Monday, May 23, 2005

Walking the thin line

I have a confession to make. When I began exercising consistently several years ago, I was motivated by reasons other than health. I wanted to look good. I have always hated the way my gut looks, and more than anything, I wanted "Britney Spears" abs (Britney Spears back then, not today). On the one hand, it motivated me to eat right and exercise, but I went through periods where I denied myself food and exercised way too much. I was very unhappy. There was this drill seargent in my head, barking orders, tearing me down when I took a day off.
I remember one run Jason and I took on a very hot, humid day. We were going for 6 miles, and I didn't feel so great, and it was around 1 pm, 95 degrees, and so humid, it was hard to breathe. I felt like crap, but I wouldn't stop. Jason asked if I wanted to stop. "Not unless I fall down, pass out, or throw up," I replied. Then I almost wanted one of those things to happen to justify stopping. That scared me. We joined a gym shortly after, and I spent 2-3 hours at the gym every day. It took up all my free time. I remember thinking that I couldn't keep this up because it was exhausting. There were days so low I remember wishing I could be anorexic. I would research the topic in search of ways to stop eating and not be hungry. "How do they do it?" I wondered. Did I lack the will and strength to abstain from food? This way of thinking was pathetic.
Somewhere around this time, I began having knee problems and started cross-training. I realized that triathlon training might be something I would enjoy. I signed up for my first triathlon and started training. I was logging around 15 hours a week at this time. Soon, I suffered from exhaustion and several injuries. I no longer looked forward to my workouts and I was becoming depressed and irritable. I was suffering from signs of overtraining. I learned that, sometimes, less is more, and I backed off on the training volume. I began to focus on the quality, not quantity of each workout. I outlined a plan for my training schedule so that not every workout was at such a high intensity level. I also scheduled rest days. This seemed to work a lot better. I could follow the plan and not be so afraid that if I took 1 rest day, that I would become a ball of flab.
The first triathlon was awesome. It was exhilarating and energizing. I felt so good and strong afterwards. It was liberating and built up my confidence. I was amazed at what my body could do. I wondered how much it could really do. For the first time, I was relishing in what my body could do, and not focusing so much on how it looked. At the same time, I was forced to listen to my body. After the race, I was exhausted and it was so rewarding to nap and watch movies the rest of the weekend. I had earned a rest. In addition, I was ravenous. My body told me what to eat. I craved eggs, fruit, and tuna fish. It was obvious that my body needed this. I slowly began listening to my body and trying to work with it to see how far I could go. I wasn't working against myself for the first time.
Today, I'm struggling with balancing lab and a drastically changing life with routine and exercise, which I crave. I've lost a significant amount of fitness, and this depresses me. At the same time, it feels good to work out simply for the work out and not for some ultimate competitive goal. I'm learning to enjoy exercise again for the simple pleasure of the exercise and fresh air. It's nice not to be so competitive and not feel so pressured. There's something about getting outside and running until your panting and dripping sweat that is refreshing.
It's still a constant battle. I think I will feel better once I steer myself back on track--with regular workouts and a healthier eating plan. Right now, I feel like a blob. I know I could revert back to my original, over-critical self very easily, and I'm fighting it. It's not rational. In my head, I know what is good for me and healthy, but emotionally, I feel like sometimes I have no control over these belittling, self-deflating thoughts. I plod on.


Hugh said...

I'm glad you were able to steer clear of that. I went a few rounds with Anorexia and Bulemia a long time ago. The worst thing is to compare oneself to others. Everybody's body is different.

Lots of protein! Low fat cottage cheese and salmon are good. :)

Kevin said...

i totally agree. i think my biggest problem, especially in the gym, is to fall into the trap of looking at others and being more worried about how i stack up (literally as I stack on another plate sometimes) to them instead of focussing in on why i am there in the first place.

With the obsessive personality, i find that it is so easy to fall into many disorders really. (part of the reason i have never once placed a bet in my life)

Two things I can relate with...

You mentioned wanting "briney spears'" abs (kind of goes back to hugh's comment), it reminded me of the guy on the front of the "Vitamin World" magazine that I have on my coffee table that I have so wanted to look like for the past couple of months. I have never strived to look like a star because their bodies seem unobtainable, but the model on the magazine looks like a normal guy who is buff. after reading your entry and pondering this for a couple of days now, i may actually throw that magazine away when i get home today.

also, as you wrote about looking into ways to "not be hungry", it reminded me so much of myself. I think it is because I want to be in control of everything, and the includes my body's physical needs. the only problem is, the body needs what it needs, and i have found that i cannot control that no matter how hard i try.

It is comforting to know that there are other people out there that have dealt with this (i am not alone), and conquered it. i applaud you, and i hope to continue to fight it as the summer draws on, and not give into "the darkside"...thanks so much for sharing your story.

btw...i have found that when i place my focus on the needs of others as i plod through my weekly regimen, i am not as consumed with my appearance.

Rachel said...

Thank you so much for your supportive comments. It's nice to know I'm not alone. I'm working hard on loving my body and not comparing myself to others. I have such high standards for myself that it's not acceptable to look anything less than perfect. Silly, huh? Thank you so much for your comments.