Anyone who knows me probably knows that I go to the gym all the time. I love the gym- it’s probably one of my favorite places anywhere. But what most people don’t know is that I wasn’t always like this. I actually used to hate the gym, and found it incredibly hard to get myself to go.
It started freshman year of college when, surprise surprise, I found that I had gained the Freshman 15. I was, of course, appalled (What, ME?! Gain weight!?) and decided that I needed to lose it. I figured it was easy enough- just go to the gym, burn more calories than you take in, and you lose weight. Unfortunately, it was not that easy. I had set my goal of burning 500 calories every day, and I would spend my workout staring at the treadmill, praying that if I looked away for a second, it would magically jump from 100 to 500. For some odd reason, that never happened.
The first week worked out ok, but as each day passed, I hated going to the gym more and more. When the second week hit, I started finding excuses why I shouldn’t go (ranging from, it’s dark and Berkeley is scary to it’s raining and I don’t want to get wet to I have homework due next month that I need to start…today). Basically, I made sure that I found “legitimate” reasons why I couldn’t make it to the gym. I was very good at it too. Except the problem was that I KNEW I should be going to the gym, I kept beating myself up about NOT going to the gym, and because I was stressed about gaining weight/not going to the gym I kept eating MORE, (and beating myself up over THAT as well). In short, it was just all bad.
A few months later, out of random coincidence, my roommate forwarded me this blog post about body image. For some reason, it just resonated with me and fundamentally changed the way I thought about exercise, and my own body.
How did my thinking change?
It went from a) You ate too much and now you must suffer the consequences by exercising to b) You should exercise just because its good for you. It went from a negative connotation of exercise to a positive one. It was really revolutionary.
How did that play out in my actual exercise regimen?
I realized that I had to stop thinking about calories, losing weight, and fitting into the jeans I used to wear in high school. I had to focus on exercising because I love my body and it’s a good thing to do.
So how did that actually play out?
I decided to try something radical. I decided to ditch the 45 minute treadmills and elliptical training sessions and just do something that I loved. I decided to just…go and play basketball whenever I felt like it. Yes that’s right. Whenever I felt like it. No specified number of times a week or anything. Just…whenever I wanted to play. That was it. Now I’m not gonna lie, at first I was worried, because yes basketball was fun, but I couldn’t shake off the nagging feeling that I was being stupid and I should stick to the rigorous exercise regimens all the other girls around me were trying to use. But after a few weeks, I realized that I had been to the gym on average 3 times a week! That was 3 times more than my previous average! I figured that was progress, so I kept at it. And as time went on, I found that basketball was so much fun, I started going 4 or 5 days a week, and played for a couple of hours each time. And because I wanted to get better at basketball, I started weight training as well.
That’s great for you Anu, but how does that relate to me?
I think the important thing that happened was that because I visited the gym regularly, I started seeing the benefits of exercise. I found that I could concentrate better when I studied. I also realized that after I exercised, the world became a lot clearer and I solved problems much faster. In fact, I realized that my best ideas came when I was at the gym.
Did You End Up Losing the Freshman 15?
Actually, I didn’t. But I got something better. I just felt really good about my own body. I realized that I will never be back to the size that I was in high school, but I felt ok about it. I eat, I exercise, I’m healthy, and most importantly, I feel good. That’s all that really matters at the end of the day.
Did You Try Any Diets?
No, and that’s one thing that I have also realized- diets are overrated. You have to be realistic about what you want and what you are willing to do. One thing we fail to realize is that being in perfect shape is a model’s full time job. It is hard work. Are we willing to have our own full time job and look like that? Even more important question- are we willing to give up the foods we probably love the most? The answer for me was pretty easy: No way. I will never have a “perfect body”, but I know that means that I get to eat my slice of cake every night. And to me, that’s totally worth it.
Also, there are so many articles that talk about trying to “trick” ourselves into thinking we have eaten when we don’t “need” to eat. I have realized that those cravings are things we should not ignore. They are our bodies way of telling us that something is wrong. For example, whenever I felt the need to eat excessive amounts of junk, I would take a step back and ask myself why I felt that way. Usually, it was because I was stressed about something at school, or at work- and my body’s way of telling me I was stressed was by craving junk. I believe in getting to the root of any problem so instead of giving in to cravings, I would go to the gym, figure out why I was stressed, and calm my own nerves. Usually, after I de-stressed, I didn’t feel like eating junk any more (but in the rare occasions when I did, I ate it).
The End Conclusion?
I think this blog post by one of my favorite bloggers sums up what I experienced independently over the past 6 years. The hardest part about exercising is getting yourself to start. So in the beginning, just focus on the fun, and not the results. Then after a while, you get hooked onto the feeling you get when/after you exercise, and you exercise to get to that point. Success is now defined as the feeling you get after you exercise, not the calories you burn or the sizes you drop. Also, be realistic about your size and what you want- most people think that to feel good, they must be back to the size they were in high school (or at least a few sizes smaller). However, I would argue that all you need to feel good about yourself is to exercise regularly, eat healthy food regularly, and (maybe) eat your junk food (in moderation) regularly.
At the end of the day, I am 25 pounds heavier than I was in high school (I went from 120 lbs to 145 lbs). But I am healthy and feel good about myself and my body in general. Now that I am in India, I have replaced basketball with dance (another one of my favorite activities). I get up every morning and either do strength training, a Bollywood Dance Workout video, or just put on the music and dance to my favorite songs.
Exercise is now a part of me and I really can’t live without it.