My Fitness Journey

Fitness versus wellness... is there a difference? I think I have always strived for fitness but haven’t always been focused on wellness. To me, wellness includes having a healthy routine that fuels your body AND your mental wellbeing.

For nearly all my life I have been an athlete. I played ice hockey since I was in first grade, and through those years I was also dedicated to softball, cheerleading, and dabbled in soccer, basketball, and volleyball. These sports involved a lot of strength and endurance.

I was a bit more “thick” than other little girls. I had leg muscles from long and intense hockey practices, and I remember one time telling my mom that I thought I was fat. She showed me a picture of Serena Williams on a magazine cover and told me, “look at her. She is so muscular, and she is strong and beautiful, like you!” Looking back, I can’t believe I felt this way about my body when I was a child. Once I got to high school, I began focusing my time on cheerleading. I think after many years of being a tomboy, I wanted to focus my athleticism on something “cuter” and “cooler.” So, I dropped all my other sports, even my childhood favorite, which was being on the ice and kicking the boys’ butts in hockey.

Being a high school cheerleader was physically and mentally crushing. I pushed my body to the limits, all the while consuming less than 1,000 calories a day. Sophomore year, I was one of three girls my age to make the varsity team. The varsity squad was almost all seniors, and I felt intimidated and inferior. The team I was on was all about looking and being perfect, and it took a serious toll on my happiness. It also messed with my body. Our practices focused on tricks and stunts, and I was throwing tumbling passes that I was not fundamentally prepared to do. At the time, I weighed 100 pounds and was lifting senior flyers who were incredible athletes and were heavier than me. They were not happy, to say the least, when I couldn’t keep them up in the air. I developed aches and pains in every joint of my body, and my back was constantly aching. No one ever taught us how to be safe. They only wanted us to look perfect, at all costs. Long story short, I ended up  quitting cheerleading, and this was the unfortunate last experience I had playing sports. I was left with a feeling of defeat and a distaste for the shape and abilities of my own body.

For the rest of the year after I quit, I started hitting the gym to make up for the physical activity I was no longer getting. I strictly focused on cardio, spending excessive amounts of time on the elliptical or treadmill. I counted calories obsessively and restricted my diet in ways that were unhealthy for a growing teenager. This pattern was thankfully interrupted late in my high school career once I became active in the performing arts at my school. I finally began channeling my energy into something positive instead of being narrowed in on finding a way to make my body shrink. Being a part of theatre and competitive speech allowed me to grow into a mentally strong and confident woman. I finally felt that I had value as a person because I felt talented and respected. I belonged to a group of people who were accepting and loving of everyone.

In college, I didn’t continue to take part in the performing arts, but I will forever recognize that it saved my mental health in my late teens. I had a wonderful college experience and didn’t focus much on fitness and exercise, but the negative feelings about my body lingered. I went to the gym and went for runs occasionally, but I wasn’t very consistent. I gained weight throughout college, and graduated at the heaviest weight I have ever been in my life. My body did not look the way I necessarily wanted it to, and I didn't have a way to be active and athletic without falling back into a poor relationship with my self image.

This pattern continued for me until grad school, when I met my boyfriend. He is very into lifting weights, and he does it because he loves it. He has a healthy balanced life and enjoys his fitness routine because it makes him feel good about himself. What a concept! I had never experienced that before. I started lifting weights with him, and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I began to really love it. Exercising finally felt good to me because it meant that I could become stronger. I could gain something from working out instead of always focusing on losing. I could set goals for myself and look at myself in the mirror and see that I was getting stronger! This was so exciting to me, and two years later, it still is. I can honestly say that lifting weights has saved my self esteem. I love walking into the gym and feeling powerful. I love seeing how my body can surprise me with what I'm able to do. And most importantly, I love my body. I love the way I look and I have never felt better in my own skin.

In the two years that I’ve been lifting, I’ve had different phases. Sometimes I go to the gym every day. Sometimes I only make it a few times a week, and sometimes I don’t make it at all. Either way, I’ve learned that it’s okay. Why? Because your body is your HOME, and it’s meant for feeling healthy, safe, and secure. Yes, there is pressure to strive for a certain aesthetic. Yes, I still have moments when I feel a lack of confidence and wished I looked like the fitness models I see on Instagram. I still feel moments of guilt and have bad days, too, but at the end of the day I can say I am thankful. Thankful that I am healthy, strong, and happy. As everything in life goes, finding wellness in fitness is a process. I am a work in progress, and overall, I’m still learning to love myself more with each passing day.