Body Issues

A few weeks ago, a new-ish friend asked me if I would be interested in running a four-mile race with him in Central Park in February. You clearly don’t know me well enough, I told him. If there’s one thing I loathe more than running outdoors, it’s exercising in the company of anyone I know. Plus, I said, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone for a run in the last few years. There’s no way I could be ready to run a four-mile race in just a few weeks, even if I wanted to.

As I’ve gotten further into my twenties, it seems like everyone around me is more interested in exercise – both for health and for fun. Many close friends of mine, friends who were not runners when we met, have become serial participators in 5Ks and 10Ks and half-marathons. Others have become devotees of pilates or barre or, in a few cases (and I’m still not certain if this is more of a joke than a real thing), jazzercise. One good friend rock climbs at a climbing gym several times a week. He brought me there once and, though I did end up having a good time, I was so exhausted and overwhelmed by the experience that I never went back.

When it comes to exercise, I don’t have a THING. Actually, that’s not totally true. My real thing has become reading The New Yorker while on the elliptical machine or treadmill in the Greenpoint YMCA’s cardio room. I joke about this a lot, but it really is what I do to “work out”. And I don’t do it nearly enough.

I’ve always had a hard time motivating myself to exercise. Even though I know it will make me feel good and may even make me “healthier” – whatever that means – I almost always prefer doing an activity that requires minimal movement, like writing or cooking, to going for a jog or attending a gym class. And I have a hard time buying into the cult of fitness, something that’s only seemed to grow more intense (at least in urban areas) with the rise of non-traditional exercise routines like SoulCycle and fitness startups like ClassPass in the last few years.

This all makes me feel sort of adrift when it comes to figuring out what’s best for me in terms of “staying in shape” or “maintaining a healthy body weight” or any other fitness-related goals I think I should have.

Running really doesn’t work for me. Every time I’ve tried to get into it, even when I was I was a teenager and under the supervision of a coach, I’ve gotten injured. And, as I’ve stated, I seriously dislike group exercise (other than yoga, for some reason). I really, truly am not interested in pedaling on a stationary bike while someone with an extremely toned body spews motivational bullshit into a wireless microphone headset.

Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking, OK, so if you don’t like exercise…then don’t do it. Or maybe you’re saying, Hey, dummy, you should just try doing more of the stuff you know you like and can do, like using cardio machines at the gym or yoga or, even though you didn’t mention this, taking really, really long walks, which is another thing you like to do.

But who knows what you’re thinking? All I know is that my brain vacillates between telling me to not exercise and telling me to exercise and now, at the end of the first month of the new year, it’s driving me crazy.

Of course, I’m always like this. As I’ve said, I’m not naturally motivated to exercise. But the reason I’m super ambivalent about exercise now, more than usual, is because – once again – I’ve developed pretty negative feelings about my body.

I haven’t weighed myself in months, but I know I’m at the heaviest I’ve been since prior to going on Weight Watchers in 2010. (I lost 20 lbs over the course of a year, tried to maintain that weight for another year, and then backslid over time into my old habits of eating and drinking whatever I wanted to and not exercising more than twice a week or for longer than 30 minutes at a time.) My pants still fit, but not really. I make jokes on Twitter about unbuttoning them all the time, but it’s actually because they’re pretty uncomfortable when I’m sitting at my desk all day! I don’t look “fat” or “bad” or “unhealthy”. I just don’t feel good anymore.

I only go to the gym a few times a month now. And that might even be an exaggeration. But I used to go a few times a week. I haven’t gone to yoga in two years; I quit going to my regular class because it interfered with a German class I was taking (and later quit, both because of lack of funds and the severe embarrassment I felt after drunkenly hooking up with a classmate who I’d had a bit of a crush on and who most likely lost any warm feelings he’d had toward me after that night). And even though my gym has a pool, I refuse to even consider getting into it – I know it’s weird to bring up swimming now, but I should have mentioned before that I was a competitive swimmer (of questionable talent) through high school – because it has an irregular lap swim schedule, only has four lanes, is shorter than 25 yards, and looks ill-kept.

I know what I should do to not feel like this (gross): Slowly get back into working out, doing the things that I know I can handle and ramp up the frequency. There was a time I had never jogged on a treadmill or done yoga. I know I can do those things again, but it’s just a matter of…doing them. Or overcoming the fear of doing them. I’m afraid that I won’t “see results” and therefore won’t feel better about myself. I’m afraid of getting too extreme, as I did back in my Weight Watchers days, when I used exercise to punish myself for not being thin enough or good enough or loveable enough or whatever it was that led me to become obsessive about Weight Watchers in the first place.* I wonder if I’ll ever be able to find a balance.

So, I think I’ve been building up to telling you this crazy fact, which is that I’m going to the gym tonight. I brought my gym clothes with me today so that I have to go directly there after work and cannot make up an excuse to not go once I get home. My plan is to walk on the treadmill for a bit and maybe get on the elliptical. I (literally) do not want to hurt myself, so I think taking it slow for now is best.

I probably won’t be running races anytime soon. And I really don’t think I’ll be participating in the 40-mile bike race my dad asked me to sign up for the other day. But maybe I’ll try one of these dumb classes (not SoulCycle, please don’t make me do Soul Cycle) sometime if I can at least get myself back into yoga. And I’m definitely going to attempt to normalize the way I think about myself again, to get back to being OK with the choices I make in terms of food and exercise and not judging myself or comparing myself to other people.

I don’t really know how to end this in a meaningful or very conclusive way, so I’ll just blurt out some final thoughts in the form of a numbered list and hope they are satisfactory to read.

  1. I understand that exercise is an important part of “being healthy” but I really don’t like it! (However, I will admit that most of the time I feel really good after I do it.)
  2. It’s annoying when people suggest different forms of exercise to me or urge me to try something new. It’s super cool if you’re into, for example, barre (which I don’t even really understand, like as a concept) but I’ll do it if I decide that I want to do it and not because you asked me to.
  3. I worry about everyone’s devotion to exercise classes and gyms in general, because they (the gyms, fitness franchises, etc.) are clearly out to make a lot of money off of people who are willing to pay them and not to promote health for all humans. But hey, we’re all (pretty much) participants in capitalism and who am I to tell anyone where they should spend their money? (For the record, I spend most of my money, after rent, on food and booze and entertainment like books and movies. My gym costs $50 per month.)
  4. (If you like exercising and going to classes and those are things that make you happy, please don’t hate me! I want everyone to just do their thing that makes them happy.)
  5. Sometimes I feel bad about my body. Mostly it’s because I look around and I see and hear people talking about diet and exercise. And I compare what I’m eating to what they’re eating and I compare my body to theirs.
  6. But I don’t really want to be a person who is really into the gym and has intense goals when it comes to weight or strength or whatever.
  7. I just want to find the best way to feel better about myself without turning into a crazy person who is obsessed with calorie-counting and/or burning calories. (Or Points. It was all about the Points when I was on Weight Watchers.)
  8. I know I should not care and just run around naked like Lena Dunham or love myself the way I am like Amy Schumer keeps telling me to do but I’m obviously not quite there yet, otherwise I would be doing those things right now.
  9. Sorry for even bringing Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer up –it seems unfair to reduce them to whatever I just did above – but I felt like I should say something about how it’s great that there are people out there who are talking about body positivity, etc. And I wanted to point out that being confronted by those attitudes – which again, are great and important – in the media makes me feel bad for feeling bad about myself.
  10. Anyway, I’m going to the gym tonight. Go, me!


*Hi! I feel like I should talk more about Weight Watchers. So, the thing is, Weight Watchers really worked for me! I lost a bunch of weight and I was in really great shape after a few months on the program. I didn’t constantly eat and drink to excess and I developed a regular exercise routine. However, this all happened at a pretty weird time in my life. I was just out of college, lived with my parents in the suburbs, and was super depressed. Weight Watchers helped me feel a lot better about myself, my ability to make positive changes, and a bunch of other good crap. BUT I now realize I also used my Weight Watchers success to feel superior to other people who maybe didn’t make the best food choices or didn’t exercise and that wasn’t cool. I talked about Points constantly, shamed my friends for eating or drinking certain things, and was just generally an asshole about how much “better” I looked. Even though it gave me some tools and knowledge I can use again in the future to make living healthier easier, I would think twice about going back on Weight Watchers. It’s hard, I think, to do something that’s so completely about oneself and maintain a normal level of compassion for others.