The first time I worked out at a gym, I was 17. It was the last year of high school and I had just finished up my fourth year of competitive cheerleading. Unsure of how to be athletic outside of school sports, I noticed many of my friends belonged to a local gym and I followed suit, working out there for several months before I left California to spend the summer in Massachusetts.
When I got to the east coast, I decided to continue my gym workouts at the small gym at my parents’ golf club. It was there that I would learn the foundations of non-sports workouts, and also where I first believed that I needed to lose weight.
I was working with a trainer at the time, and during one of our sessions after I had been away for several weeks, he asked if I had been doing a lot of running while I was away. Not being a runner at all at the time, I told him I’d been eating healthy and walking a lot, and asked why he was wondering. This part is a vivid memory: he told me I looked leaner, and then gave me a specific number that he thought would be my ideal weight, assuring me I was on the right track.
That number has stuck in my head since that very moment. To his credit, it was a number that is only about 5lbs away from my natural body weight. But that’s not the point—having an “ideal number” in mind was the first trigger in what would be a several year struggle with anorexia, binge-eating disorder and self-hatred. It was a number that told me I needed to change—that my physical appearance needed modification in order to be acceptable.
There is so much more to the rest of that story, but the reason I share that bit is because after entering a phase of recovery from my eating disorders, and spending years of steering clear of the gym for the sake of my own mental and emotional sanity, I’m finally returning.
About a month ago, Brian and I decided to join a local gym that can only be described as part fitness center, part vacation. It’s an absolute dream of a place and we chose it specifically because it is nothing like any gym either of us have ever belonged to—allowing us to minimize negative associations of obsessive working out in the past.
I was nervous during the first week, fearful that the atmosphere would trigger something within me from my past—but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this new membership was nothing but positive. Confident that this whole gym this was something I could handle (and was really enjoying), I decided to take advantage of the complimentary sessions with a trainer that came with our membership.
I knew that I could potentially set myself up for major disaster, but I also knew that I was tired of being a slave to my 17-year-old self of the past—the girl who believed she wasn’t good enough, lean enough or thin enough because of a simple number someone spouted off to her. I knew I was stronger than that (am stronger than that!) and I knew that it was time to move forward with my life, taking advantage of an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the gym equipment and basic exercises (other than running) that I’d been a stranger to for so many years.
By the grace of God, the trainer I got set up with was a kind man from the midwest who was nothing but positive and uplifting. During the initial assessment, I was glad to have an opportunity to briefly let him in on the abuse of exercise I’d done in the past, and explain that the reason I decided to take advantage of the sessions was because I finally felt emotionally healthy enough to do so. I explained that I loved to run on the beach, but that the gym was an easy way for my husband and I to workout together every day thanks to the luxury locker room where Brian can get ready for work, and the free wi-fi that lets me get work done from my iPad after my morning workout. I explained that I was ready to feel strong again—ready to experience fitness apart from self-hatred and self-punishment.
I had my second session with my trainer on Friday, and all I can say is that it was wonderful. I felt encouraged and empowered, and now feel much more comfortable making my way around the fitness area. I’m so thrilled to feel the freedom I’m feeling—to finally have an opportunity to love myself and care for my body through exercise in this context. To let myself feel strong again. To be in a gym and not feel disappointed in myself, but rather delight in the beautiful adaptability of the human body.
I’m returning to the gym and I’m feeling pretty great about it.
When have you experienced freedom in an area that previously felt like bondage?
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This is part of the Love Yourself Linkup—an ongoing series by women around the web focusing on self image and body image. In our posts, we will talk about our thoughts on these subjects, tell stories of our personal experience, share what has inspired us, challenged us, and more. Read my previous posts in the series here, and join the conversation by hitting “click here to enter” below.