m̶y̶ ̶w̶o̶r̶k̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶r̶o̶u̶t̶i̶n̶e̶ my struggle with body image

Tis the season for people to start giving up on their new year’s resolutions, and I’m here to say, don’t! or maybe do! It all depends…

I started this post thinking that I was just going to share my workout routine, per a couple of requests. But I couldn’t share without giving a little bit of backstory about why I take the approach to fitness that I do, and a little bit of backstory turned into a lot of backstory about my struggle with body image over the past twelve years or so and how it affects my approach to fitness and nutrition.

Working out is a really important part of my life and has been for a while, but I haven’t always had a healthy relationship with exercise. I started working out in high school as a way to ease some of the anxiety I was having about college applications. I would head to the local resort’s gym and bebop along on the elliptical for thirty minutes or so before doing five crunches and calling it a day. But I was amazed at how much of a difference it made for my mental health and my body (that 17-year-old metabolism man.)

Unfortunately by the time I got to college, it became an unhealthy obsession. I “worked out” almost every day, sometimes spending ninety minutes on the elliptical. I was so afraid that if I didn’t, I would gain weight. I feared the ‘freshmen fifteen,’ and as a result of that (and my general unhappiness my first year of college) I ended up essentially starving my body and forcing it to run on empty. For most of the rest of my college career, I was all-or-nothing when it came to diet and exercise. I yo-yo’d between a restrictive diet + constant cardio and not caring about what I ate or working out at all. It was pretty much an endless cycle of shame; I hated my body, and I was always fantasizing about how if I just did this or didn’t eat that, I could change the things I didn’t like about it.

Three things about me that I contributed to this cycle: (1) I have an unusual amount of self-discipline at times. When I would tell myself that I have to eat a certain way or exercise a certain number of days a week, my determination was fierce. I would be able to do it for a decent amount of time. But, (2) I am also human, so eventually, I would slip up. (3) I am a perfectionist, so when I slipped up, I thought the entire plan was ruined, and I would need to start all over anyway, so I might as well enjoy the free for all.

Thankfully, by the time graduation rolled around, I had started to at least find some balance, but like a lot of people, I was “good” during the week and “bad” on the weekends. I still had unrealistic goals for what I wanted my body to look like, and I was still determined to reach them someday.

My relationship with food and exercise continued to improve over the next couple of years, but it wasn’t until my second year of law school that I discovered true moderation. Mod·er·a·tion/ 1. the avoidance of excess or extremes. Again for the people in the back, the avoidance of excess or extremes.

When I adjusted my mindset and stopped telling myself what I could and could not do, it changed my entire outlook on food and exercise. I started actually listening to my body and what it needed, rather than dictating that either I couldn’t have something or I HAD to have it even if I didn’t really want it because I wouldn’t be able to have it tomorrow. And holy cow was it life-changing. When I wanted something “unhealthy,” I would stop for a second and think about whether I really wanted it, and remind myself that if I didn’t, I could have it tomorrow. And most of the time, I would realize I didn’t actually want it that badly. It’s hard to explain, but opening up those lines of communication between my mind and my body completely altered my view of myself. It was like my body finally felt heard; I realized how good it felt to pay attention to what it needed, and then instead of wanting to force it into something it’s not, I wanted to improve what it was. I wanted to work out to feel healthy and strong instead of doing it to be thin.

Fast forward a few years and I can honestly say I am the happiest I’ve ever been with my body, and it’s not because I am the thinnest I have ever been, which is what I used to think would make me happy. It’s because over time, I’ve discovered a way of eating that makes me feel balanced and healthy without being deprived and a workout routine that makes me appreciate being strong and physically fit over being skinny. So, if you have experienced something similar and you are looking to make positive changes in your nutrition or your physical fitness, or you are trying to love your body more, here is what I recommend:*

*I am not a nutritionist, therapist, life-coach, personal trainer, or any kind of trained professional in this area — this is just what worked for me (although there are plenty of experts that support this approach with the data and science to back it up.)

1. Do not set out to make some huge change. Do not set out to completely cut out sugar and junk food, or lose fifty pounds, or run a marathon. For me, moderation is absolutely crucial and without it, there is no hope. Set out to make small, sustainable changes. If your goal is to eat better, start asking yourself before you eat something if you really want it, and remind yourself that it will still be there tomorrow. I guarantee if you start actually listening, your body will probably want more vegetables than you think. If your goal is to workout more, start by incorporating a little bit of exercise into your life in a way that doesn’t make you feel like it’s a huge ordeal to do it every time. It sounds cliche, but go for a walk, or find a twenty minute video you can do at home. These smaller consistent changes will end up getting you so much further than setting out right away to make an extreme change.

2. If/once you feel ready to do more in terms of your fitness routine, find something that you actually enjoy. This doesn’t mean you will love every second of it or that you will be chomping at the bit to do it every time, but you shouldn’t absolutely loathe it. This is going to take some trial and error (I went to several barre classes before accepting that even though everyone else seemed to love it, it truly wasn’t for me.)

3. More is not necessarily more. I spend far less time working out than I did during those years when I was practically living on the elliptical in an attempt to shrink my thighs, but I’m in way better shape. Find workouts that challenge you and work as hard as you can while you’re doing them, and you won’t need to spend two hours a day at the gym.

4. Incorporate some kind of strength training into your workout. I used to think I would turn into a body builder if I picked up a ten pound dumbbell, which didn’t track with my goal of being a waif so I didn’t do it, and also is shockingly untrue. Now, feeling strong is so important to me, plus strength training burns fat in addition to building muscle. There are tons of different ways that you can do strength training — see #2 above.

5. Give yourself permission to slip-up. I don’t even like phrasing it that way, because you can’t “slip up” if there are no rules. But accept and even embrace that you are going to eat pizza, or pasta, or bread, or ice cream, or drink wine, or soda, or whatever it is that perfectionist you thinks you should never have. Do it at times where you are really going to be able enjoy it, and don’t feel guilty about it.

6. Thank your body. Take actual time, whether it’s in your head or out loud, to thank your body for what it does for you. If you get through a hard workout and you find yourself harping on how out of shape you are, think about the fact that your body just did something that it clearlyyy didn’t want to do and it did it because you told it to. You will appreciate it so much more.

And now, for the original point of this post, my actual fitness routine. I have found that personally, I enjoy running, cycling classes, and weight-training the most. I’m training for a race right now, so I run 3-4 times a week (I have a coach who comes up with my running training plans). I love the more strength-focused cycle classes (I go to the Les Mills RPM classes, it’s like regular cycling but at times you feel like you’re pulling a truck behind you), and for strength training I either go to Les Mills Body Pump classes (basically lower weight higher rep. weight training set to music), or I have Colin help me venture over to the “scary” part of the gym where I never used to set foot and help me do straight-up weight training. I try and get to one spin class and one Body Pump class a week, and have a day of cross-training that I’ll combine with an easy run day. This means that right now I workout six days a week if time permits (and it doesn’t always.) This is unusually high for me because of race training — generally it’s closer to five days a week. There are plenty of times where in the moment, I’m not ecstatic about starting the workout, but once I get going I usually enjoy it. I would like to incorporate yoga and to branch out a little bit and try some new classes, so if you have something you love, let me know!

I also want to say that I still don’t have a perfect relationship with my body. If you saw my post on my new year’s resolutions, you know that one of my goals this year is to work on fully accepting my body, because there are still times where I look at myself and am off to the races thinking about what needs improving and what needs to change. But, I notice it a lot sooner than I used to, and I’m really proud of how far I’ve come.

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