4 Ways to Change The Narrative of Exercise

My relationship with exercise has been a whirlwind. I have been through many phases with it. I have neglected and pushed my body far beyond its physical limits

I have also used exercise as a tool to ease my mental health. I have found a supportive community through it. And I have gotten much joy in exercise. I have even now made a professional career centered around exercise.

I have been through all of these waves with my incredibly complicated relationship with exercise. As I work through my process of recovery and healing, my relationship with exercise has evolved.

It Started Out Innocent

I grew up as a competitive dancer. Movement has always been a special outlet for me. When I was a kid, movement was just play. There was no morality attached to its physicality. No connection was made between the way I moved and the effect it took on my body.

Until my early adolescence, movement was joy.

Then Exercise Took a Turn

In my early adolescence, I began to understand the association between food, exercise, and the shape of my body. I experimented with restriction and increased the intensity of my workouts. The body it created was celebrated. My juvenile love for movement was placed on the back burner in my life.

Naively, I didn’t think anything was wrong. I was building muscles, I was losing fat from my body, AND I was being celebrated for it. At this point movement still brought me joy. Perhaps it was of a different sort than my childish play. But I was still happy “getting stronger” and “crushing my goals.” 

A Dangerous Path

This cycle continued. While I believed I was getting “healthier” my relationship with food and exercise was actually on a dangerous path. I don’t know how it happened, I can honestly say I didn’t even see it coming.

Eventually, I found myself in the deepest, darkest expression of my disorder. I had pushed myself to a point that my body felt broken. I had restricted food to the point that I felt as if I could faint at any moment.

I remember sitting in my car – exhausted. On the way to yet another workout, it hit me. And when I say hit me… I mean it smacked me in the face. Hard.

I asked myself: ‘If I am following all of the unwritten “rules of health” why do I feel like I am falling apart?’ 

That Aha Moment

I realized I had spiraled. I saw my eating patterns were disordered and I knew that I was over-training. I finally understood that this was unsustainable. I still had no intention of changing my ways. How can this thing that I love so much, movement, be causing me so much harm?

Not As Easy As It Seems

It took a long time and a brutal struggle with my mental health to finally bring me to a point that I am now actively seeking recovery.

How did my love for movement and exercise become the crutch that made me sick?

Looking back I can see the signs. I carefully calculated my calorie intake and measured it against my calorie output through training. I felt guilty even contemplating giving my body time for rest and recovery. At this point in my life, I truly believed that I was invincible. I believed my body could handle and perhaps even deserved the abuse. 

I can now identify the disordered thoughts that revolve around my exercise habits. I do recognize the damage that it impressed onto me. But here is the thing … I still love movement. It still brings me great joy to move my body and utilize my strength. My treatment team allowed me the freedom to continue moving and instructing. I can reap the health benefits that come along with exercise while practicing this with strong boundaries in place. I have created a way to get my endorphin rush while also honoring my body, my mind, and my soul in the process. This is how I am doing it: 

4 Tips To Balanced Exercise

1. Changing My Narrative of Exercise

Throughout this post, I have used the words movement, exercise, and fitness interchangeably. In my personal narrative, I have redefined these concepts as movement. Moving my body in any capacity (running, cycling, or even going out dancing with my girlfriends), is just simply movement.

My body still recognizes the healthy effects of movement (ie. a quicker paced heartbeat, denser lungs from heavy breathing, the intense hit of endorphins.) But I have done away with any connotation that comes with the terms “fitness” and “exercise.” With this change in understanding, comes an inherent change in goals and expectations.

2. No More Numbers

One of the most crucial pieces that has allowed me to continue moving while in recovery is ditching the heart rate monitors, the calorie counters, and ANYTHING that attaches a numerical value to the movement that I am practicing.

Getting rid of my fitness tracking watch and steering clear of fitness studios that give numerical feedback has been one of the best tools for helping me rediscover the love that I have for moving my body.

3. Holding myself accountable

I am currently training for a race … during recovery … why? Because I am craving change. I am rediscovering the joy of movement. But I do strongly recognize that I may be towing a very dangerous line in respect to over-training.

I combat that fear by creating a spreadsheet in which, day by day, I identify what my movement could potentially look like for that day. I build in required rest days and work in gentler movement expressions such as leisure walking and yoga in my living room. I share this with my recovery team to provide me with feedback. I also share it with friends and family that have a healthy relationship with movement and my best interest in mind.

By doing this, I am the one that sets my personal boundaries with my body but I remain open to the feedback of those who are looking from the outside in. 
One final piece of this very systematic program that I have in place is that under no condition am I able to do physically strenuous movement beyond my set boundaries.

I do allow myself the freedom to listen to the intuition of my body and take rest when I need it even if it is not on a scheduled “recovery day.”

4. Ask The Big Question

This is my final point and it has been a game-changer for me. When I consider the type of movement that I impose on my body, I ask myself this question: 

Would you choose to do this even if you knew that it would have no impact on the physical shape of your body?

Answering this simple question has allowed me to continue to move freely but with healthier intentions and always the right motivation.

Feeling the liberation of rediscovering the youthful joy of moving my body has been the most rewarding part of my recovery journey yet. I am so grateful for the body I have. I am even more grateful to celebrate it by using movement.

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