Friday, June 24, 2011

Falling Off the (Working Out) Wagon

I was inspired to write a piece about working out (or lack there of) for several reasons: I haven't written about my experiences when it is very much a part of my day-to-day life whether I'm physically doing something or thinking (or obsessing) about how I should be doing something, I follow a blog of a fellow IC Alum Ashely who writes about many things including her training, and primarily because I have fallen off the work-out wagon so to speak and am seriously struggling to get back on, and another IC Alum and fellow blogger, Steff, posted this vlog on her page about being injured and having to slowly get back into her routine/training schedule and I could relate a lot.

(I am not in this photo)
When I was younger...
I was an athlete.  I never thought of myself as an athlete, but I was always really active from a very young age.  I was on a baseball team from the age of five or six and switched to softball when girls were no longer allowed to play on the baseball team and had to play softball.  I was at one time or another first, second, and third base.  I also played short-stop and pitched.  I also danced ballet and tap from the age of four or five until my dance teacher moved and for some reason I just stopped. I think I was ten. I should say now that I am not one of those people with a very good or clear memory from my early years; it's spotty and vague until I turned twelve. I was also a Girl Scout from a Daisy on, and no, that is not an athletic sport, however, we went on many trips including hiking.  I also went to camp in the summer, rode my bike throughout the neighborhood; always loved swimming which lead to swimming on a team that was not school-affiliated throughout high school,  and couldn't sit still when I was little.

When I was a teenager...
By the time I got to high school, I had stopped playing rec softball and refused to play for the school team because I felt like such an outsider.  I actually went to a Catholic high school, JFK, for a month or so until I transferred back into the public high school. But in my short stay there I went to JV Volleyball tryouts and was one of two freshman who made the team.   Once transferring back into public school, again, I did not tryout for the school team. I hadn't been dancing for a few years at that point.  I found running completely boring and had no desire for soccer, field hockey, or track.  I swam.  I was a  fish who had found my water and had two hour practices after school four- five days a week.  But my major activities from the age of twelve on became obsessing, flirting with, and hooking up with boys (and girls),  along with drinking booze and smoking pot along with using some other substances.  The more disconnected I felt from my peers and the more difficult home life was, I escaped into that world of non-reality.

College came and I really wanted to row on Crew, but there was required running early in the mornings and by this point my obsession and severely misconstrued body image kept me from trying-out for the swim team.  And every year I partied hard, became more sedentary, and gradually gained weight.  Realized I had gained, and ferociously restricted food and became obsessive about working out, feeling like a failure if I left the gym before at least sweating for an hour, and usually spending the first hour on a cardio machine.

Since College...
I have moved many times since graduating six years ago. In total, I have moved 13 times in six years. Some of these very short lived, the first three moves were within that first summer after I was officially an IC alum.  With all of this moving, I have had many different gym memberships: In Florida, I went to Bally Total Fitness, had a personal trainer; I would pack my gym bag before making the hour commute to work, and would hit the gym in the rush-hour crowd after work before getting back to the house.  When I moved back to my hometown, I joined a gym a town away in order to remain as anonymous as possible, and again would pack my gym bag and hit the gym after work.  In the past four years of living back in Ithaca, I have been a member of the nicest local gym and therefore, unfortunately, the most expensive gym in town Island Health Fitness.

I have fluctuated from being disciplined and working out regularly, always obsessed with the number of calories I burn doing cardio--feeling less than enthusiastic if I ever stopped before burning at least 500. I had lost forty pounds the first year of no longer drinking or ingesting any substances other than nicotine and was working out six times a week.  My anxiety during that period was very high and that intense energy drove me to the gym, not needing much more for motivation or questioning my desire or goals.  Then the following year my anxiety decreased and I began the quest to find an appropriate medication (an antidepressant I take for my pmdd) and being new to the pill-popping world, I also experienced fluctuations with my weight and desire to workout; suffering from debilitating depression monthly, not wanting to be seen and also having a very detached and unrealistic view of my own body and what my goals were.  This tends to now be a noted pattern ever since I have not been a part of a team activity or training with others with a like-minded goal.

This brings us back to the vlog mentioned in the very beginning of this post.  One of the first things she mentions is the trap of comparing yourself to others.  Guilty as charged!  (And my so-to-speak-hat is off to anyone who doesn't suffer from this).  It's gotten better, but god damn the judgments can creep in when I least expect them to.  As she goes on to discuss acceptance of her body and the injuries it has endured she says,. "I am not defined by my fitness pursuits.  I am not defined by my training.  I am smart.  I am talented.  I am a million other things.  That not being as successful as I want to be in this one domain does not make me any less of a valuable person...we're all unique, we're all different. Your fitness, your joy, your happiness your success, is not going to look like anyone elses...this is my vow: I'm going to listen to my body and respect it's limits. "

As someone who recently had re-focused on my work-out routine, had gradually increased my activity starting from two days a week up to six days regularly, alternating between moderate to heavy cardio training, including two different spinning classes, elliptical/treadmill training, and swimming laps, to trying out and finding a yoga instructor I liked, including strength training and ultimately joining an eight-week group fitness program that I didn't finish due to a death in the family and a complete loss of motivation, I am someone who continually has struggled with being compassionate with myself when it comes to my weight, my body image, and thus my work-out routine.  I tend to hold my standards and expectations really high, so this piece is acknowledging I'm human, that I struggle with maintaining a level of discipline in my activity level, that I get really frustrated when my back injuries flare up and cause me setbacks and I struggle with judging myself when I find it difficult to jump back on the wagon. It's part of my journey to remember that as life changes, so do my goals, and to ultimately remember no one thing defines me or my worth.


  1. Laura, thanks for this post.

    I started off as a sedentary child, the opposite of you. I was pudgy throughout elementary and middle school, and starved myself to lose weight in high school rather than work out, which I had convinced myself I could not do because I was not athletic. Only in college did I find people who could help me navigate the gym, and learning to build endurance as a runner is still one of my favorite accomplishments.

    But even then, as growing athleticism empowered me, my attitude towards my weight remained unhealthy. I became addicted to losing weight, never seeing how thin I had become. Now, when my husband looks at pictures of me from those years, he's appalled. He thinks my visible neck and chest bones were gross. And they were. In those photos, I also look sallow and miserable.

    Learning to be more than our bodies is the grand struggle for most women. At the same time, we also want to care for our bodies. The line is so thin, it's practically invisible. Working out because it feels good and keeps our hearts and lungs and muscles in shape can so quickly devolve into calorie-counting and cyclical motivation, resulting in self-punishment and even less motivation than before.

    I have no answers here, but I do relate and applaud your honesty.

  2. It's amazing how women can starve themselves and feel terrible and yet get the most compliments. It really makes me sad that we live in a culture that applauds and perpetuates such unhealthy and unrealistic body images for both men and women, but I can only speak from my experience.

    I remember a brief period of eating as little as possible, working out really hard, and losing a lot of weight during a break-up with a boyfriend in HS. I still felt like I was huge and when I look at those pictures now, I can see how my clothes were falling off of me. I remember people kept telling me how great I looked but inside I felt awful.

    I think the more women are honest about this, the less alone we feel when the inner critic starts to scream. Somedays are easier than others, as goes with almost everything. Thank you for your honesty in return!