I have never been overweight. I have never been too skinny either. This meant that as a youngster, I never thought about exercising or eating well because I felt like I didn’t need to.
However, there was one thing I was self-conscious about, and that was my skin; I had terrible eczema and it caused me to be incredibly shy and have exceedingly low self-esteem. This meant never looking in a mirror, avoiding all after-school activities, and wearing sweaters in the summer. And I definitely stopped going to the pool because I couldn’t stand my body in a bathing suit. Thankfully, by my early twenties, my eczema cleared up quite a bit.
Around this time, I slowly began an exercise regime coupled with including vegetables in my diet. I felt stronger and more energized than I ever had. Unfortunately, somehow, the eczema related body image issues I had as a child transferred over to my body fat composition. I began weight lifting consistently, believing that if I didn’t hit the gym that day, I would get fat. I became obsessed with lifting heavier and absolutely took no rest days. During this entire time, I was never happy with my body and continued to hate looking at myself in the mirror.
One day, I was in the middle of a set of barbell back squats when a sharp pain stabbed me in the low back on my right side. It hurt a lot, but I simply avoided low body exercises for the next few days until the pain went away. I made no changes to my exercise regime. Six months later, the pain returned but again went away after a day or two. Then the pain came back again within six months. Then, it was every three months. Then, it was every 4-6 weeks. Each time the pain returned, my back felt worse and would take longer and longer to heal. Each time, I would rest just a bit longer but continued to lift weights because I believed I needed to. In reality, I lost focus on what was truly important and why I began working out in the first place.
You see, when I first began exercising, my mother was told she was pre-diabetic. This scared me. If my mother, who to me was a very healthy person, could get diabetes, then could the same thing not happen to me? I knew deep down that if I continued to eat McDonald’s and sit around all day, that sickness would ail me sooner than later. Somehow, over four years, my original reason for exercising transformed into becoming obsessed with bringing my body fat percentage down to 13%.
The summer of 2017 was a low point for me. It was a beautiful sunny day outside, and I could hardly get out of bed to enjoy it because my back hurt so badly. It hurt to sit, walk, and it negatively affected my overall mood so much that I felt sorry for the people around me. However, looking back now, I see that this was a turning point that had to happen. As I laid on the floor with my legs propped up, praying for even a second of reprieve, I wondered what the point was in pushing myself so hard when I could not even enjoy the little things in life. Was looking a certain way worth it at this point? Why did I want to look that way so badly? Amongst all these questions for which I had no answers to, I began apologizing to my body for what I had done to it. I never listened to my body and never thanked it for how much of my stubborn ass it had to endure. I reflected on why I had begun exercising in the first place and forlornly asked myself why I could not love myself.
From that day forward, I began my healing process, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I learned a lot about biomechanics and how to do the exercises I enjoyed with proper muscle activation. I began to take rest days without panicking about my body weight. Most importantly, however, I began to thank my body for what it could do and not for what it looks like. This meant thanking my body for every little thing it could do, from getting me out of bed to sitting for over five minutes pain-free. I became more body aware – knowing what my limits are and not pushing it for the sake of “getting a workout in” or “burning off the sugar I just ate”. This meant swapping out weights for light stretching or simply walking around the block, something I know I took advantage of my entire life. All this time, I mentally continued working on being okay with these changes and truly loving my body.
Today, I still struggle with my body image. Like everyone else, I have good days and bad days. But I’m happy to know that I have come a long way from that painful day lying on my back; I’m more thankful than ever for the little things my body can do.
I want to encourage all of you to join me and take a moment to thank your body. Never lose sight of your fitness goal, whatever that may be, but be kind to your body for getting you this far in your journey to health and wellness. Understand that rest day are important and that a cookie is not going to add ten pounds. Listen to your body and when it whispers to you to take it easy, know that that’s probably best. (Don’t wait for it to scream at you in the form of debilitating pain like I did!). Everyone is walking a different path in life, so to compare yourself to others will only lead to self-deprecation. Know that you are beautiful as you are today and that progress shows itself in ways you cannot see in a mirror or on a scale. And I promise that in the long run, your mind, body, and soul will thank you back.