For those who know me as a personal trainer, it might come as a surprise that growing up, I was always insecure about my body and my athletic abilities never surpassed JV Tennis. The road from there to here has been demanding to say the least. However, it did teach me a few lessons about how to end internal body-shaming and grow to be proud of my body.
A little kid with big insecurities
From a very early age it seemed I was at odds with my body. Sports were never my thing; if someone tagged me, the game was over. I was teased for being chubby and ugly. According to a study, in 1991, 42% of girls in 1st through 3rd grade reported wanting to be thinner. I was definitely one of those girls. I was only 7 when I first explored the world of “dieting.”
This wasn’t a phase I grew out of. LAX fulfilled one of my high school sports requirements. Running was an enemy, so naturally I opted to play goalie. I would rather have been hit by the LAX ball flying at 65 mph than chase it up and down the field.
High school saw me through several periods when I would return home from school and sports practice not having touched my lunch. I escaped the jaws of eating disorders only to land in the arms of a coping mechanism called self injury. I was 14 the first time I burned, and I wouldn’t stop until 3 years ago. I am 33.
Fast forward to 2010. I had found salsa. I was in a performance group and danced socially every week, but my life was otherwise lethargic. My weight soon became the thing that made dancing painful, and it killed me that my fairly unhealthy lifestyle was getting in the way of something that I loved to do.
A new approach to health and fitness
Around this time, I realized the connection between exercise and health. If I wanted to do things I enjoyed, I needed a body that could keep up. I had suffered many failed attempts at losing weight, but this time I was committed to the idea of fitness as a lifestyle and not simply a means to a skinnier end.
My zeal for losing weight through exercise and calorie counting somehow convinced my friends, on social media and in real life, that I would be a good trainer. One day my friend Margaret shoved her old ACE training manual into my hands and said “Here, take the test.” The box gym where I applied for a job hired me on the spot. That’s when I truly began to heal.
Finding my happy place
I’ve gone through many fitness identities. Cardio kickboxer, runner and my most happy phase: weight lifter. Until I discovered weightlifting, the driving purpose behind how I ate and why I exercised was solely to become smaller. Think for a second about what that means. For years I had been in a perpetual state of trying to erase myself. The mirror was a computer screen and I was trying to photoshop calories out of my diet and fat cells off my body. My worth increased when my pant size decreased. All of this shrinking. There was no growing.
Eventually, while spending increasing amounts of time in the weight room, I learned about deadlifts. There is a certain joy derived from the power of all the major lifts, but when something makes you feel strong,and sexy and confident, I'd say that deserves my commitment.
The thing is, you can’t pick up heavy things on an empty stomach. It was gradual, but eventually my motivation shifted from reduction to expansion. I wanted to lift more, so I had to eat more. I needed more energy so I needed more carbs. The deadlift helped me break from the chains of what the media and the diet industry had taught me to believe was beautiful.
Today, when I look at my body, instead of seeing everything that I am not but wish I could be, I see the thick thighs and strong glutes of a body that is able. I am strong. I am growing. And most importantly, I am proud of my body for the things it can do.
Rethink your fitness
I encourage you to think about exercise and diet differently. Many of us try to “get healthy” because we are chasing a different goal: changing the way we look. I get it. I was there. But when we think of exercise for exercise’s sake and eating to fuel that exercise, we can shift the focus to exploring our body's true potential.
Too many of us think of exercise as a chore. It's a gift! Exercise is a celebration of the body and what it can do, not punishment for what it is not. Rethink your fitness and focus on performance. It's very hard to hate your body when it begins to do things you never thought were possible.