My hate to love relationship with fitness: working out for the apathetic
The Workup to the Working Out
Confessional: I grew up in the late nineties and early 2000's. There was no body diversity until J.Lo came around. We had Drew Barrymore, she was considered someone who struggled with her weight because sometimes at an angle she had a double chin. We were supposed to be skinny skinny but not strong. It was a recipe for anorexia and bulimia. It's why women in their 30's fight really hard for body positivity because there was none when we were growing up. My weight is a thing I've dealt with. I'm tall. I'm pretty curvy for a tall woman. I couldn't fit into junior clothes as a teen and I felt like some weird fat giant. There is nothing wrong with being fat. But when you are a woman who is self conscious in a culture that is all about women not taking up space-it's difficult. All the standards of being a girl are measured by thinness. Cool clothes? Thin. Healthy? Thin. Zadie Smith describes it as such in White Teeth, as a woman drawn as a surfboard with the hint of a wave. In college, I went through this phase where I only ate about 800 calories a day (reminder wellness was thinness and it wasn't about being strong). I passed out in a shower, broke my thumb, and knocked my tooth in. One of my teeth will always be spaced a little differently. It is something boxers have. I did it to myself.
The other thing is I really love food. It's no lie. I'm like a concierge in every city I've been in with restaurants. I went to a training thing for PubMed and told the out of town trainer about Graze on the square in Madison and I got a thank you note later. High brow, low brow, cooking at home-it's my favorite thing. When I worked at Victoria's Secret for all of three weeks- I dealt with the stress of hating that job by perfecting a brownie recipe to my exact specifications and watching the Sopranos. Stressed at work answer: food. Sad: eat more food. Happy: celebrate with food. It's a reward and a joy and I need it to live! I have tried dieting and the only thing that works for me is moderation (which I am notably very bad at).
My life as a not so model fitness person
When I first moved to Columbus, I was working part time. I was spending my afternoons at home watching daytime TV. Realizing, I finally had time to work out but no motivation I decided to find a trainer. I know what you're thinking, who gets a trainer isn't that a bourgie thing that only rich people can do? The answer is yes, but I had saved enough money that I could do it and honestly it has been the best money I have ever spent.
Why do you need a trainer? Can't you just motivate yourself to work out? Short answer: no. I have no motivation to workout. I take forever to learn things physically. I am awkward. I get in my head. I don't lose myself in sports. Like, I am fully aware I look ridiculous. I compare myself to other people.
What about group fitness classes you ask? No offense to aerobics instructors but it takes me a while to find people I like. I don't like working out with people who I feel are performing fitness. If you say "bikini season" and have no sense of humor about it-I can't. This is not my jam. I need someone who understands my motivations and makes working out fun. I also need someone to go with and I hate feeling like people are watching me. My mom and I would take Zumba classes at the Y and creepy dudes would just voyeur out. I know you need to ignore it but it was so gross. I did like Zumba though. It was a fun workout. But I had to fit it in my schedule and I would find some excuse to not go.
Once I found my trainer though, I consistently worked out with few breaks (for health issues and money issues). However, I have a terrible back and this past winter I threw it out so badly I couldn't walk. I couldn't lift my son and I was miserable. Back pain and it is really easy to get in a loop of Tylenol and upping your dose. You can't function on muscle relaxers and you can't function without them. Before I got my steroid shots in my back, my son was acutely aware I was out of it. The only thing that works is a strong core. After six months of not working out-I had lost my core and was not really functioning. I had joined a gym and I just wasn't showing up. I told you, no motivation so here is what works for me.
My rules for staying motivated
1. Get workout clothes. When I first started working out, I only had one sports bra and wore shirts I didn't like. I invested in workout clothes and I could be creative about what I wore. Working out was something I started looking forward to. I just went to Target and made sure I couldn't argue not having enough sports bras to workout. These are things I would rationalize and intentionally mess up. Like, well I need to wash my one sports bra. Can't work out.
2. Get over fitness culture. I personally found it really intimidating. My look is sarcastic, librarian, who would rather be reading. At my gym, there are a bunch of trainers who are bodybuilders and no kidding one is like amateur MMA. They have tribal tattoos and smoking hot wives and girlfriends. There are women who live in the gym and have a perfect level of toneness. Like they pull off a messy bun and that carefree athletic look. Then there is me in my extra support sports bra who enjoys fries dipped in ranch. Going to the gym turns me into Liz Lemon. It's like the Guided by Voices song, Teenage FBI. I feel like people are judging me. Guess what, they aren't! They just care about working out and are actually impressed by my tenacity. I worked out throughout my pregnancy. We later found out my pregnancy was high risk and my personal theory it went well [for me everybody is different and it certainly didn't hurt me]was because I worked out. People were impressed I was still there. Have I made an ass of myself there? Several times. Does anyone care? No because they are focused on impressing other people at their level. It blew my mind. Do I hate protein shakes? Yes. Do I hate pseudoscience? Yes. I don't think diet and exercise are a substitute for evidence based medicine. I actually really impressed my trainer by telling him that supplements weren't regulated by the FDA and were kind of a scam. I was vindicated. It was originally a place I was scared to belong. But like all people, gym rats have layers and facets to their personality and I was projecting my insecurities onto them. Assumptions about other people and thinking fitness culture is bullshit-not an excuse not to work out.
3. But it's someone telling you what to do. I get that. We only have so many hours in a day and if you work hard you want to play hard too. My free time is precious and I want to spend it eating carbs and binge watching TV. Why add in one more thing? Who are they to tell me what is healthy? I'm currently struggling with motivation to get my steps in for my wellness incentive and was looking for ways to get around it-mainly by moving my arm. It then looked like I was making an obscene gesture. I couldn't win. Guess what? By reaching out to people I decided to work out using workouts on YouTube suggested by friends. I did it after my son was asleep and guess what-it was really fun. I hate having a mandated thing and I think it's a terrible way to motivate people. But again, forcing myself to do it was surprisingly fun.
4. Be prepared for some real truths about your body. You are going to find out you are stronger than you know. You may find out that weight lifting is one of the best things for your restless mind. Who knew? You may find out that you will do everything right and after months of fitness that you will never be skinny. Change your goals. Work out for you, not for anyone else. Your body is going to be healthy and strong. Strong looks different on different people. You get this power that's incredible but on paper it's going to look different than what you've been told wellness looks like. At the height of my fitness craze when I got married- I had lost 11 pounds. I was still overweight. I was so much happier mentally. I don't lose weight. I gain muscle. The healthiest I look is toned. Once I accepted that, it's really cool to see women who are strong. It's amazing to see muscular women. I love it. I also have a trainer who lets you get arm muscles-some trainers don't let women lift more than 5 lbs because of a fear of muscles. Let me tell you, it's fun to flex for people who don't expect it. It's also nice to be able to hold your son without hurting your back. That is worth it to me. When I took Barre-I said that I could handle heavier weights. They just insisted on the smaller ones and I think it's to tone a body but not bulk up. I like my muscles.
5. There is no magic bullet. There are million trendy workouts CrossFit, Barre, p90x, HIIT, marathon running, etc. For me the only thing that works is having someone else hold me accountable-my trainer who I like and respect. He's tough and pushes me. But we do respect each other and he makes me laugh. We both have toddlers and it's been to see our lives change throughout this. I personally love it because he's blunt. For me it has to be a habit and I've started working out in the early morning during weekdays. You might be thinking "are you crazy?" I've explained this to people and they think it is. Guess what? I don't have an excuse to not go in. All I have to do is put my hair up, brush my teeth, and get ready. Afterwards, I get to take a hot shower and get my work day ready. I'm more productive and happy. Also, working out in the morning has helped me regulate my medication timing, late night eating habits, and drinking. Overshare corner, even sex is better for about a billion reasons not the least of which is stamina. It is a ripple effect But you have to make it a habit. You always feel better after you do. Your body is just awake and alert. There is nothing better than feeling circulation. You also don't have it looming over your head all day. It's done. I can't overthink my way out of it because I'm too tired to overthink.
If this works for you what makes you think it will work for me?
There in lies the rub right? I just wanted to be honest. This is what works for me and it has changed my life for the better. It's made me less tense and less angry. It's made me realize I was more powerful than I thought. And yes, I have literally sweated myself off of equipment. I have farted in front of my trainer (something I was really really worried about). Recently, I had another woman show me how to do a routine that even watching her I couldn't get right. I have had a major anxiety attack jumping off a box. I've had twelve year old boys (they get a pass they are 12; grown ass men not so much) just stare at me while I was running on a treadmill because my Target sports bra wasn't that great. I have blankly stared at equipment after mashing buttons and it not working. I've freaked out on a stairmaster. But it is worth it to me. I'm so happy I have this in my life. It's not a luxury. It's something I need. In a perfect world, this would be covered by insurance right? I just know as someone who has no motivation to workout and who gets really irritated by fitness culture this is what works for me.
Let me know what helps you work out. Work outs you know work for you. Work outs that didn't work for you. I would love to hear from other people who hate to love the gym.
Interesting fitness thoughts from people who inspire me:
Notes on pictures left to right: The first is my lifestyle that I'm cool with, the second is a quote that does not inspire me and turns me into a sullen teenager, the last is a picture of a woman working out using the ropes. This would have intimidated me but it's one of those things that is really awesome. It also shows a woman using her strength. The last picture is a stock photo of women working out. Note the body types and the small weights. Be skeptical of people who insist on this for toning. I really don't like it.