I have a complicated relationship with exercise/physical activity, and I have for a very long time. When I was a child, I was on tennis and swimming teams, but my anxiety always got the best of me and made competition miserable. My true passion was (and remains to be) dance. I danced as often as I could, at one point I had at least one class every day.
One of my many childhood dance recitals
My disordered ideas around exercise started very young, late elementary school I believe. I was taught that my dancing, P.E. classes, recess time, etc. were not enough. I needed to play sports or run or go to the gym in order to get the “correct” exercise. This continued through high school when I was a student athletic trainer and manager for the baseball and football teams as well as active in musical theater. This meant a lot of walking, running, and lifting 5 days a week for at least 2 hours per day. I was still taught that it wasn’t enough. It was also around this time that I solidified the idea that my body was too big, and that was a problem, which I learned in early middle school.
Running on the field with water & med kit
In high school my dad made an appointment for me to see a personal trainer. The PT thought I was lazy and out of shape due to my size, so he pushed me. And pushed some more. With my people-pleasing demeanor, I ignored how I felt and pushed myself too. My body was screaming for me to stop, yet I said nothing. When I left, I nearly fainted and could barely move my muscles enough to drive home.
Trying to run or bike or go to the gym on top of all the physical activity I was already doing in addition to school work and social life gave me a bad taste in my mouth about exercise. I couldn’t understand how my physical activity didn’t count. Why did I have to run or bike or lift weights to get exercise? The intention of those around me was to create a positive relationship with exercise that I would continue after high school. What it actually did was create a negative relationship with activity, where I believed that only certain activities would count and an all or nothing mentality that only a lot of exercise was good enough. If you add to that the growing shame and guilt about my body, food, and the way others perceive me, then you can see the toxic relationship with activity that started so young. The seeds planted throughout my childhood and youth became weeds instead of flowers.
In part 2 I will talk about college and beyond. Stay tuned!