For most of my life, it’s been a struggle to exercise enough. Okay, who am I kidding? It’s a struggle for everyone. But I’m really more concerned about the fact that sometimes I will go for WEEKS and really get no physical exercise. Normally that’s during the cold weather.
Many people think I’m just lucky because my frame is slight and I’ve been petite and thin since the day I was born. But is it really luck?
Up until about five years ago, I ate the SAD (Standard American Diet). As I said, I’ve always been thin and actually had trouble my whole life gaining weight, rather than losing it. When I was in high school, some of my friends and I used to have contests to see who could eat the most food – like pizza. It wasn’t uncommon for me to consume nearly an entire pizza over the course of an evening. The only time I ever gained a fair amount of weight over what I normally weighed was right before I became pregnant with my son in 1999 and 2000. I wasn’t overweight, but I was heavier than I’d ever been. I was wearing anywhere from a size 6 to a size 8.
Some of you might be gasping and thinking, “that’s not overweight!” But for me, I know it wasn’t healthy simply because I was gaining weight where I never had before and some parts of my body were starting to have that tell-tale cellulite appearance.
Back then, I didn’t know cellulite wasn’t normal and that it was a sign of lymphatic congestion. Now, that doesn’t mean that if you have cellulite you should be ashamed. Everyone has issues, and I’m certainly among them! I’m simply imparting this information to help people. But even then as unknowing as I was, I had this strange intuition about a lot of things that just didn’t seem normal, for whatever reason.
One example was that all of my friends were taking some form of oral birth control and besides my innate hatred of doctors, something about it just seemed wrong. So I continued to hold off and refused to take it. All my friends thought I was crazy. I didn’t care. What’s interesting is now that I look back on many of the decisions I made about certain things, my hunch turned out to be correct. I guess that little voice inside my head was there for a reason!
Exercise habits in my youth
Growing up, I was never athletically inclined. Whenever I tried playing any type of sport, I usually wasn’t good at it. This made me dislike physical activity to a large extent. I grew to view it as something unpleasant and never looked forward to it. I loved horseback riding and bike riding. I loved to be outdoors, and to play and explore…but organized sports? No thank you. I just wanted to do my own thing.
In high school I had friends who played tennis. I had never played, but somehow it looked like fun. So for two years, I played on the junior varsity team, which was unlike anything I had ever done before. I was never a great player, but I really enjoyed hitting the ball. Although I played lots of games, to this day, I still enjoy the idea of just hitting the ball back and forth with someone just for fun, without the structure of a game – although I haven’t played tennis in some years.
I spent a fair amount of time horseback riding, but because I never owned a horse, I had to rely on others to provide me with a mount. As I grew out of teenage years, I became more and more disconnected with horses (sadly). In my late teens and early twenties I had some friends who loved to bike ride in the city and mountain bike in the foothills. I loved that, and did it for a couple of years. Unfortunately, these same people also liked to drink a lot. And these were the kind of people I was most attracted to.
After bike rides, we’d usually go home and have a big party with a keg and, well…you know the rest. It was not unheard of for my group of friends to have keg parties once a week. And our diets were terrible. But, I had no clue what I was doing to myself. As time went on, I partied more and more and had physical activity less and less. Somehow, I equated productive exercise that actually did a person good with some painful activity that was regimented, on a schedule, and probably you had to do it at the gym. Nothing seemed more terrible and torturous to me.
When I met my husband, he was also into partying a lot. But he and I found that we both shied away from organized sports and liked to hike, walk, and ride bikes. We cultivated those interests together and spent a good amount of time doing them. My husband had been a skateboarder in his youth, and had a fair amount of athletic inclination, just not toward organized athletics – like me.
In college, I took up tennis again and I loved it. During the spring, summer, and fall I’d take several tracks of tennis lessons, which I really looked forward to doing. My husband and I would go and hit at one of the courts in some of the local parks around our city. We had fun, but we never became very serious about it. We also rode our bikes a fair amount as well. I started to realize that physical exercise didn’t have to be about pain and suffering, and that each person’s fitness level and ability had to be taken into account. Most importantly, I finally understood that there was nothing wrong with just enjoying something for what it was and that not everyone was a seasoned athlete.
But still, I was really never inclined to buy a membership at the gym. Something about it seemed very artificial. I didn’t like the idea of paying for a gym membership to go and exercise inside of a building, when all I had to do was step outside my door FOR FREE and do any kind of physical activity I wanted.
When my son was 5 years old, I started thinking that perhaps I should get some kind of part-time job since I hadn’t worked in nearly five years. I wanted something flexible and easy since we were home-schooling. By trade, I had been a technical writer since college graduation and worked almost until the birth of my son. I wanted to find a part-time writing job because I knew a lot of women writers who were doing that sort of thing and were able to earn a good wage.
My job at a health club
After applying for numerous jobs and hearing back nothing, I decided to apply at the local YMCA which was just down the street from our house. It didn’t pay very well, but I could bring my son to work with me and I figured it would be good for him to have time around other children. I thought working at the YMCA would be different than other clubs because it has a reputation for being a community organization and reaching out to people everywhere, which I liked.
I did actually try some exercise classes, which definitely just weren’t for me. I’m terribly uncoordinated, and no matter how many times I went, I felt self-conscious and didn’t enjoy myself. I was even going on a semi-regular schedule for awhile with my friend Heidi. But something about it just felt WRONG. I love dancing and moving around to music, but this was way too choreographed for my taste. Eventually I stopped going.
My employment there was bittersweet because although I really wasn’t into health clubs, I made a lot of friends. I didn’t use the facilities much because I still preferred being outdoors. I also spent a good deal of time and effort trying to implement a nutrition program for children, which never went anywhere. It was so disappointing because the food being served in the building was very unhealthy in many ways, and YMCA programs focus so much on physical activity, but really very little on healthy food. In my opinion, those two things cannot exist without the other. If your body is not supported nutritionally, how can you perform physically or mentally?
What little the YMCA did focus on food and diet was conventional thinking: promoting low-fat diets and eating processed foods. I shuddered when I read YMCA brochures which described partnered programs with the local diabetes center and hospitals for children and adults that recommended people should practically starve themselves to death and subsist on toxic food while still continuing a scheduled exercise program of some type. They were busy measuring BMI and counting calories and fat. I just wanted to scream.
I was able to convince the staff to allow me to do a snack activity once a week in the Youth Activity Center where I worked. Just a few months before I made my suggestion, the YMCA offered a snack to teenagers in the Teen and Family Center each day after school consisting of things like saltines, Skippy peanut butter, bagged popcorn, tortilla chips, and salsa. I knew I could do much better and so I planned to bring organic fruits and vegetables, raw nuts, and cheeses.
I also printed out pages from my web site and made copies for children to take home to their parents with dietary information and recipes. The kids loved my snack time, and I’d always spend time having informal conversations with them about food and what they ate at school, at home, and what I served to them. But I felt like I was just scratching the surface and wanted to do more.
So my husband and I designed a PowerPoint presentation which included a comprehensive plan to help educate members about healthy diets and sustainable food. I finally presented it to the Branch Director after asking for many months to be allowed to do it. He seemed interested, but didn’t really have time to deal with it, so he referred me to the “Health and Fitness Director” for further movement on my program.
After meeting with her twice, it became evident that she definitely didn’t share my philosophy educating members about food. Her professional and educational background, which she made known to me soon we met, included an advanced degree in Biology and something to do with Animal Science and Farm Studies. She had never heard of anyone feeding cows grass, and said she grew up on a farm and would have known about this if it were something farmers actually did.
There was also an objection made to a pamphlet I had passed out to members from the Weston A. Price Foundation – the one about soy being birth control for babies. She said the YMCA could be “liable” for allowing information like that to be released. Isn’t it strange how reactionary people are?
In the end, I made a small impact at the YMCA, but my nutrition class got cut in the summer of 2009 when the season change brought with it a program by the Idaho Food Bank to feed kids “free” lunches all summer long. The new manager in my department felt healthy snacks were unnecessary since the food bank was providing food every day during the summer to children. Never mind that the food was the absolute worst you could imagine – think chips, processed sandwiches, juice, and pretzels. The small amount ($20) allotted to me from the club was certain to have been thought of as a waste, since I anytime I went over the allotted amount I was told it was too much to spend. And we all know $20 is just not enough to buy healthy snacks for a bunch of kids who are coming and going for an hour’s time.
It was really disheartening to me, and I felt like my efforts just weren’t going anywhere or being acknowledged. So with a heavy heart, I decided to turn in my resignation. I had worked there nearly three years and had been told repeatedly that I was an outstanding employee who went above and beyond, but to the management (except my immediate supervisor who has also left and whom I love and adore), my departure was largely unnoticed, and I left without any of them giving so much as a backward glance.
As far as exercise at health clubs…during the time I worked there it became pretty obvious to me that health clubs really weren’t very healthy places at all. First of all, the chlorine from the indoor pool permeated through the walls, and you could smell it all over the building. I often parked my car down about one block from the building and when I’d go to get inside it to go home, the whole inside reeked like chlorine. The pool had to be closed occasionally due to contamination from small children having “accidents” in the water, which really made my stomach turn.
As is the case in most clubs, the environment is a closed-in building and it occurred to me that the air was just being recirculated all the time, with really no fresh air coming in. And hundreds of people go there each day…people who are sick or getting sick, and sweat out toxins in their body, with no place for it to go but onto and into other people. This bothered me to a great extent even while I was working there. So there you are in a toxic environment where people are eating terrible food – either food from the machines, coffee counter, or are bringing in Subway or Burger King from down the road, and expelling their toxins and taking in new ones…and this is supposed to be a healthy environment? The more I thought about it, the less it made sense to me.
During a good portion of my life I had disliked exercise, but I was starting to make some connections: namely, that exercise is very personal and needs to be tailored to your own abilities and lifestyle. Since I have made peace with this fact, I have very much been enjoying exercise…on my own terms. I walk, hike, bike regularly, and play tennis now and then. Oh, and I have recently returned to horseback riding with friends at a mutual friend’s home out in the country who owns horses. Thanks to Joy, Heidi, Jennifer, and Shayla…my dear friends with whom I share many fun horse-obsessed adventures. I never knew I could enjoy my most favorite sport-activity ever with my dearest friends in the world!
Now, I’m not saying don’t go to the gym. Sometimes people really need to go to the gym to exercise – and that’s okay. After all, some exercise is definitely better than nothing. I just know it’s not for me.
Of course, I also eat the most healthy diet possible to support my body on my physical adventures. Okay, but I’m not perfect, I mess up sometimes. But in the past, I had terrible stamina and would tire easily. Now I find that my energy is even and I even get a second, third, fourth, and fifth wind when I exercise. I just turned 40 last August, and I feel I’m in better health now than I’ve ever been. I feel so fortunate to have been given a chance to improve my health, which was definitely in danger in my 30s, and from which I am very grateful to have recovered from. Here’s the story of my experience and how I managed it with real food when no doctors were able to help.
Here’s my philosophy on being nutritionally-fit, which goes hand-in-hand with physical fitness. If you aren’t eating healthy but you are exercising regularly, it may be the case that your body is lacking something important to support your activity!
Do you have a great fitness and nutrition story to share? What challenges and triumphs have you experienced as a result of finding peace with your body, your health, and your own personal fitness?