When I think back to the time, ten years ago, when I first made the decision to start exercising with a purpose and live a more health focused lifestyle, I can’t help but remember my reason WHY I started. I wanted to change my body and it had everything to do with weight, numbers, and trying to change. I hated the weight I had gained from college, the pudge and softness I felt all over. I would look in the mirror at my squishy sides or feel annoyed that thighs rub together when it is hot out. I just wanted to go shopping for a pair of jeans and not leave crying.
So that was how I approached exercise-from a place of frustration and negativity and almost a desperation to achieve physical change.
I always pushed harder, beat myself up both in and out of the gym if I skipped workouts or didn’t have a good lift. My mindset, looking back was negative. I truly felt that if I just pushed a little harder, stuck to my diet better, if I could just be better then my life would be easier.
As I sit here and type this, I have to shake my head at my younger self. This way of thinking, this idea of making life harder to make it easier, is not sustainable. Nor does it lead to happiness.
But I was so focused on hating how hard it felt to lose weight and the need to change, I only could see that I needed to push harder. That if I could just control my body, it would ‘behave.’
Fast forward 10 years and I now have a very different life than I did before I was married or had a child. My body has grown and birthed a baby, breastfeed for over 16 months and works 40 hours a week. Oh and manages a home and tries to squeeze in hubby time too. All of these responsibilities are huge and can be exhausting and stressful.
Fitting in exercise and healthy living can become challenging, even for the most health conscious of individuals at this point of high chaos. Especially for those of us who feel we have to push ourselves harder and harder to see results like weight loss or even management.
I realized that as a mom and even just a woman approaching her thirties, trying to exercise harder from a mindset of unhappiness with your body- will not work. It becomes stressful, self deprecating, frustrating and sometimes feels impossible. Your mindset tricks you into feeling like the amount of work you have to put into even just warming up is going to take too much energy and time. So, you just don’t even try. It’s the whole all or nothing or even perfection mindset we, especially mothers, seem to be trapped in.
I learned the hard way, that pushing yourself harder, especially after having a baby can have lasting consequences. It stresses you out, burns you out, throws off your hormones, and in my case caused two injuries that now require long term healing to restore. (which actually was a blessing but I will talk about that another time)
As I reflect back on the two very different stages of life that I have lived (pre-children and post) there is a common theme that has surfaced that can have a life changing impact on where we all go from here. Here is it..
I was working out because I didn’t like myself. I don’t mean my physical self, but my true deep down self.
I didn’t trust myself or who I was. I am a shy introvert with extroverted qualities, and never quite knew how to fit in because of it. So I tried to change all the time to fit my surroundings.
I also had a terrible response to stress (hello freak out), my lack of organization mixed with hyperfocus on organization was chaotic, I would get upset with my response to people who upset me, my work load felt too big, or even my choices some days left me feeling less than everyone else.
These stressful thoughts about myself, within my environment, often lead me to not really plan out my day very well. So I would eat foods that were quick, easy, fattening, or comforting. Or even worse actually, I just wouldn’t eat all day because I was so stressed out that either forget or did it on purpose. But then, I would go out at night and be starving. Drink too much, eat a ton of pizza. Go to bed, and hate myself in the morning for feeling so bloated and gross.
So then, that is where the exercise and eating would come back in. I would go back to my ‘plan’ of controlling, restricting and heavy duty working out.
I thought controlling my weight would be what would make me happy
But really, what I needed to learn from this experience was
How to manage (not control) the way I viewed and responded to my environment
I needed to learn how to look at the world less as a victim and more as an advocate for myself
I needed to learn how to have boundaries with myself and with others. And be OKAY with those boundaries
But instead, I put all the boundaries and discomfort I was feeling around my thighs and my waistline. I turned on myself.
It worked… at first.
I lost the weight and changed my body shape.
But what I realized was that I still wasn’t feeling better inside
True, I did feel like I could wear a bathing suit and maybe a pair of jeans I liked, but I still felt insecure in who I was!
I still worried what people thought of me, how I looked, how I acted. Was I pretty enough now? Was I dressed right? Saying the right things?
I cried when I felt overwhelmed and insecure.
Then, even worse. I worried about not being able to keep up with my changed body. What if I fall off the wagon and put the weight back on? Everyone seems to like me better like this. My husband won’t love me if I put the weight back on. I’ll be a failure. (these are not true)
Do you see how losing weight did not fix my mindset?
Despite my new size, I still wasn’t confident because I still saw all the flaws I needed to ‘fix. Afterall, I had trained my mind to hone in on those like a sniper for years.
So I just keep working harder, maybe if my abs looked better and I get rid of this cellulite my confidence will emerge.
But here is the ultimate tough love moment
My mindset wasn’t healing nor did my confidence emerge because I wasn’t doing the work. I wasn’t working out my mindset at all. I wasn’t flexing that muscle, hell I hadn’t even let it out the cage I had it in. In fact, I was actually letting it completely atrophy while I focused only on the physical look- the part that I thought mattered to everyone else.
(all the while ignoring my own needs, because really I couldn’t even hear them)
What I am realizing now, at this part of my journey, is that our mind is actually the most important muscle we have in our body.
Our mind is really the only muscle we need to have in shape if we ultimately want to be successful when we embark upon an exercise and wellness routine.
Not working out this muscle, is why we keep falling off the wagon.
Although it feels like the weight is the issue here, it is really a side effect of a larger system break down in our life.
I have learned that wanting to get healthy isn’t really about the weight, it is about wanting to regain control over our entire lives. You want to feel more in control of your stress levels, your energy, your workload. You want to have more patience in your response to people who make you mad. Maybe you have lost all of your coping strategies and your hectic chaotic schedules that leave you frazzled by bed time.
It is these things that are causing you to feel so stressed out that you can’t help but stuff whatever you can find in your mouth and collapse into the couch despite desperately wanting to lose weight. It is these stressors, that you are struggling to cope with, that have caused those extra pounds to sneak up out of nowhere and leave you feeling like a stranger in your own body. The weight is a side effect, a warning sign, that you are needing to approach some changes in the pace or style of living. But, if those things can not be changed, then I challenge you to look at the mindset you have around your current circumstances. Are you harsh or struggling with too much perfectionism? Do you look at things from a place of lack or a place of rolling with the punches?
Once I was willing to face this mindset shift in myself, things changed dramatically. I began to only do workouts I felt like doing, for as long as I felt like doing them. I took more walks, built in stress reducing activities and took the pressure off of myself to look a certain way. Instead, my focus is now on how I feel that day. If I feel crabby, I do a restorative exercise. If I feel energetic, I’m going for a heavy lift. But I don’t force a square peg into a round hole anymore. I also talked to my husband about needing more help and we made adjustments in our schedule so that I could get to sleep and wake better. This meant I was less bitchy and more patient. It also meant our relationship was better because I was less snappy and resentful to him.
The moment I began to look at exercise from a standpoint of nourishing my body, reducing my stress levels, and making my mood better, everything changed. I looked forward to going because I knew, even if I didn’t look different in size, I was far more patient, enjoyable to be around, and capable of facing stressful situations without being rattled.
Exercise became a compliment to my life rather than just another frustrating stressor.
What I realized, all along, was that the journey I started 10 years ago, was never about the weight. And really, for all of us, it is has never been about the weight.
Embarking on a lifestyle change is about learning to embrace who you are truly capable of becoming and then making the changes so that you can shine.
Now go out there and shine.