Monday, February 4, 2013

Monday Musings: On Exercise and Body Image

Let's get real here for a minute, shall we? I have been thinking a lot about exercise and how it relates to where I am in my life. 

To begin at the beginning, I did not start exercising regularly until I graduated from college. In high school I had to do sports, but I got away with lots of aerobics, and running, and intramural squash (in other words, not doing a whole lot).  In college, I didn't exercise at all. No thanks. Then I gained a ton of weight (for various reasons none of the least of which was that I got quite sick and was on various meds with weight gaining side effects.) I had also been diagnosed with high blood pressure, and that was not good for a 21 year old. Definitely not. Even though my hypertension was primarily genetic, I thought maybe I could combat it with exercise (and hoped that would take care of some of the weight I had gained as well).

I still, to this day, remember the first day I decided to "work out," which was about eight years ago. I "jogged" around the block at my house. The whole excursion probably lasted fifteen minutes, but I thought I was going to die. I had such bad shin splints that next day I didn't think I was going to be able to walk. Pathetic? I think so. But, I stuck to it. I walked a lot. And then I started to run. And then I ran a lot. And then I got a personal trainer, and I kicked my ass into high gear. I no longer had high blood pressure, and I lost a lot of weight (too much, frankly.) And I kept running. A lot. Until my hips were in screaming pain every time I ran, and the doctor said to stop immediately.

When I moved to California, I took a more laid back approach to exercise because I wasn't living in a community of people for whom excessive working out was just a way of life. Before moving here, exercise had practically become my religion. If I worked out less than four days a week, I beat myself up. Now, not so much. I have actually been dreaming about thinking about quitting the gym. But I won't. I feel a lot of guilt about not being in as good shape as I used to be. I know I could do better. My arms are flabbier than they were when I had my amazing trainer. So are my legs for that matter. I still work out 3 or 4 times a week, but not as intensely. Now I do it more for my health than for aesthetics. Yet, I like to bemoan my figure when I know the only way to change it is to work out more.

My family are either athletes on the one hand or people who do not work out at all on the other. So, I thought that not working out was fine. My mom is fit, builds exercise into her life, but has never (with one exceptional period) been into working out. And she looks good. My sister works out in bursts, but is convinced that it makes her gain weight, and she is a hottie. So I thought I would go that route, too. But, exercise boosts my mood, has made me healthier, and is a good stress relief (when it isn't causing me stress because I am not doing it). When I look at blogs or magazines (or those horrifying "Thinspiration" boards on Pinterest) where people give workout tips I feel like I am falling short at being a 'perfect' woman. Aren't women are supposed to put themselves through hell to look good? And wanting to be a 'perfect' woman has plagued me most of my life. So, if I choose not to follow those tips, not to drink kale shakes, and not to go to pilates five days a week, what does that mean? I know a walk in the park isn't going to give me a six pack, but it is going to make me feel good and clearheaded, and it is good for my heart. But, is that a cop out?

I know that people say that getting older is supposed to make you more comfortable in your own skin, but I don't feel that way yet. My mother would be the first person to tell me to sit down and write instead of going to the gym. My husband doesn't care (in fact, not to sell him out, but he hasn't seen the inside of a gym in years). My friends certainly don't care if I work out or not--although I do think there is a culture of comparison particularly amongst perfectionistic professional women regarding how much one is doing not only to maintain her intellectual prowess, but also her physical self. I would like to argue that killing yourself in the name of thinness is the opposite of loving yourself.  In my ideal, fully self-actualized world, I would walk in the park, go for a hike, stretch, stroll, bike occasionally, and never set foot inside those God-forsaken places called gyms. If you love exercise, if it makes you happy, if pushing your body is a way of life for you, more power to you, but I'm just not that person.

(By the way, I discovered this when I typed "Thinspiration" into the search bar on Pinterest:
Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, they are mental disorders that if left untreated can cause serious health problems or could even be life-threatening.

For treatment referrals, information, and support, you can always contact the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or
As always, aspire to be really thin, but not too thin. Cause that's dangerous...In case it is unclear, that was sarcasm.)

Thoughts? Comments? I'd love to hear what you think.

1. 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6 . 7 . 8


  1. I think it's a little bit different for guys, but some of the same rules apply. I had a very tubby childhood, followed by a very skinny college experience. Now I'm somewhere in the middle, and I'm trying to exercise for the right reasons. I hate those 'thinspirational' things, too. They should just die.

    Oh, and I don't touch vegetables. If it's not in a Centrum, you won't find it in my bloodstream. It's a texture thing, but oh well. I can say that giving up Cokes (sodas, as most of the world would say) was one of the best decisions of my life. In the South, 'Cokes' refers to any type of carbonated beverage.

    In fact that's one of my mantras in life: Never drink your calories. I said that over Christmas to my twin brother, and he just about passed out from laughing at me. (He's not super health conscious.)

    Good post!

  2. No vegetables! That is crazy talk! I do happen to be married to a very good cook who makes vegetables delicious, so I am lucky in that regard. I, too, have tried to quit my Diet Coke habit by replacing it with Pellegrino. But, I have to have a few wine calories every now and then. :)

  3. I appreciated this post- I was nodding my head as I was reading along. I have so much to say on exercise and dieting that this might be long...

    I am not the athletic either (ha, surprise...some things don't change from middle school) but I managed to eat whatever I wanted until my senior year in high school. I started to gain weight then and it stabilized in college. My last year in college I went exercise/diet crazy. Although I was "healthy" - by exercising daily and eating an appropriate amount of calories, vegetables, protein, fiber, etc., the tracking of everything was an obsession and took over my life. It was not sustainable. I rebelled by binging and went up and down in weight a couple times. I felt guilty if I missed the gym. I lost about 18 lbs total, but those 18 lbs were enough to change my size DRASTICALLY and it was and looking back, I learned I can't count calories without getting obsessed or guilt-ridden.

    Finally, over the last 6 years or so I have become more comfortable. And although I'm about 10 lbs up from my lowest, I'm so much happier. I enjoy the sweets when I crave them. I love wine. I like having french fries occasionally without feeling guilty. I feel like I'm at the weight I'm supposed to be at - I can maintain it without much work -not keeping track or counting. I'm trying to go to the gym to be healthier - but realistically, it doesn't happen during the school semester. I'm alright with that.

    As for body image, I've struggled more recently with body shape - and that won't change with any diet (shoulders broader than hips? no amount of dieting can change that.) That's another topic and post :-)