cw: weight, exercise, eating/food
Every since discovering BodyPosiPanda (Megan Crabbe) on Instagram, and having my eyes opened to the beautiful and inclusive world of body positivity, I’ve wondered how to approach my exercise routine and eating in a way that ‘fit the ethos’. While I loved Megan’s book ‘Body Positive Power: How to stop dieting, make peace with your body and live’, a lot of her thoughts around food and exercise are based on her perspective as someone who has recovered from an eating disorder. For me, as someone who has never experienced that kind of obsession with dieting and excessive exercise, some of her advice was hard for me to fit into my personal experience as a fat woman, and my personal relationships with food and exercise.
Given this, I want to take this opportunity to write about my experiences, and how I focus on my health and wellbeing (specifically my mental health) by improving my nutrition and having a consistent exercise plan. This won’t be relevant to everyone’s experience, just like some of BodyPosiPanda’s experience wasn’t relevant to me – but I think it’s important to share diverse and personal stories about wellbeing, especially in the plus-sized community where you can feel, in turns, demonised and applauded for the perception of wanting to lose weight. That’s not what this is about, but if it happens as a consequence, that’s fine with me. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too.
Note: it’s ok to talk about health and wellbeing AND to be body positive. I want to quote from Megan’s blog quickly, because I think she says it better and more succinctly than I ever could.
“There is a huge difference between living a healthy lifestyle and following diet culture. Pursuing health is about balance, it’s about a nutritious and varied diet and being more physically active for the benefits of feeling better. It is not painfully restrictive and it’s not based around a goal weight or fitting into a certain size by a certain date. Healthy lifestyles are great, if that’s what floats your boat… Healthy lifestyle = good (if that’s what you’d like to do, but are by no means obliged to or worth less if you don’t). Diet culture = bad.” (emphasis added)
The times in my life when I’ve put on the most weight have coincided with periods of incredibly high stress and anxiety, and that’s not a coincidence. Without putting any value judgements on weight, obviously when you’re putting on weight (without any associated health issues like PCOS) it’s because you’re eating badly or too much, and not doing enough exercise. Duh. What I personally know is that during times when I am eating badly, eating too much (stress eating rather than hunger eating), and not exercising, I also tend to be sleeping badly, getting breakouts on my face, am short tempered and nasty to people, and my ability to cope with my Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is very, very low. My anxiety can manifest as stress, and also as periods of depression – so when I talk about my GAD in this post, I’m also referring to stress, depression, mood swings and the like. I’ve never been able to figure out if my eating/exercise routine (and subsequent weight gain) makes my GAD worse, or if it’s the other way around, but regardless – my mental health and my wellness regime (food and exercise) are very tightly linked, and I need to look after one to deal with the other.
For these reasons, and for general fitness and wellbeing, I’ve been somewhat active for my entire life – I did dancing for 12 years, and played in sports teams until I was 16. It wasn’t until I was about 19 (4+ years ago) that I started going to the gym and running with consistency, which was a huge factor in managing strain on my neck and shoulder, and the stress of university and moving away from home. Since I started working in an office environment about 2 years ago, I’ve found that exercise has become even more crucial, as I have a very sedentary work week, where I am sitting for 7+ hours a day, five days a week.
In Hobart, my gym of choice has always been All Aerobics, though in many ways I didn’t get to choose it as my gym, since my mum has been going there since I was 2 or 3 (and I used to go to the gym child care!). In fact, my mum bought her 21st year of gym membership last year, so it’s fair to say they’ve known me for pretty much my whole life. But, of course, as a grown adult, it was my choice to choose to go to All Aerobics, and I did so for a few reasons – obviously, they’ve known me a long time, so I feel comfortable with the staff there. But it’s also a gym with a very diverse clientele, ranging in size, age, and reason for being there, which makes it a welcoming environment to be in. They have a competitive rate, lots of great classes, are open 24 hours, and employ really wonderful staff and trainers. They also offer small group training (platinum club) and personal training (PT), which you can do for a discounted cost as a ’12 week challenge’ – you get access to the regular gym facilities, platinum club, and have a personal training session every week with a PT who helps you assess what goals you want to reach and how you want to reach them. I’ve done a few of these, since it’s a cost effective way to do both PT and platinum, plus I find that having someone to help me focus on exercise is a great way to connect back in mentally with my body, to assess where I’m feeling strong, and why I like to exercise. To be honest, I also love a brainless hour of chatting to a PT while I exercise and don’t have to think about anything – and as a bonus, I feel awesome when our session is over and I know I’ve worked out really hard.
Now hear me out – it’s not a ‘LOSE WEIGHT FAST! SHED KILOS IN OUR 12 WEEK CHALLENGE!’ kind of environment. Sure, it’s about seeing results, but an important part of the process is assessing what you want those results to be. For my most recent stab at getting an exercise routine in place, I sat down with my gorgeous trainer Hannah and we discussed my work and personal life, my exercise and training goals, my physical and mental health, and what I wanted to get out of the next 12 weeks that wasn’t to do with fitness or weight but who I was as a person. We mapped out an exercise schedule that I felt was achievable and yes, I was weighed and measured so we can see if there are any changes over the 12 weeks.
My goals were:
- Squat 100kg
- Fit back into my favourite clothes, including Gorman
- Have more energy
- Eat more vegetables + fruit
- BE HAPPY
I’m feeling particularly fragile on the mental health front at the moment, so I know it’s an important time to dig deep and establish some really good eating and exercise habits – these are the things that help me sleep well and get through a work day when my anxiety makes me want to cry in my bedroom with the lights off for hours at a time.
I might do a second post about this when my 12 week challenge ends in mid-June, but in the mean time, I’d love to hear about your experiences with exercise and wellbeing. How do you manage stress and anxiety? Would you be interested in reading a post about self-care and dealing with GAD?
Lots of Love