So there I was. Recovered. Anorexic? Nope. Exercise addicted? Nope. I had hung up my shoes. I had hung up my yoga mat. I was happily married. We had a child, a wonderfully happy baby girl.
On the outside, life seemed lovely and grand and rainbows. But in reality, life was rough.
I was not used to nursing. Is anyone, really? Waking up at all hours to feed and burp and change and re-diaper and then feed again and burp and change and re-diaper…it never ended.
I tried to get outside and move around because isn’t Vitamin D supposed to be good for you? But it was hard. Why? Because I was weak. Like really really weak.
And then came my low point number three.
I was sitting on our living room carpet nursing (of course) and then needed to get up to grab a cloth. And I could not. Have you ever tried getting up seated from the floor without using your arms? It takes a little bit of leg strength, a bit of core work, and a whole lot of balance. And I couldn’t do it. I was stuck. It was then that I realized, I was also getting numb, fatigued arms holding my daughter (by this time she was a bit more than seven pounds, but not incredibly heavy). My shoulders ached trying to maneuver the stroller in and out of the car trunk.
I was really weak.
When I was knee-deep in running and exercise addiction, I could’ve cared less about muscular strength. Just as long as I got in the miles, had slim thighs and the ideal Jane Fonda-inspired legs and arms, I was good.
But now I was a wife. I had a child to take of. I had opportunities and possibilities. I had a life outside of running. And I was in desperate need of making sure that I was strong and healthy enough to be and do all those things that I wanted to be and do.
My husband suggested that I try lifting some weights. Or even try doing a push up or two. Or a pull up. Something So one afternoon when the baby was napping, I headed down to our garage, grabbed the metal bar attached to our wall, and attempted doing a pull up. A chin up, actually, as I had a pronated grip. And I failed. Miserably. I don’t think I even got halfway up.
So then I tried doing a push up. Once again, a quarter of the way down my triceps started trembling and I flopped onto the ground.
This was a monumental turning point. I won’t lie. I sat on our garage’s concrete floor and felt a bit defeated. Weak. And sad. I had spent so many years wanting to LOOK like I was “fit”, but in reality, I was far from it. It was then and there that I decided that it didn’t really matter WHAT my body looked like. Who would care if I had thin arms if I couldn’t do anything with them? What good would a six-pack be if I couldn’t even sit up while holding my child?
It was the functionality of exercise that was the final piece in helping me break free of exercise addiction. I started looking more at what my body could do versus what it looked like it could do as most important.
Furthermore, it definitely helped that I was horrible at strength sports. Absolutely horrible. I like excelling in whatever I do, so being that I am a naturally bendy and flexible person, jumping into yoga was a breeze. I also have amazingly awesome slow twitch muscles, and even as an elementary school kid, I was the star athlete when it came to running the “long distances” (aka 400 meters) versus the short sprints. Running marathons wasn’t a chore–it seemed like a walk in the park (relatively speaking). But try to bench press? Do a barbell squat? Deadlift? Those were foreign movements that I shrank away from because I knew I would be awkward and horrible at them.
But I knew I needed to do those exact same moves. Because they’d help me gain the muscle I knew I desperately needed. Because I wanted to challenge my perfectionistic attitude. Because strength sports and all of their associated accessory exercises celebrated the power of the human body and was something I missed when competing in endurance training.
So I began my strength building journey then and there. In my garage. I started easy enough by using our five pound dumbbells, holding them by my shoulders and lifting them straight overhead. Five times? Easy. Rep number seven? Um, arms were starting to ache. Ten times? No Bueno.
I knew my upper body was in dire need of much muscular gains, but I figure with all the running I did, my legs MUST be strong. Right? Right?!
Not so much.
Weighted lunges left my knees shaking and sweating pouring down my face.
Even though my first weight training session in the confines of our concrete garage lasted about twenty minutes, those twenty minutes were life-changing. I realized just how much of true health and wellness I was missing out on by NOT working on all parts of my physiological self. I also realized that change was not going to happen overnight, and that the next morning I wouldn’t suddenly be able to whip out a string of pull-ups. Gaining strength would take me on a road similar to that of eating disorder recovery–it would require patience, consistency, and dedication.
And I was fine with that.
Fast forward a number of years (and another baby) later. I got into Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. I now love to bench. Seeing a barbell makes my heart extremely happy.
And yet, I still hold myself accountable so that obsession and addiction don’t creep back in. I have a coach who programs for me so that I don’t overdo it in the gym. I make sure to eat to fuel my performance. I have weeks of deload and days of rest. I don’t do the exact same exercises day in and day out. Starting strength training has dramatically improved the way I view my body–my arms, legs, torso, back, head, everything are no longer separate entities but must work in synchronization with the breathe in order to heft weight over my head. Similarly, my whole self must operate as one for me to function, live, and thrive.
What is your experience with lifting weights? Have you started any kind of strength training routine recently? For those overcoming exercise addiction or eating disorder treatment, do you use strength sports in recovery? Leave a comment, and let me know!