched in our society, made more pervasive with increased focus on fitness in our culture. Everywhere you look, there is a new trend, new workout routine, new diet tips, all aimed at helping you be in the best shape of your life. However, no matter how popular or effective they might be, I think they all come with a catch: they don’t inspire your love for health and active living; they just serve as means to an end: better body composition and weight loss, in most cases. Entering the brave new world of fitness is a big— potentially life-changing— step.
Believe me when I say that I can relate to weight struggles, disordered eating, and utter lack of motivation. Several years ago, I could not imagine myself in a gym, and, more importantly, I did not want to be there. The thought of exercise imbued me with fear, undue anxiety, and premature exhaustion. Tracking my food almost made me cringe with embarrassment and guilt. That was not a happy time. If it were not for some tactful and concerned comments about my slowly-encroaching weight from close family members and, finally taking a long, hard look in the mirror, I don’t think I would have changed anything in my life. I’ve fallen victim to illusory satisfaction. I guess, I needed that reality check and push to change.
Fast-forward two years. I am wearing my workout clothes everywhere (I’ve forgotten what my ‘normal’ clothes looked like); I am writing out workouts in my head before I go to sleep; I am keeping a food journal and recording my intake with meticulous detail. I am a woman possessed. It took me a long time to get there and, tired from climbing that never-ending mountain, I simply did not want to go back down. I’ve accomplished a great deal in those two golden years, transforming from a coach potato to an avid athlete. I’ve worked out five days a week for an hour (sometimes an hour and a half) and I’ve watched my diet, avoiding anything remotely unhealthy. I’ve felt proud; I’ve felt good. It was transitory. Like a shock therapy that temporarily disrupts your system, I’ve been jerked back into my past, my old ways. Before I knew it and utterly unable to stop it, I started eating all those foods I’ve been rejecting for years; my workout enthusiasm slowly waned, and for a while I’ve had to force myself to do anything active, then I gave up altogether.
Looking back now at this peak-and-fall cycle of my fitness life, I see the issue clearly and distinctly. I took the big step before I was fully ready and before I realized what it truly entailed. I had a misguided idea about the life of an athlete, the so-called ‘fitness junkie’. I saw it as a phase, a fork in the road that would lead me to my desired end, and I didn’t think much about the aftermath. I wanted to be fit, happy, and healthy. I wanted to smile when I looked in the mirror. I’ve achieved all of that, but I’ve regarded it as a challenge, as work devoid of delight. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed working out, but, thinking about it now, it might have been the thrill of doing something new that held me captive. I fell in love with the result, and not with the work that went into it. Eventually, the thrill wears off, and you find yourself back where it all began—still struggling with body image and health.
As morbid as that sounds, it is actually a blessing in disguise and a powerful lesson. Any major life decision carries with it a certain degree of responsibility and readiness to welcome change. More often than not, the change is permanent and resilient. There is no end goal in fitness; it is a perpetual journey of strength, testing your limits, and renewal. The benefit is endless and life-changing. The real goal of a healthy lifestyle should not be a body you can be proud of; it is much more than that. Fitness is joy and wonder; it is that transition from a bad mood to happiness, physical weakness to stamina. Fitness is a goal in itself, one that always presents new challenges and discoveries and makes you feel alive. Like drinking coffee in the morning or reading a book before bed, it is a necessity and a way of life. It is not transitory, but it is forever.