Learning to Love My Body Through Exercise

This author learned to love exercise because she turned running into self-care. Read her tips for how to learn to love exercising and your body.
If someone told me six or seven years ago that I would turn into an avid runner, I probably would have responded with a soft chuckle and slight eye roll with a “yeah, ok,” said under my breath.

And yet, somehow, at 24, I find myself running nearly every day, having completed five marathons, and training for more! I went from scoffing at the idea of running a 5k to dreaming of someday qualifying and running the Boston Marathon.

How the heck did THAT happen?!

Ever since I can remember, I was always concerned with my body image and weight. I was a 12 year-old measuring out and weighing my food in an attempt to count calories and keep my weight down. Twelve.

When I noticed I was getting stretch marks in high school, it sent me into a panic. I associated them with getting fat instead of simply as a sign of physical growth.

Despite the fact that I was extremely active in high school — practicing martial arts and being a competitive equestrian — I viewed myself in a very negative light, feeling as though I was never doing enough to keep the weight off or the stretch marks from appearing.

When I got to college I had to find a new way to stay fit. So one day, I hopped on the treadmill and gave running a whirl. I hated it. Gosh, did I hate it. But I continued anyways.

When I studied abroad, the worst happened (or at least that’s how I felt at the time)…I gained a solid fifteen pounds. On my 4’11’’ frame, it felt like fifty pounds. So I signed myself up for the 2014 Chicago Marathon to lose the weight.

To my dismay, I didn’t lose that much weight. The best part of the process was finishing the race knowing that I never had to do it again. Yet, I found myself signing up for the Chicago Marathon in 2015 and 2016.

Looking back, I’m sure I did it to try to impress people. At least then other people would be proud of me if I couldn’t be proud of myself.

After the 2016 Chicago Marathon, I found myself in the lowest of lows and I couldn’t figure out why. In theory, I should’ve been at my happiest: I weighed less than I did in high school, I was in a great grad school program and in a relationship. When that relationship ended, it forced me to really look inward.

What I realized was that I wasn’t truly living for myself. Running was the prime example of this. Why do I run? Oh, so I can be skinny, and people will think it’s cool. I had turned running into a punishment for not being enough in my own eyes.

And so I decided to sign up for the 2017 Chicago Marathon with the intention of running it for me. With this in mind, I knew I had to change the way I looked at running.

Instead of viewing it simply as a means to fix my “imperfections” (i.e. my weight), I started looking at it as self-care. I ran to appreciate my body for what it could do.

Thus, running turned into a journey of forming and solidifying self-love. I actually started enjoying runs instead of seeing them as a necessary evil! I fell in love with running, because it helped me learn to love me.

When I crossed the finish line of that 2017 marathon, I knew I had finally turned the corner, because instead of thinking, “I didn’t make my goal time,” I felt an immense sense of love for the body that carried me for 26.2 miles!

And so exercise as a journey of self-love began and continues.

The sad thing about this is that I know I’m not the only one who has had a similar experience with body image and an unhealthy relationship with exercise.

We, as men and women, end up agonizing in front of the mirror and killing ourselves at the gym to force our bodies into a certain mold. But we have to realize that this is a completely perverse way of viewing exercise. It is meant to show us the great capabilities we hold within our bodies, not highlight our limits as dictated by society.

If you can relate to the mentality of exercise as punishment, I challenge you to shift your perspective on exercise. Make it an act of love! Here are some outlooks that have really helped me in my journey, and I hope that they prove to be useful to you!

  1. When it comes to exercise, defenestrate all outside expectations. Comparison is the thief of joy. The second you start comparing your workout to someone else’s you will immediately be disappointed. Why do that to yourself?! Focus on what you can do, and build off of that. Do that, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
  2. It is ok to take a day off. Your body needs rest! Leave the guilt at the door, and love your body by giving it much needed rest.
  3. Switch things up! As in everything, we get tired of doing the same thing over and over again, such that it starts becoming burdensome. The same is true with exercise. For example, even though I’d say running is my primary means of exercise, I do get burnt out. So that’s when I go for a swim. Or you could try a new exercise routine, maybe even something that scares you. If you’re not pushing yourself, you’ll never unlock all of your body’s potential.
  4. There will be ups and downs in your workouts, and that’s ok! Every good workout is a gift, and every bad workout teaches a lesson. In fact, I think bad workouts are often more beneficial, because you learn more about yourself, and it gives you something to work toward. And remember a ‘bad’ workout is still a workout. You got out there and did something positive for yourself and your body.
  5. Surround yourself with people who hold a positive view of exercise. What I mean by this is that you should find people who love exercise because it makes them stronger. Weed out the people who are obsessive about working out and yet refuse to fuel themselves properly. You cannot sustain a rigorous exercise regimen without eating the food that will help you recover or taking care of your mental health, too. You need people to help you stay balanced and get you excited about exercise as a form of self-love!

Always keep in mind why you exercise. It is rooted in love; a love for the amazing being that you are, made in God’s image.

“You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself thousands of reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes back to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” —Steve Prefontaine

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