And Never Looked Back
Now, let me make one thing clear - this is not a gym hating post. I used to be one of the biggest supporters of the gym. I was there every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I needed my gym fix and that surge of adrenaline and dopamine to get through my daily routine. I couldn't wait to pick out my outfit, program a new playlist, see my gym crew, and pump up.
But here's the thing - I realized that all of those good things were coming from a bad internal place. My healthy routine became an addiction, one that was interfering with my ability to balance the rest of my life, and making me feel badly if I missed a day (or, frankly, was there for less than an hour at a time). My friends and I only talked to each other about sets, PRs, max, pre, routines, protein, diet, percentage body fat, and we'd razz each other if we missed a session, regardless of the reason. Homework or time with family wasn't a reason not to "stay dedicated." I began comparing myself to every single person in the gym; my thighs weren't thin like hers. I couldn't lift like him. I didn't have the right headphones or shoes. Was I really the only one not in Gym Shark? Her stomach is so flat, I could never pull off leggings and a sports bra in public - wait wait stop.
What the heck was going on with me?
My depression returned and my eating disorder, which I'd gotten under great control, reared it's ugly head. I was nasty to my husband and friends, I was prioritizing workouts over literally everything else, no matter the cost. And no matter what I did, no matter how much I exercised, I was never, never happy. When I stepped back, I realized I was not at all living a healthy lifestyle, but destroying my health every single time I stepped into the gym.
I realized that the gym was nothing but a breeding ground for the Ego - that nasty voice in my mind that said I'm not good enough, I had to do more, do better, and do it now. I wasn't like the perfect bodies in the gym, I didn't belong there and I was a fraud. My diet wasn't perfect like the body builders, I wasn't as strong as the power lifters, and I wasn't as dedicated as the 6am-ers who showed up for two or three hours before school or work. I wasn't enough. I wouldn't be enough. I should give up, because everyone saw me and knew I wasn't one of them.
I know a lot of you are reading this right now and going "Um, well that's your problem - the gym for me is an escape and I have never felt any of those things" and you're right! It is my problem. But I'll bet anything I'm not the only one who's felt the "gymtimidation" - externally or internally. So whichever side of this you're on, here me out, because it may be useful for someone you know, if not you yourself.
Well I took a step back and tried to look at this gym relationship from a different angle and realized it was just that - a relationship. If the gym was a SO and made me feel this way, would I stick around? Hell no. So why was I being "that girl" giving the crappy other half chances over and over again and hoping it would get better?
It's been six months since I've been to the gym.
And I am happier and healthier than ever.
It's not me, it's you.
Once I figured out that the gym was nothing but a breeding ground for Ego and bad health, I knew I had no intention of returning. But my wellness is still important to me, so how was I going to make sure I still stayed healthy? You know, it's actually a lot more simple than you think, and doesn't require gobs of time and smelly gym socks in the back seat of my car. Here's my checklist for transitioning from the dark side:
Handle the withdrawals - Yep, like any other addiction, you gotta handle the aftermath. It sucks. You feel like a failure. Anger makes you feel stupid for not being strong enough for gym culture. It's Ego again, trying to keep you down. Remember Ego's only job is to keep you from growing. When you become a better and better version of yourself, your Ego loses it's job. Take time to rest, to feel the feels, to let yourself decompress.
Social Media Detox - Get rid of the fitness accounts, the models, the nutrition coaches, the gear brands, anything that is evil fuel for Ego. You'll just compare yourself to unrealistic standards. You know when to move, you know when to rest. You know that a blueberry is healthy and deep friend onion rings are not. It's not a hard balance to find, and you certainly don't need someone else telling you what's good for their body, which is completely different from yours, is what you need to be doing too. Plus, none of those people are real, anyway. #fakestagram
Let go of the standards - Why DO you need washboard abs, to run a sub six mile, jacked thighs or bulging biceps? We have washing machines now, you are not running from Dr. Eggman, and do you have any idea how hard it is to find shorts or t-shirts that fit as it is?? Listen, if it's a goal you have, then great - just don't get too obsessed with it, okay? And remember that genetics are a huge factor here. You could do all the right things and never achieve "the look" and that's fine, too.
Fall back in love with yourself - YOU. ARE. PERFECT. The end. You have this thing called a natural "set point" which is a weight and muscle amount that your healthy body wants to chill at. Now if you're over or underweight, have weight or exercise related noncommunicable diseases, then you are not at your set point, and you should follow up with your PCP to find out where you should be. But for those who are at that set point, your shape is your shape. Embrace that! NO ONE else looks like you. NO ONE has your shapes, your curves, your lines, your unique combination of humanness. That's honestly so, so cool. And it took me a long time to love the rolls of my tummy or the shake in my this or the softness in my arms, but you know what? Once I saw the health radiating from where my body wanted to hang out instead of where I was trying to force it to, we became BFF's. I'm happier mentally, I'm not dealing with injuries, and this is the first time in over two decades that I haven't gotten horribly sick over the winter and needed antibiotics. That was certainly a sign for me.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle - most of us are super sedentary (thank you American societal norms). I would consider myself successful in my home and career, and yet my only movement came from the gym. That is the antithesis of success, really. So find time to be more active during the day. Stand a little every hour (smart watches are great for reminders), take walks, engage in active leisure activities. For me, it's playing more with my fids, falling back in love with running, practicing yoga at home, going hiking - all things I already love. And when I want a "workout" I pull up a video to follow at home or body weight exercises I already know. Easy.
Break free - It's weird, when you stop going to the gym. People asked me what was wrong, was I sick? Hurt? My gym friends literally vanished - but then again, I used to be one of those hyper focused, tunnel-visioned individuals, too. But I look at all of the wonderful things I've gained; I can sleep in how with hubs, I don't lose hours a day to "punishing" myself for what I ate, didn't do, or can't do. I started living with myself in the present, instead of hating my "now" in favor of my "future" (that, let's be real, isn't ever going to happen). I eat what feels good for my body - fresh fruits and veggies, yummy yogurt and grains, burgers (with the WHOLE bun! Not "skinnied"), and I eat when I'm hungry, not on a macro schedule.
Basically, what I'm saying is I found peace, happiness, and love again. Gym culture has helped a lot of people, but I wasn't one of them. Telling myself I was the problem instead of realizing I was trying to go against my nature was the problem. If you're like me, - THERE'S NO SHAME! Just know that you CAN be healthy AND happy, you just need to try another way.
But if you're struggling to figure out where to begin in this - of course you know I'm here to help! Don't ever be shy about reaching out for guidance. It's my whole purpose of this incarnation, after all.