I'm reclaiming fitness from diet culture

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In late November I started a new job and there's a beautiful gym facility right on campus. I joined on my first day because I was thrilled for the opportunity to get back to working out consistently after having a not-so-regular routine for 2+ years.

I had BIG plans to get up early, be at the gym by 5:30am, do my thing, then get showered and dressed in enough time to be at my desk and sipping coffee by 8:00. This would happen 3 to 4 times a week.

It was perfect. 

I stuck to the plan for the first few days, but after 2 weeks, I stopped going. The motivation to do a prescribed workout or be on a cardio machine for 30 minutes wasn't there. I just wasn't feeling it...especially before 6am.

Here's the thing though: I LOVE EXERCISE. LOVE IT. 

But recently my workout regimen has been drastically different from when I did fitness competitions a few years back.

Back then, my workouts would be nicely written out and I'd work specific body parts on certain days: legs, back, chest, abs. I did this 5-6 days a week. I did it even when I didn't feel like it.

However, having to do very specific workouts almost every day to achieve and maintain a lean body took a toll on me. The pure enjoyment of physical activity slipped away. 

I wasn't quite sure why. 

But this quote by Virgie Tovar gave me some clarity:

"Human beings need food and movement to survive. Diet culture steals food and movement, deeply pathologizes them, then commodifies them and sells them back to us."

Somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind, I was still connecting exercise with physical appearance. I was still doing workouts because "they were good for getting in shape", not because I truly enjoyed them. 

I realized that this toxic idea about fitness was still lodged in my muscle memory, and as a result, I was on autopilot at the gym. 

In our culture, exercise is so connected with losing weight that it's difficult to untangle the two. It's one of the reasons many people have such fraught and dysfunctional relationships with exercise. 

Physical activity is rarely tied to feeling good or just feeling what it's like to move in the body we have. We've been taught to be concerned about heart rates and calories burned and muscles being built. 

"Not-enoughness" runs rampant in mainstream fitness: I didn't spend enough time, I didn't do enough reps, I didn't lose enough weight.

The external forces and voices take over and suck all the fun out of the room.

So, I'm reclaiming exercise and fitness for myself. 

I'm keeping some of the things I've always loved like lifting weights and stretching; I'm throwing away the things that I hate like cardio machines and running. I'll even explore some new things this year. 

Here's the truth: the messages we hear about exercise are not only in our minds, but I believe they get stuck in our arms, legs, thighs, bellies, and hips too.  

So I'll be stretching, lifting, and kicking old ideas of fitness from my body, and reclaiming it as something that connects me to myself.

This will be the year I choose movement that respects and accommodates my aches and pains instead of overriding them.

I choose movement that is nourishing and not punishing.

I choose movement that makes me feel the aliveness in my body.

When I expand the definition of exercise, I can't fail. Whatever I choose will always be enough.

I will always be enough.

Here's to an expansive and abundant new year, 

Melissa

P.S. If you have some thoughts and beliefs to unravel around food, exercise, and body, I hope you can join us for Write To Get Free. It's a 4-week, self-paced writing course with weekly reflections and prompts designed to help you unlearn the stories and messages that tell you you're not enough unless you lose weight. Registration is $59.

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