In seminary, which was a year spent in Israel, we used to eat a full box of cereal in one sitting. It was 90 calories a serving, better than 300 calories: we ate the full box. Springtime had us speed walking for hours. The goal was to shed what we considered, “excess weight”; instead I think we shed the happy carelessness that is the hallmark of youth, and replaced it with anxiety.
By summer, I was married. This marriage was to a dusty elliptical and my commitment to obsessive cardio was all at once exhilarating and isolating. I lost that “seminary bloat” faster than I’d predicted, and along the way, I learnt more about an active lifestyle; the way reaching a fitness goal made me feel unstoppable, strong of body and mostly of mind. I ran miles, lifted weights, cycled; chasing down each milestone with frenetic meals, standing over the kitchen sink.
A tray of brownies, eaten mindlessly and without tasting, would leave me depleted, wondering why if I was so fit, I had nothing to physically show for it.
That elliptical was replaced by a real-life marriage, a husband who supported my multi-hour runs and joined me in the ravenous meals that followed. Awhile after, I had an emergency c-section. I remember how I reached to see if my hip bones had reappeared. I was still numb post surgery, my firstborn in someone else’s hands; dazed from what almost had happened and the rush to control it. Had my hip bones reappeared?
For the next decade or so, my relationship with fitness continued to improve, morphing into different iterations of the same theme, acting as impactful metaphors for life. I thought, if I have this kind of fortitude of spirit and mind to stay active, my strength might just be limitless in all areas of life. It was glorious.
My fitness goals exceeded everything, socially, emotionally, and even physically- I never stopped.
I had three daughters during this time frame, gaining just twelve pounds each pregnancy, sprinting into high-risk labors each time.
I began to eat in a way that fueled my fitness. Unrefined carbs before a long run served as a quick burst of energy; protein to restore my muscles within thirty minutes post movement was standard. Some of these nutrition habits were social media bluffs, others had landing in scientific studies.
Exercise continued to be my North Star in my eating evolution, and I was on fire, fueling myself like an athlete- energetic, lithe.
On the flipside of that euphoria came what I kept trying to ignore: the way my fitness goals exceeded everything.. I needed to be the best in a room of the best; I ran six miles in 40 minutes and I lifted heavier than the men I sweated alongside. My music choices had heavy bass, big drops, loaded with endorphins.
And then something shifted.
I began to read more about kindness to oneself. It confused me: isn’t pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone what we’re here to do? How do I know if I’m being lazy, or if I’m “listening to my body” by choosing inactivity over motion? What would my movement look like if there was no physical outcome? What do I want to be known for when this is all over?
What, and who, are my anchors?
Incrementally, my workouts and eating patterns became less extreme. I needed to eat to feel good; sometimes that looks like a nourishing salad, sometimes it’s cookies, sometimes, yes, it’s mindless, because of course, each one serves a vital, human role. I have to stay constantly vigilant in my mindfulness that this was a choice I made- a choice to value what my intuition wants, and less so with what I think I need to want.
I am present. I am rushing nowhere. I workout every day in my baby’s little room. The lighting is terrible, there is a small mirror I never clean. I crank up my favorite playlists of yore, they’re called “Hype,” and “Beast Mode,” and “Savage”; and they’re too loud. It’s all wrong. Sometimes I exercise in silence. I am alone, and my endorphins have gone into hiding; the drills feel as if by rote. But my cup is full.
My focus is inward, and it is hard work. l
I miss the unity that comes from reaching a goal together, sprinting the fastest and the longest in a room of people sprinting like athletes. I miss the beat drops, the grunting, I miss watching the people who need the barbell after me remove some of plates.
But I am present: I am learning the nuances of my girls’ personalities; I am not rushing them out the door and I am home when they return. It is not a burden; they are my gift. I am proud of being lower energy, my voice is softer, I listen to my husband a little bit more closely.
Truthfully, I have not fully internalized the rhetoric that states I should love myself because I am smart, or kind, or a good mother, or funny.
Instead, I tell myself, you are imperfect because you are human.
I say, be gentle, because at every one of those stages, you were exactly where you needed to be.
We are so quick to demonize past versions of ourselves, but I prefer to hold space for each stage.
I see the one who felt she needed to be the smallest in the room to find the right husband, and I empathize with her. I get it.
I miss the energetic, obsessive athlete more often than I’d like to admit, because reaching those goals had me feeling alive, powerful, invincible.