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Why staying fit is about feeling both healthy AND strong

Aug. 30, 2017
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Today I’m going to talk about fitness.  I’ve put off writing about this for a long time, because I know that this topic touches on a lot of issues people have with themselves and their bodies.  But that’s also why I felt so compelled to write this.   

Growing up, I have always valued my strength and fitness. That’s not to say I didn’t eat like crap, but I enjoyed being active.  I started working out with my dad in the fifth grade.  I didn’t genuinely care that much about being “healthy”—I just thought it was fun.  Plus, I loved being called strong, and I loved having the ability to beat up my brothers. As I grew older, though, I started to become more and more aware of the way I looked. Not because I wanted to impress anyone, or because I was chubby: just because I knew what everyone thought a “perfect” body looked like, and I knew I didn’t look like that.  

I began hear the phrase “look good, feel good” more and more. It makes sense, if you think about it: if you look good, your physical health must be stellar, and the way you look will make you feel better about yourself and be more confident.  That’s what I thought, too, until I put it to the test.  I looked the way that everyone considered “beautiful” and “perfect”—but I was absolutely miserable!  I was in the worst shape of my life.  Sure, I worked out every day, and what I did eat was extremely healthy, but in reality, I was hurting myself.  I barely ate, and when I did, I spent the entirety of my time finding ways to burn calories.  I pushed away my family, my best friends, and—worst of all—myself.  I was unrecognisable, inside and out.  On the outside I was as skinny as all those Instagram models, but on the inside I was dying. Still, all I could think about was how to become more “fit.”  

Twenty-five pounds and two months later, I had achieved “body goals”. But I was not happy.  I needed more, it wasn’t enough, I would never be satisfied with the way I looked.  I would never be happy, no matter how skinny I became, and if I had ever been “happy” during this horrible time, I wouldn’t have had enough energy to notice.  All I had become was frail, weak, cold, depressed, and lonely.  Why had I admired these girls so much?  I now knew for a fact that what I had done—and what all these girls do—was not admirable, it was not “hot” and it was most definitely not beautiful. I became so skinny and so weak that I had lost sight of what was really made me feel confident: my  strength and self-love.  

So many people have this distorted image and idea that fitness is a gateway to being skinny.  Being fit and being skinny are very different things.  If you’re only working out to be skinny, or to lose weight that doesn’t even exist, you will feel like a zombie every time. Physical fitness is about taking the body you were born with, embracing it, and finding activities, sports, or workouts you love to help build strength, stamina, and endurance. If you feel miserable every time you go to the gym, don’t go to the gym!  Find something you enjoy doing; a skill that you can improve on (like pull-ups), a team you can join (like basketball or dance), or literally any physical activity that makes you smile.

I was just in Punta de Mita, Mexico, trying two of the craziest workouts I’ve ever done.  I did one ab/spin class, which was insanely hard.  The other was an antigravity aerobics class—basically yoga, in hammocks, suspended from the ceiling—which was one of the strangest, fun experiences of my life!  Each one was different and extremely fun in its own way. By keeping an open mind and focusing on health and exploration instead of “body goals”, I opened the door to fun new experiences, a sense of accomplishment, a laugh, and a couple really good workouts.

For me staying fit is about feeling healthy and strong. I usually work out at least three times a week, whether that’s a video, a class, a sport, or a short, intense workout I create on my own.  Another way I stay healthy is to aim for healthier snacks, like apples and peanut butter or dried fruit.  But it’s very important to remember that the healthiest people don’t deprive themselves of food, so being healthy shouldn’t mean that you give up dessert or only eat salad. Just finding a few healthy snacks that you really love and staying active is more than enough to help you lead a healthy life.

If you’re strong, self-sufficient, and focused on doing what you love, you’ll be much healthier and much more fit than any super-skinny “body goal” the world has convinced you is “beautiful”! (Plus, you’ll be infinitely happier.)  Life will take you much farther if you’re strong enough to stand tall, even if the whole world tries to knock you down.  That’s why my “body goal” is just a stronger and more capable version of my body. 

Forget Instagram models or even famous athletes—I just want to be the best version of me.