“Everyone needs to exercise more.”
I used to wholeheartedly believe these words. As a bright-eyed 18-year-old just released into the world of college, the worst thing that could possibly happen was to gain the “freshman 15.” I tried out every exercise class known to man (of course, they were all offered free through my university), and thoroughly enjoyed them. At the time I wanted to go into physical therapy and thought I would obtain a personal training certification to look good on my resume — but in the process of becoming certified, I found within myself a passion to “teach people to be healthier through fitness.” So naturally, I applied to be a personal trainer at the university gym.
I was accepted, and sooner than I knew it I was creating workout routines for clients, almost all of whom had the goal of weight loss. People “changing their bodies” became an everyday conversation, and not just for clients — for trainers too. It seemed like no one was satisfied with their bodies, and soon enough, I wasn’t satisfied with mine.
Great time to become a group fitness instructor, right?
I thought so, too. I took a weekend certification course and started teaching Insanity, a very high-intensity interval training program using solely body-weight exercises (to this day the hardest workout I’ve ever done). I started teaching class three times a week in addition to my personal training.
I loved it. I was in the best shape of my life, constantly getting compliments on my fitness level and getting to lead a class that I truly felt passionate about. I developed relationships with “the regulars” and over the next few years became known as a fitness instructor. I even got a few awards from the ever-growing university fitness program.
And at the same time, the environment of body dissatisfaction was slowly eating at me. Being in front of a class made me feel constantly analyzed, not only for my fitness level but also for my body. As time went on, I developed a harsh inner critic. Even if they weren’t analyzing my body, I constantly was — and the messages in my head were never positive.
In many ways, exercise took over my life.
I was doing Insanity, heavy weight training, running, and yoga for my “day off.” My day revolved around when I could exercise. I religiously counted my steps and kept track of my weight. My relationship with food was extremely unhealthy, and I felt the constant need to compensate for what I ate with more exercise.
People praised me for being “so healthy.” But the truth is, I was anything but. I was on edge and self-critical, and I could never truly relax. I was always aware of my own body, which took away attention and love I could have been giving to others.
I had a wake-up call when I tried to start training for a marathon and was sidelined by an injury. I was surprised by intense feelings of worthlessness, anger, and hopelessness. How was it possible that not being able to exercise was causing me to feel this way? All the sudden, I realized how unhealthy teaching fitness had become for me.
So I quit.
I was sad to say goodbye to the friends I had made through my fitness career and a little scared about what would happen when I wasn’t exercising so much, but I knew I had to take a long break.
I wish I could say everything changed overnight, but the truth is, it took me two whole years to heal my relationship with exercise, food, and my body. It was a long process of releasing the control I thought I had and beginning to trust my body again. It also involved a sort of loss of identity as the “fit girl,” which was painfully hard.
It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. But through the journey, I found a new definition of health. I realized that if my physical health regimen was harming my mental, emotional, or spiritual health, it was no longer “healthy.” I also found in myself a new passion — to help people discover what it actually means to have a good relationship with food, body, and exercise.
I realized that if my physical health regimen was harming my mental, emotional, or spiritual health, it was no longer “healthy.”
About six months ago, I had the opportunity to teach group fitness again. I said no, because I wasn’t ready yet. Three months later, the same opportunity came back around — an invitation to be a spin instructor at my church. I sat down and evaluated how far I had come on my journey. I was no longer identified as the “fit girl.” I was eating intuitively and exercising when I felt like it. I didn’t necessarily love my body, but I at least accepted it and wasn’t actively trying to change it.
The time had finally come where I could say “yes” to something that previously had damaged me deeply. With the help of God, my husband, and other treasured friends who walked with me on my journey, redemption had come to this area of my life. So I applied for the job, and before I knew it, I was getting up at 5:00 AM to lead my new “regulars” in a fun, sweaty spin workout.
I love teaching group fitness now, but not for the reasons I did before. I don’t love it because it’s an excuse for me to exercise or because I find my identity in being fit. I love the relationships I am building and the creativity I get to express through the workouts build. I love it because it doesn’t control me anymore, so I can actually enjoy it.
In my line of work, we often repeat the saying, “It’s not about what you do, but your mindset behind it.” This is so true when it comes to matters of exercise, food, and body. Black and white guidelines don’t really exist — what’s happening in your mind and your heart is what makes the difference.
If you’re feeling enslaved to exercise or food, or stuck in a pattern of trying to change your body, know that it doesn’t have to be that way. Because others helped me, I can now be someone who can help you. It might involve some hard work and sacrifices you don’t feel like making, but I promise, it’s worth it. And maybe, if you find it to be a part of your journey, I’ll see you on the bike?
How can I connect with you?
If you’re wondering how you to sort through all of this, I am here to help! I offer private nutrition counseling services to help clients on their journey to a truly healthy relationship with food, body, and exercise. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.