Fitness saved my life. Probably quite literally. It at least saved my sanity. Here’s how.
I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life but never recognized it as such. Instead, it displayed as anorexia and bulimia; abuse of laxatives, alcohol and other drugs. I was always searching for perfection, and punishing myself when I didn’t find it.
Perfection to me was a number on the scale. What?! I determined my self-worth by a number on the scale? Yep. People have always looked at me, at my body-type, and they assume I’ve never struggled with body issues or “weight”. The truth is: It’s not easy for anybody. We all struggle. And those who judge others as ‘having it easy” of naturally thin genes are off-mark.
Naturally thin is not naturally healthy, or strong. It is a façade. The fact that our society places so much importance on it, to the point that our health care system defines our health by our “weight versus height ratio” aka “BMI”, is proof of our backwards thinking. We are hard-wired to focus on numbers. Numbers that do not make sense.
At 16, I was 5’7” and 115 pounds. But I thought I was fat because I had gained weight (like any growing girl should, I also gained 4 inches in a year!), and I was freaked out by the number on the scale. To illustrate how much weight, I was 75 pounds and 5’3” my freshman year eating whatever I wanted…then went to 115 in a matter of 18 months. I was crazed with concern. I had been “SKINNY” my whole life, I let it define me. That is how everyone defined me. “You’re so skinny!” was always what people said as soon as I met them. I thought it was a compliment. Yes, I was. I was skinny. I was a dancer, I believed HAD to stay skinny. I would do whatever it took to stay skinny! Gaining 40 pounds was not acceptable! And I didn’t have the knowledge to realize all I was doing by starving myself and binge/purging was messing up my metabolism, and my long-term relationship with food and my body.
It never ended. The cycle of obsession with calories, with food, with the scale. It stayed with me into my mid-30s until I found fitness. Prior to this, I thought being skinny and reaching the number on the scale was what mattered. I did “work out” but I never lifted weights to get stronger or ran to get a better/stronger heart, I did it all to maintain (or lose) my weight. I went on every fad diet there was. I ate not to nourish my body, but to stay under a certain calorie limit– to keep that number on the scale where I wanted it.
At 35 I got laid off my job. Something great came out of it, something changed—-I became FIT. My entire life changed.
In the beginning:
- I exercised hard, I became fast, I became strong.
- My weight increased, but my size decreased.
- I stood up taller, I was more confident, I looked better, I felt better, I was happier. BUT, my weight was higher, which was killing me a bit.
- The scale seemed to lie, and I had a hard time coming to grips with this.
- I ran my first ever mile since high school testing. Wow, it felt good!
- I realized that the number on the scale is NOT the way to view yourself, yet we all do. “Fat” or “Skinny”, society has brainwashed us ALL to define ourselves by the number on the scale. WHAT?!?! AND, how much of our time is devoted to thinking about it? To making choices based on a number and not how food fuels your body?
- I began to see others differently. I became envious of those who were stronger, and often bigger….even those who weren’t fit. I was envious of those who weren’t a SLAVE to the scale. I vowed to work towards that goal.
- Eating empty “fat-free” carbs and counting my calories no longer made sense. I needed FUEL to feed my strong body to become better. I need protein and fats, and calories no longer mattered.
- I accomplished things I never thought possible physically. Running half-marathons, doing intense boot-camps, working out hard through my second and third pregnancies.
- I felt like the shackles of calories and the scale had been lifted.
- Many people who were “skinny” started to look unhealthy to me. I knew I WAS once that person, but I was no longer.
- I began to understand that “Skinny” is a ridiculous label that I did not “EARN”. But “fit” and “strong” were labels I now sought.
- My overall anxiety went down. I felt good about myself, and the cycle was BROKEN!
- I became a trainer and a Nutrition Consultant because I felt so awesome, because I saw things differently, and I wanted to share it.
- I also had a baby girl. My husband’s family are not thin, most of my family is not either. I know, very likely, that my daughter will not be “skinny” and I wanted to make sure I lived by example. I want to teach her to eat right, to exercise, to feel good about HER BODY as it is, and take care of it to make it strong and healthy, not to starve herself, count calories, weigh herself and have distain about her body.
- I ran a marathon at age 40 with 3 kids, the youngest was just over 1 year old. My eldest ran the last 3 miles with me and crossed the finish line. It was one of the best moments of my life.
Things are different now. I don’t care what I weigh because I know what to eat and how it works to serve my body. WHY would I be hard on my body? I am given one body. It is my DUTY to care for it. Some people might argue I don’t have to worry about the number on the scale anyway, that they can’t relate to this. ANYBODY can be free from the scale. It’s psychological. Love your body.
My anxiety? Still there, yep. But controlled, and not focused on self-perfection and punishing myself. (now, the house makes me crazy! LOL) I also strive to maintain a realistic vantage. Life is to be enjoyed, not endured. You don’t have to punish yourself. Love yourself and realize that your body is your temple, your vessel in this life. Take care of it. And Forgive. We all are on a journey, we all screw up. We all have bad days and make bad decisions, but to have guilt about “yesterday” will not do you any good. Just move forward.
No, I do not eat cake, cookies, pasta, bread, pizza. It’s not because of the calories. And, IT’S NOT ALWAYS EASY. It’s sometimes hard every day to make those choices. But, it gets easier and easier. It’s because it’s not good for me and doesn’t make me feel good. I know this. And I sometimes I do have a bite or 2, and that’s ok. I move on.
CALORIES, SCALES: I’m not a fan. I do not count calories, or even look at them. Recently, out of curiosity, I counted–and I consumed about 3400 calories that day. Whoa! And, it’s not because I am naturally thin that I CAN do that, it’s because my body has been made efficient by my hard work, and I have the know-how to make the right choices—knowing the right foods in the right combinations at the right times of day. I eat 2x the amount of calories I used to eat per day! Some people can weigh themselves and count calories and not obsess or feel guilty or let it determine their moods, etc. but some cannot.
I still work at this body and at my attitude towards it. Every once in awhile I step on a scale and I regret it. It shocks me that I weigh more but my clothing size is smaller than ever. And, then I start to get freaked-out by that number. That STUPID NUMBER that means nothing.
I also understand that this is part of my career, my profession. I don’t expect everybody to make the choices I make. But, I do hope with some education, people realize that the scale is not the answer. Counting calories is not the answer. Get knowledgeable about the right way to eat, work hard, rest enough, eat right. Take care of your body.
As I grow older, I know that I will not be able to continue high impact exercise and I should not. I know that taking care of myself means also looking out for my joints, thinking about my overall well-being. I am confident that I will feel good about decisions to “let go” of running because, let’s be honest, it’s not the best thing in the world for your body. But I know this will be a struggle, too. Because it has defined me for the last 8 years. It will be another huge struggle in my journey.
It’s never been a matter of “eating whatever I want”. It has never been “easy”. EVER. But, it’s certainly much more clear than ever that it’s about stay strong, lean and HEALTHY—mentally, physically, emotionally. It’s about not being obsessed.
What is stopping you from starting, restarting, or continuing to progress further in your journey? Whether it’s me or somebody else, find somebody KNOWLEDGEABLE who will keep you accountable for the right reasons.
It’s not easy for anybody. Don’t assume, just because somebody looks good, that they aren’t on a journey, too. Can fitness save everybody’s life like it did mine? Well, don’t just take my word, take a look at research. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise, The Exercise Prescription for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress”
Delaura “Del” Baldwin
NPTI Personal Trainer & Nutrition Consultant, AFA Group Fitness Instructor
Co-owner, Fitness Director, and Master Trainer at Delirium Fitness