Over the past year I’ve been focusing on healing my relationship with food and the way I view my body. That also includes my relationship with exercise, which is what I want to talk about today. When I was 15, I started to look at exercise as a form of self-punishment. My brain was so full of rules and restrictions and anxiety when it came to working out and food. I didn’t view exercise as a way to strengthen my body or to relieve stress; all I cared about was how many calories the treadmill said I was burning and whether I was meeting the goals I was setting. Needless to say, I dreaded working out — and yet I forced myself to do it every day (sometimes twice or three times a day), because I thought that was what was required if I wanted to have the “perfect” body. And I (foolishly) assumed that, once I had the “perfect” body, the perfect life would naturally follow.
The thing was, no matter how much my body changed or how thin I looked or how many compliments I received because of the way my body looked, I was never happy. In fact, during the five-year period when using exercise to achieve the perfect body was my primary focus in life, I was at my lowest, most unhappy point. I was a shell of the person I am — and am becoming — today.
I’ve come to the realization that paying attention to what I intuitively need when it comes to physical activity is super important to my well-being. I no longer force myself to go to the gym each day because I feel like it’s what I “should” be doing. In fact, I haven’t been to the gym in weeks — and that’s something the Anna Rose of a year ago would never have imagined herself being able to do. I love exercise and movement, but now I only allow room for movement that I enjoy and look forward to. Right now, that’s kick-boxing. I love kick-boxing because it makes me feel strong, like a badass, and I genuinely look forward to going. Some days I feel like I need yoga, and other days I may want to go on a walk or a hike. If I ever feel the urge to go to the gym again, then I definitely will; I’m not opposed to the gym, but I’ve realized it’s not all there is. The important thing is that I listen to what I need, including the need for rest or sleep or downtime, and I don’t force my body to do anything. I trust it, I respect it, and I know that my body knows best.
I realize now that my desire to control my physical body didn’t make my life magically “perfect” — in fact, it did the opposite. I missed out on time spent with friends, eating cake on my birthday, and, quite honestly, living a life that I truly enjoyed. I'm slowly learning to let go of the obsessive tendencies and beliefs that I have held regarding exercise for years. Some days I catch myself slipping back into old thought patterns, and that’s OK; it's on those days that I do my best to make room for self-compassion. In a world full of wellness fads, Instagram, and so many sources that make us feel like our bodies are less than what they “should” be, it’s easy to get caught up in negative feelings about ourselves. But at the end of our life, it won't matter how our bodies looked. What will matter is the relationships we created, and how we treated ourselves and the people in our life.