I’ve decided to start working out again.
Honestly, when I started this whole “stop lifting weights” thing back in December, I really hoped I’d find a suitable alternative. I figured maybe my years-long obsession with the gym had kept me from discovering other, totally amazing, kinds of movement.
I hoped that when I stopped lifting, I might give myself the opportunity to fall in love with some kind of feminine, sensual movement– like belly dance, or yoga. I imagined myself waking up every morning, refreshed and glowing with soft, feminine bliss. I pictured mornings filled with smudging, hip circles, and euphoric chanting.
None of that happened.
Instead, I tried a bunch of stuff that I wasn’t good at, and didn’t like. As it turns out, (lol– as it always turns out), despite some seriously massive breakthroughs, I’m still me. I still find yoga insufferable. I still don’t like fitness classes. I still prefer to do shit I’m good at, rather than struggle with new skills that offer very little reward.
So. I’m still me. Only now, I’m a version of myself who has been basically sedentary for half a year.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a total couch potato. But on average, I was getting a very mild form of exercise (i.e.: gentle hiking, or dancing) about once or twice a week.
Coming from someone who worked out hard 4-6 days/week for close to a decade, that’s a significant cutback.
At first, getting out of shape was really interesting.
Noticing my body soften, and noticing the thoughts and feelings that brought up, was pretty cool. I’ve always treated my body (and my life) like an experiment, and this one was teaching me a ton.
Recently though, I realized that, for me, being sedentary kinda sucks.
On days that I don’t challenge my body in some way, everything just seems to be… worse. My energy is lower, my mood more negative, my thoughts more foggy, my anxiety levels higher, and my sleep less restful. Likewise, on days that I do do something physically challenging, everything seems significantly brighter and better. I’m more energized, clear-headed, calm, and happy.
All of this is to say that I’m ready and itching to hit the gym again. I want to feel strong, and sharp, and powerful again.
I’m even excited to have some muscle tone back! Nothing against my body right now in the slightest, but I loved how my muscles looked, and I kinda miss them.
Which brings me to a strange consideration.
As a body image coach, I am in the business of teaching women that one kind of a body is not more valuable than another, and that your body has nothing to do with your worth.
But what about preferences?
Everyone is entitled to find different things beautiful of course, and everyone has the right to do exactly what they want with their own body.
I’m realizing that I prefer to be fit and strong.
There is nothing wrong with that, but I can’t deny that my “preferences” for looking fit are informed by the context of the world we live in, and what we value.
We are wired to crave social acceptance and approval, and the reward systems in our brains literally light up like a christmas tree when we receive praise and affirmations that people like us and approve of us. This is the same reward system that lights up when we eat chocolate, or do cocaine.
In short: we crave shit that feels good, and our brains tell us that being liked, admired, valued, and accepted by other feels good. Oh, and in our culture, we know that women are liked, admired, valued, and accepted more when they look a certain way.
So when little girls get complimented on being thin or pretty, their little brains go “oooh yummy, I want more!” When this kind of selective praising happens over decades and decades, it’s awfully difficult to separate what a woman intrinsically prefers from what her brain has learned will feel good. Maybe there’s no real difference between those two.
Being fit— or, more specifically, being lean and muscular— used to earn me a fuck-ton of reward system activity points. I was praised often for how strong and fit my body was, both because people liked how it looked, and also because they assumed it meant I was a really good personal trainer.
I felt like that kind of praise didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t fit to impress people, and my credibility has nothing to do with how I look, after all.
So I was pretty surprised to discover that gaining an extra 10 or 15 pounds of body fat meant those compliments would go away. I was even more surprised to discover that I missed them.
This was all part of my experiment— getting honest about how deep the programming we women have been fed about our bodies goes, and untangling the threads of what my true preferences are, versus the preferences that are linked to this social-reward system in my brain.
I find this shit fascinating.
I’m super excited to get back to the gym, and enjoy all the mental/mood/health benefits of regular exercise again. But I’m also excited to look a little more fit, because my lovely lizard brain apparently finds that delicious. Even though I’m a body image coach. Sigh.
I don’t have any answers about this to share with you. I just wanted to give a little peek inside my brain, for how I process my own stuff, and what I spend my time thinking about.
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