Rediscovering the Joy in Movement
My relationship with exercise has been a whirlwind.
I have been through phases where I had neglected my body and phases where I had pushed my body far beyond its physical limits.
I have abused exercise and used it as a purging method but I have also used it as a tool to ease my mental health. I have found a supportive community through exercise. I have found so much joy in exercise. I have even now made a professional career centered around exercise. As someone who has been through all of these waves with my incredibly complicated relationship with exercise, I have found myself struggling to navigate my current relationship with exercise as I work through my process of recovery and healing.
It Started Out Innocent
I grew up as a competitive dancer, movement has always been a special outlet for me. But when I was a kid, as many of you have probably once experienced, movement was just play. There was no morality attached to its physicality and no connection 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 began to experiment with restricting my food intake and increasing the intensity of my workouts. The body that it created was celebrated and the 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 even 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 and as I believed to be getting “healthier” my relationship with food and exercise was actually on a dangerous, perhaps even eventually fatal, path. I don’t know how it happened, I can honestly say that 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 and 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
In this moment, I realized what I had spiraled into – I realized my eating patterns were disordered and I realized that I was over-training. I finally realized that this was unsustainable but I no intention of changing my ways because how can this thing that I love so much, movement, be causing me so much harm?
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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. And as I reflect, I am asking myself how my love for movement and exercise because the crutch that made me sick. In reflection, I see the signs – I carefully calculated my calorie intake and measured it against my calorie output through training. Always making sure that it remained in a deficit. I felt guilty when I would even contemplate giving my body time for rest and recovery. At this point in my life, I truly believed that I was invincible. The idea that my body could persist through all of the abuse that I put it through was because I believed that it could handle it or perhaps even deserved the abuse.
I can now identify the disordered thoughts that revolve around my exercise habits and I do recognize the damage that it has impressed onto me but here is the thing … I still love movement. It still brings me great joy to move my body and utilize the strength that I have. My treatment team has allowed me the freedom to continue to move and instruct and reap all of the health benefits that come along with exercise but I practice this with strong boundaries in place. I have created a way to still get my endorphin rush but honor 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
Throughout this post, you have heard me use the words movement, exercise, and fitness interchangeably, however, in my personal narrative, as on late, I have redefined these concepts as movement. To me, 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 expectation.
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 you numerical feedback on your performance 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. Once I have created this document, I share it 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. However, 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 and I am even more grateful to celebrate it by using movement.