• Ayu Sutriasa

Are You Working Out for the Wrong Reasons?

I’m starting this week’s blog post with a short story—but before you get into it, just a heads up that there is body, diet, and weight talk in this story (and blog post) so take care of yourself accordingly!

My boyfriend Adam and I were at the store the other night, picking up some groceries. Somehow, he started talking about something we were planning to cook, and one of the cashiers, an older woman, got really excited. Adam jokingly asked her if she wanted to come over for dinner, and she said no, because she’s fasting. She told us that she had weighed herself that morning and didn’t like what the scale said. The other cashier, a young man, jumped into the conversation and mentioned that his girlfriend is doing some diet with her coworkers, and that he could also stand to lose a few pounds.

I hate being in close proximity to these kinds of conversations, so I just stood there, silently and slightly uncomfortable. Adam tried to counter with some anti-diet words, but he also dislikes these conversations, and we both left the store giving each other a look.

This experience epitomizes how the new year feels for a lot of us: the nagging pressure to lose weight, reinforced by everything from Youtube ads to your cashier. It’s unfortunate that so many of our new years start with this dreary notion that we aren’t good enough right now.

A couple years ago, I stopped adding “lose weight” to my New Year’s resolutions. It had been on my list every year prior, which is odd since I never had “take care of my mental health” or “be happy” on my list. Nope, just “lose weight,” because I genuinely thought that would solve all of my other problems. When I finally had the courage to look at my life with honest eyes, I saw this toxic cycle for what it truly was: an endless abyss of self-loathing that wanted me to spiral in its toils forever. (cc: capitalism, fatphobia)

This year, I don’t care about losing weight (WOW does that feel amazing to type!!!) I am proud to say that I have no interest in being any thinner than I am, but I would like to exercise more regularly. And considering my pernicious history with exercise, even putting this on my list is, unfortunately, triggering.

Exercise was my eating disorder’s best friend, and together they would bully me into doing really unhealthy things—like starve myself and binge exercise. I didn’t care about being healthy, but I used “health” as the facade so no one would know just how unhealthy this all was. And thanks to the fatphobia and diet culture that is so intricately, intentionally enmeshed in society, everyone around me bought that lie.

Needless to say I have a lot of terrible emotional associations with working out, because I did it for all the wrong reasons. I just wanted to be skinny, so I punished myself on that damn treadmill, as if skinny was a destination I could run to, if I just... kept... running...

After years of this painful relationship with exercise, it was difficult for me to only see it as something that was good for me. For a while, I thought that as soon as I started running, my desire to be skinny would rush back into my head and take over my workout. The muscle memory would kick in and that terrible mindset would invade. What if exercise was the trigger to falling back into my old, shitty cycles? I don’t know if this sounds outrageous, but sometimes it feels impossible for me to imagine working out without having weight-loss at the front of my mind.

I know I should have a little more faith in myself, because I’ve made a lot of progress: I am not the insecure, lost person I used to be, and I’m proud of myself for actively prioritizing my healing.

So how do I separate exercise from weight-loss? I’m honestly still figuring it out. But here are some phrases I come back to when I feel like I may fall back down the rabbit hole:

1. Working out makes me feel good physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

2. Working out is a way to honor and celebrate my body.

3. Giving my body this kind of positive, physical attention is an investment in myself and my future.

4. I exercise because I love my body exactly the way it is on the outside, and because I want to make it feel good on the inside.

This is something I’m still working on, and that’s why I wanted to write about it. Sometimes I think I can’t share what I’m going through until I’ve moved through it and worked it out, but that’s not real. And no matter how strongly I feel like I’ve got something figured out, the universe always reminds that I actually never know what the hell I’m doing. Sorry if you came here thinking I would give you the answers, but I’m just a girl, standing in front of my internalized fatphobia, asking it to stop bothering me.

I hope you brought in the new year with less pressure to “be better,” and more self-love and champagne. Cheers to you!