29 Mar TAKING BACK MY POWER
We live in a generation that has become fixated with health and living “healthy” lifestyles. We’ve been led to believe that this is a good thing, but our obsession with health has, interestingly enough, become unhealthy; specifically for the wellbeing of our minds. As we scroll continuously on our phones, we’re inundated by recommendations of new “fad” diets and a torrent of suggested workouts, not to mention, the pervasiveness of what an “ideal” body type looks like. This ingrained idea of needing to follow certain regimens or guidelines in order to acquire this so-called ideal body has become prioritized among our desires. By allowing these images, opinions, and myths to enter our lives, we have made ourselves sick, sitting with thoughts that we believe to be normal or “healthy”. In reality, the rigidity of being overly health-conscious has allowed toxic relationships with food and exercise to surface. These inescapable teachings of what the picture of “health” looks like have inevitably led to self-destructive behaviours and addictive tendencies, such as over-exercising—something I have fallen victim to, something I have known too well.
What began as good can sour very quickly, and before you know it, you’ve fallen down a dark hole, and can’t get out. I can still remember the mornings when I would wake up, roll out of bed, and no matter how tired or sick I was, or even if it were pouring rain outside, I would make my way to the gym to meet up with my dear, close friend: the treadmill. I heard variations of, “You’re so committed!”, “I could never stay in such a good routine like you do”, “How are you at the gym this early in the morning? Didn’t you go out last night?” from others around me. Little did they know, my gym habits were anything less than rewarding. I would run as hard as I could until the time on the treadmill struck 20 minutes exactly. I ran for 30 minutes, sometimes more, if I was feeling extra guilty about what I had eaten the day before or if what I saw in the mirror that morning amplified the malicious voice in my head. It was a compulsion. It was an itch under my skin if I had to miss a day because of class. Simply put, it was an addiction. At the same time, it was my normal, my routine. And the thought of ever-changing that terrified me. The funny thing is, I can’t even remember why or how it started. But I know how it ended.
After two years of severely struggling with this compulsive behaviour, negative self-talk, and body dysmorphia, I finally decided that I needed to put an end to it, even if that meant going straight to the eye of the storm. I did what I was most afraid of: I stopped cardio altogether. It wasn’t fuelling healthy habits and it was tearing me down in more ways than I ever thought was possible. I had lost my period for over a year, I was constantly drained of energy, I struggled with insomnia, and my bones had wasted away to nothing. It finally hit me that something was very wrong with my habits and the way I continued to view myself on a daily basis. I was determined to make this just a blip on the radar of my life. I wasn’t going to let my days moving forward be defined by how “healthy” I was or how strictly I was able to follow the compulsive voice in my head that told me I needed to do a certain thing to look a certain way.
This is when I discovered pilates, yoga, and influencers who were preaching the importance of mind and body connection. After an abrupt halt in all my exercise together, and in a place where I was nervous to dip my toes back into the waters of working out, I decided to learn about how I could cultivate a healthy relationship with my body and what it meant to move with intention. I had totally shifted my priorities. Slowing down my movement taught me how to appreciate the privilege I have to be able to care for my body in the first place. Practicing mindful movement helped to heal my heart, my mind, my outlook on life, and the way I saw myself when I would look in the mirror. Slowly and surely, my self-worth became less and less defined by my weight and appearance, and more about how I felt on the inside. Through this mindful practice, I was proving to myself that it didn’t matter if I moved my body for an hour, 20 minutes or watched TV on the couch all day and ate chips. Not every day will look the same in life and I finally realized that what my parents had been reminding me my whole life was the answer at the end of the day: balance truly is the key. I was regaining my self-confidence and a new voice in my head. One that was more powerful than the one that was harming me before. One that loudly proclaimed, “You are fucking awesome just the way you are.” One that didn’t turn me against what my intuition was trying to tell me. Now, fast forward, I work out for the right reasons. I intuitively listen to what feels best for me. I move to feel strong. I move to fuel my happiness. I move to listen to loud music and dance around with my friends. Letting go of a toxic cycle is no easy task, but the first step—deciding to do something about it—can make all the difference.
Make sure to check in with yourself and ask yourself the tough questions. Why are you working out today? Do you feel anxious or nervous when you are not able to exercise? The signs and symptoms will be there. It’s your job to pay attention to them, whether they are presenting themselves in your own life or in the lives of others around you. Signs that may require intervention include:
- Limiting social time for exercise
- Feeling restless when you take a day off exercising
- Eating significantly less when a workout hasn’t been completed
- Working out being viewed as a “chore” or a punishment
- Working out just because someone else is
- Spending extensive amounts of time in the gym
- Feeling like you need to work out more than once a day
- Becoming defensive towards others about your behaviours
So often we hear, “I love how exercise makes me feel”, but the story that is often hiding in the shadows is, “I hate how upset and anxious I get when I know I need to rest or can’t exercise.” Without thinking twice, many individuals succumb to the pressure of reaching certain expectations that have been drilled into our minds, ones that we think will make us happy. You can let the comparison game consume your life all you want but, what you must come to realize is, only you can make yourself happy. Sometimes, in order to bring yourself to the forefront, you must disconnect from external factors that could be impeding the power waiting to be lifted from within yourself. This could be the people you surround yourself with or the accounts you might follow on social media platforms. By bringing in more of what makes you happy and quieting down the noise that may tell you otherwise, watch as you mindfully blossom into the best version of yourself.
The more stories like mine we bring to the surface, the closer we will get to overturn the things that have become so normalized. My journey and the things that helped me overcome my struggles may not be what works for you, but the first step that anyone can take is to take a step back, take a deep breath, and admit that you need change, however that may be. This was not a simple fix overnight. Recovering and healing your mind and body from an exercise addiction is a bumpy road, one that involves ups and downs, good days and bad days. It took me a long time to get to the place that I am now.
We need to be filling our community with positive, supportive messages to bring each other up in order to break stigmas down, ones that have had enough time in the spotlight. Committing to making a change is difficult and confusing, and you may feel stuck in the toxicity of your thoughts and the opinions of the masses, so I encourage you to reach out to a friend, a family member, or other resources that may give you the support you might need. However you may choose to move forward from today, my final takeaway and reminder for you is, you are beautiful. You are strong. You are worthy. You are enough.
If you need that extra push to take the first step in the right direction, we’ve linked some resources that are always waiting for you:
- National Eating Disorders Association
- CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health)
- Eating Disorders Resource Center
- How to Recognize Exercise Addiction
- Slow Movement Fitness: The Benefits of Slowing Down Your Workout
- What is Mindful Movement and Why Should You Try It?
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