It’s the same cycle every year. It’s January and I decide to upgrade my self-care routine. It’s time to start eating better and exercising, but I’ve never been great at that sort of thing. I head over to Google.
The first thing I find is a barrage of videos and diet tips focused on how to obtain a certain kind of body.
My intention was to become stronger, have more energy, and fight chronic depression. But the world seems to say, “that’s not enough. You’re not enough.”
I know I need to eat better and exercise more, but I need practical advice. I don’t need apps telling me to pay $150/year to get a flat stomach and be whatever the hell “toned” means. Diet culture makes fitness synonymous with body shame. I’m not motivated by shame, so I give up every time.
This year will be different. I’m not giving up, because I know I can’t be the only person to have experienced this cycle. I’m on a mission to find resources that will help me use exercise and nutrition as a form of self-love.
The four most grating words in my life are “it’s good for you.” When I was a teenager, my parents tried to get to me to exercise by repeating these words. The word “good” gave a moral weight to my choices, implying not that not exercising was “good” and by extension I was “bad” for not doing it.
I wasn’t motivated by my parents’ values then, and I’m not still not motivated by anything the world tells me about how I should behave. I’m motivated by own brain, and I’ve worked hard to help find myself access a desire to be happy and I understand that a healthy body is important.
So why is it so hard to find resources to help me feel good, not “be” good? Google is like the personal trainer that Emily Heller talks about in this joke. I say, “Google, how do I get more stamina and energy?” and Google says, “but how many pounds do you want to lose?” The answer is zero.
I haven’t found one perfect solution to this struggle, but I have found a few useful resources and ideas. First of all, I’ve been cooking more. Cooking is a creative act. Diet culture focuses on what we shouldn’t eat. But meal planning allows me to sit down with myself and let me think about what I want to put in my body. My culinary experiments fill me with a sense of accomplishment (or at minimum a sense of “oops, that failed miserably but I’m still going to eat this all week because it’s what’s in the fridge now.) I found a few blogs with healthy recipes. It’s not about removing things from my diet. It’s about finding things I want to eat, and then belly laughing to comedy podcasts while my cat watches and judges how messy my kitchen is.
Exercise is harder for me. How do I get stronger while enjoying myself? The moment I start to sweat, my brain tells me to give up. Entering a gym makes me feel like an alien who’s just come to earth and is trying to figure out what all these weird machines do while men grunt in my vicinity. It’s been this way my whole life. I never even ran during gym class. Other kids taunted me for the way I ran, so I just didn’t. I stood on the sidelines and flinched if a stray ball came near me.
Lately I’m trying to find ways of moving my body that don’t feel like gym class. I’m not the only person who’s making this effort: the Health at Every Size movement is a community which values exercise as joyful movement rather than as punishment or obligation and their website has loads of resources from body positive personal trainers and nutritionists.
For me, that joyful movement can include a yoga class taught by the right person who makes me feel safe to rest when I need to. My last yoga teacher literally instructed us to think about bringing joy to ourselves and others. I also have a local chapter in my town of Fat Girls Hiking, a community of folks who want to move without thinking about changing themselves.
Fitness doesn’t have to be about losing weight or changing your body to conform to a certain image. I’m not motivated by competition or by big goals. I’d rather rather stroll around my neighborhood and creepily gawk at other people’s dogs. I’d rather explore nooks and crannies of my city that I didn’t know about.
I can’t say that my quest to find body positive fitness and health resources has result in one magic answer to my woes. But I can say that I’ve learned to trust my own body. I’m committed to continuing this search, and I’m committed to sharing what I find with anyone who wants to join me.