Like many women, my love/hate relationship with exercise started in college.
College was the first time in my life I had to work out on my own. Up until then I had coaches pushing me along, but in college it was all on me. I was terrified of gaining the “freshmen fifteen” so I pushed as hard as I could. And thus began my obsession with the elliptical.
Everyday I would begrudgingly walk across campus to the gym and force myself to spend 60-90 minutes on the elliptical pushing myself to my breaking point. Then I would reward myself with beer. Lots and lots of beer.
It seems completely crazy when I think about it now – no wonder I gained weight in college. But at the time, I couldn’t see it. I would get so upset with my skinny friends that could eat and drink whatever they wanted and never went to they gym, when I was there busting my butt everyday. It seemed so unfair. Yet I knew if I stopped obsessively ellipticaling everyday I would gain double the weight (because cutting down on my booze intake was just NEVER going to happen), so I kept pushing and pushing. For four years. It was one of the most un-healthy periods of my life.
A Love Affair with Running
After college I moved out West and found a new obsession – long distance running. One 10K and I was hooked. I replaced late-night drinking with carbo-loading for long runs. I signed up for a half marathon and then a full. And then another full, and eventually another. I liked having something to work for – something that forced me to workout everyday even when I wasn’t in the mood. But as much as I liked being held to a schedule, I also hated it. Come Thursday I would start dreading the thought of my weekend long run. All day Friday I would obsess over it. And then if I didn’t get up first thing Saturday morning and run, my entire weekend would be spent feeling guilty. But once I did complete that week’s long run I would feel like a million bucks. Runner’s high is a REAL thing I tell you. A real, wonderful, beautiful thing.
I kept up with running for several years - through several jobs, diet crazes, heartaches, and cross-country moves. Running was always there for me. No matter where I was, I could put on my running shoes and in a matter of minutes be pounding the pavement – taking my fears and frustrations out on the road.
But then came that fateful day when running let me down. I was training for my fourth marathon and started dealing with some terrible foot pain. I went to a specialist that confirmed a case of tendonitis and he didn’t recommend doing the race. I was upset, but also relieved. My long runs were causing me so much anxiety and the post-run “highs” just weren’t outweighing the dread anymore. When the doctor told me to take a break I did. I took the longest exercise break of my life. Nearly an entire year. And while I thought it would be really good for me to dial things down it turned out to be one of the lowest points of my life.
Not exercising broke me.
I became deeply depressed- some days not even wanting to get out of bed. I had some dark, dark days, but eventually I woke up to what was happening and realized I needed to bring exercise back into my life. I met with a personal trainer and that’s when everything started turning around.
I traded 2-3 hour long runs and 90-minute elliptical sessions for 30-45 min circuit training sessions 4-6 days a week. I also incorporated strength training into my exercise program for the first time since high school. And almost immediately my mood changed. I started to feel more like myself again. I was happy and hopeful and re-energized about exercise.
I looked back at my relationship with exercise over the years and realized that it really had kept me sane. But it also made me crazy because I couldn’t find a healthy balance.
Today, I feel like I’ve finally found that healthy balance and by reframing the benefits – mental health first, physical benefits second – I can honestly say that I love exercise again. I don’t love/hate it. I simply love it. It’s my favorite part of the day!