We live in a culture that places an enormous emphasis on being physically fit. Everywhere you look you see something about the newest diet or latest fitness routine that promises you happiness, satisfaction, & joy. We are told our number one pursuit should be an ideal body; a body that is skinny but not too skinny, toned but not too toned, tall but not too tall, short but not too short. I honestly feel like I can never win & I have a feeling some of you guys feel that way too.
I recently searched “fitness motivation” on Pinterest and here are some of the quotes that I stumbled upon:
“Be somebody no one thought you could be.”
“Your body can stand almost anything it’s your mind that you have to convince.”
“Do it for the after selfie.”
“Train insane or remain the same.”
There were also many, many quotes that used profanity and body-shaming as a means of motivation. Reading these quotes makes me sick to my stomach. I used to be one of those people who was obsessed with working out. And if I am being completely honest I am still trying to figure out the balance between rest and activity. I really, truly, genuinely enjoy working out. It helps me relieve stress and keeps me healthy. I have loved it growing up and it still is a part of my life today. However, my enjoyment of physical activity faded when I started to push myself beyond what my body needed and wanted to do. The enjoyment faded when I became a slave to it, & I felt like I needed it each day. My priorities were working out, then school, then friends and family, & then Jesus. Rest, relaxation, & fun just weren’t really an option unless I felt like I had earned the right to do so that day. I would convince myself that no matter how tired I was I couldn’t take a nap. If I had free time, what was I doing? Yep you guessed it, working out. I worked out most of the time when I was sick, when the weather was bad, & even if I had a lot of studying to do. If I was hungry I always just tried to push through the pain. I needed to workout. I needed to ease my anxiety; I needed it to stay in shape; I needed it to be beautiful. I tried to use it to satisfy, fulfill, & heal the void in my heart that only Jesus can fill.
The enemy convinced me that if I couldn’t be exceptionally fit that I was a failure. He told me that I was slow, lazy, losing it, & many other lies. He told me that if I wanted to be pretty and skinny like other girls I needed to workout constantly. I didn’t think it was fair that I had to workout so hard while other people didn’t at all. The enemy convinced me to question God’s goodness and once again told me that there was something wrong with the way God made me. Not only did I compare myself to others, I compared myself with what I thought I was supposed to be. If I ran a mile in 7:30 and the next day I ran it in 8:30 I had failed for that day. If I couldn’t lift as much as I did the week before I thought something was wrong. I believed that lie for way too long. People would tell me that they were envious of me and that they wished they were in shape. They told me that my workouts were killer & that they wanted to be in that place. If they only knew that my workouts were literally killing me physically, psychologically, & spiritually, I’m not too sure they would want to be in the same place I was in.
There was one particular quote on Pinterest that stood out to me the most. It said, “Once you see the results, it becomes an addiction.” Sadly, this is so so true for many people, whether they realize it or not. It was definitely true in my life, & I am working each day to develop a healthy relationship with exercise. It wasn’t until I started recovery that I truly realized how much of an idol it was in my life. My body became so physically unstable that I wasn’t aloud to run. If you know me at all you know that it didn’t go over well at all. At first I tried to half-way do recovery and I would still try to run long distance because my doctors didn’t specifically tell me not to. I would try and sneak into the gym but I would always regret it. I think my family and Josh had some suspicion but they knew that I needed to make the decision to get better on my own. I got into an argument with my sister about how often I worked out. She said, “You workout so hard every single day that is why you are always so hungry.” I retorted back, “No I don’t even workout hard at all anymore and I don’t work out every day just 6 days a week…” Looking back now, its clear to see that I was in the wrong.
After a few weeks of falling flat on my face I decided that I needed to pull back on the exercise if I ever wanted to get better. I remember going on 1 mile walks with my mom at the park, & by the end of it I was starving because so malnourished. Exercise was working against my body not helping it heal. It wasn’t until that I realized that I couldn’t halfway do recovery that I began to heal.
My nutritionist Reba introduced me to a concept called intuitive exercise. Intuitive exercise is the concept that you can trust & listen to your body to know how much exercise you need & when you need it. I thought this was insane. Reba urged me to go on a “gentle walk” or try a yoga class. She also insisted that some days I don’t do anything at all and just rest. I thought to myself, “Are you kidding me….she just wants to get me fat. That isn’t a workout…I don’t even know what that is.” Little did I know that when a person works out on insufficient amounts of sleep, water, & food, their organs start to shut down and their body starts to deteriorate. I didn’t ever think that exercise could possibly be bad for me until I felt the very real effects of it. Working out when your body needs food or rest is counter productive.
Over the summer when I wasn’t aloud to run, I still very rigidly went on walks almost every day. I honestly was going to get as much exercise as possible. Slowly but surely God graciously changed my heart towards exercise. My walks turned into prayer walks, and my attempt to cling to exercise as my savior turned into sweet, sweet time with Jesus. He is always pursuing us and drawing us closer even when we are running as hard as we can away from him. I was able to pray through all of the fear, pain, and discouragement that comes through recovery. I was able to pray for my family, my future marriage, & my future family. I was able to pray for my friends who were serving God over the summer in Seattle, Pigeon Forge, New Zealand, and San Diego. After spending much more time in prayer than I ever have before, I began to realize that prayer eased my anxiety more than any workout could. Praying for the people I love helped me to feel like I had a purpose in life and it took my eyes off of myself. As I was walking, I also was able to stop and really gaze at God’s beauty rather than just run right by it. It really was a precious part of recovery for me.
Like I said before, today I still do struggle with the balance of rest & exercise. I have come so far and I am confident that Jesus will continue to help me find the healthy balance. With permission from my recovery team, I am now able to run & lift weights. The difference now is that I don’t feel like I always have to. I try to workout with Josh, friends, & family as much as possible to make sure that I don’t over do it. I have to be very careful & make sure that I am getting enough food for the amount of energy I am expending. (I don’t count calories; I am just learning how to listen to what my body needs. Calorie counting can be really destructive & a waste of time…there will be a post about that to come.) Some days I lift weights, some days I do circuits, some days I run, some days I do long distance, some days I go on prayer walks, and some days I don’t workout at all. God has done an incredible work on my heart, and I no longer feel condemned/guilty when I have a “slower” day & when I am just not feeling it. I no longer feel ashamed when I choose to rest rather than to workout. I now truly understand that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that I am to honor God with my body. I understand that honoring God with my body doesn’t mean hurting it; it means finding a healthy balance with rest and activity. 1 Timothy 4:8 says, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Before I workout, I now ask myself what my motives are. If I want to workout because I am anxious, what I actually need the most is to sit down and pray to the God of the universe rather than trying to fight it on my own. If I want to workout because I am tired, I should take a nap and not workout that day. If I want to workout because I feel fat, I should sit down and journal through why I am feeling that way. If I want to workout because I want to take care of my body, I should go workout.
One reason I wrote this was to say the thing that a lot of people think but are too afraid to talk about it. YES, there is such a thing as working out too much…if we don’t admit that we are fooling ourselves. If we are spending 2 hours in the gym and 15 minutes with Jesus something isn’t quite right. If we are more concerned about our squat max more than our lost friend we aren’t getting it. If we are more concerned with posting a “post-workout selfie” we are missing it. For those of you who struggle to find a healthy balance, my hope & prayer is that our eyes would be opened more and more to the glory of our savior and that the desire to make much of ourselves would fade into the background. I have spent many nights praying to God, asking Him to save me from pursuing the wrong things in this life. He has saved me from a life devoted entirely too much to exercise, & He can save you too.
Disclaimer: I am a Nutrition and Dietetics major, and I know that there are so many healthy benefits to exercise. Exercise can give us energy, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, help us fight obesity, protect our hearts & bones, & so much more. The aim of the blog wasn’t to dismiss exercise and write it off as a pagan ritual that we should no longer partake in. My goal was to help us all (myself included) examine our motives for the exercise that we do.