i quit exercising for 20 years

While I’d been living in freedom from my eating disorder for well over a decade, it took much longer to freely engage in exercise. I recognized that in the past my exercise levels had become obsessive. Fearful that I’d slip back into the same obsessive mindset if I started exercising, I largely avoided it altogether. Occasionally I’d dip my toes in the water with a gym membership here and a workout DVD there. However, for the most part, I nestled right into the bosom of my fear, finding a convenient excuse to quit exercise for 20 years.

THE SHIFT

Two years ago things started to shift. We embraced a new lifestyle of RV living and I vowed to start praying through my fears and embracing discomfort. Three months into our travels, the topic of exercise rose to the top. Not only had my husband started running a few days a week, but we found ourselves parked adjacent to a couple that seemed to think daily exercise was part of their full-time job (I later found out that it was). I’d stare out my window watching them take turns working out in the Florida heat and think, “That looks hard, why would anyone want to do that?” or “I think they are taking that exercise stuff a little too seriously.

THE QUESTIONS

In defense of my own personal fears, justified myself right out of taking action on my own health. As the days passed and their consistency remained, my resolve started to waver. Instead of directing my thoughts at them, I found myself starting to look at myself. A flurry of thoughts started swirling through my mind:

What would happen if I gave myself another chance at this?
But what if I started obsessing again? What if I backslid into my old ways?

My food mindset has been healthy and whole for a long time.
What if my mindset was focused on being strong instead of being skinny?

How could I maintain a regular exercise routine while on the road?
My husband was doing it. My crazy neighbors were doing it. It must be possible.

What would happen if I committed to regular exercise?
How would that feel 6 months from now, a year from now if I didn’t quit?

Not typically one to tread lightly into new terrain, I sat on these thoughts for a few months, pulling them out every now and then to re-examine them from new angles. Out of curiosity, I researched the workout programs my neighbors were using. I discovered that they were health coaches who supported people using their programs with online accountability in the area of exercise and nutrition. I looked into the costs and discovered they were markedly less than I’d anticipated. I wondered and wavered some more.

THE CHALLENGE

On Super Bowl Sunday the men were outside in camp chairs watching a TV mounted in the bed of a truck while I found myself inside an RV surrounded by women munching on snacks and sipping wine. The topic of exercise came up. Many chimed in that this was an area they could use some accountability in. The idea of a plank challenge surfaced. Each woman would put in $25 and for one month we would practice our planks at home. We’d check in with each other and report our progress. At the end of the month, the woman with the best time overall and the woman who saw the greatest improvement would spilt the pot.

I was in.

Perhaps now would be a good time to mention that I’d never done a plank before. In fact, I had to google the term to be sure that what I thought I’d just agreed to was actually accurate. My starting time was piddly but I didn’t really care.

I was going to do this.

As the month progressed, so did my progress.  My family got behind me and tried to beat my time. It was fun to see how my consistent actions could influence both my family and the friends in my challenge. Often I would revisit my thoughts of committing to a regular exercise program with accountability and found that the idea was growing on me.

i quit exercise for 20 years
Photo: My family trying to beat my plank time

Checking in with the group was a fun motivator and I found the challenge stretching me internally as well as externally. We were encouraged to share photo proof of our daily plank with the group and I did so willingly. However, halfway through the month, I broke the two-minute mark and in my excitement, I shared the photo online. Almost immediately I regretted it. “What if people think I’m trying to brag?” In my fear of your opinion, I eventually deleted it.

i quit exercise for 20 years
Photo: This is the plank photo that I shared online and then later deleted

Despite my hesitation to share my progress online, I determined to be the winner in the category of most improved. If ever there was a time to be rewarded for beginning with a low time, it was now. When the day arrived to complete our final plank, my family stood around me cheering as my pre-selected motivational music pulsed through the RV. It wasn’t my best time ever, but it was a solid well-earned time and I was proud of the progress I’d made. As the final results rolled in, it was determined that I had secured the most improved time. While the victory felt good, the true reward was the internal shift that had occurred in the process.

THE DECISION

After the plank challenge, I approached my husband. “What do you think about me committing to working out? Is this a bad idea? It is a waste of time, of our money?” Ever my listening ear and safe support, he patiently asked about my goals, my motivation, and the cost. As we talked it through, I could feel my resolve rising up inside me. Mastering this old foe was something I could do, something I wanted to do. With my Trent’s full support and a brand new yoga mat (purchased with my plank prize money), I dove in.

i quit exercise for 20 years
Photo: The time that we were broke down on the side of the road in Canada and I went in the RV to do my workout while we waited for AAA

THE ROCKY START

Things started strong. I loved the accountability and the extensive online library of workout programs. I printed off my workout calendar, hung it on the fridge and started marking off the days like a boss. A few weeks in, however, I began discovering compelling reasons to quit. First, my knee started bothering me and I struggled to modify my workouts accordingly. Next, the unique nuances of regular travel required a higher level of time management on my end. I had to be willing to get up early in order to get my workout in before we left for the day or do it at night before I went to bed. When we were boondocking with a limited water supply, I had to be willing to clean off with a baby wipe instead of a full shower. Then, of course, there were the sore muscles, those aren’t fun.

I started and stopped my way through the first few months like a teenager learning to drive with a clutch. I wasn’t impressing anyone, but I was making forward movement and that felt good. Then came our unexpected breakdown in Canada. Our truck engine blew and what we thought would be a one day shortcut through Ontario, become a drawn out month of repairs and waiting. I’d not prepared for being out of the country with limited internet or expected the emotional accompaniment of our open-ended repairs. This became my month of decision. Was I committed to this or was I just in it as long as it was convenient?

I thought back to the question I’d asked myself several months back,

What would happen if I committed to regular exercise?

How would that feel 6 months from now, a year from now if I didn’t quit?

and I realized that I still wanted to know the answer to that question.

I thought back to the question I’d asked myself several months back,

What would happen if I committed to regular exercise?

How would that feel 6 months from now, a year from now if I didn’t quit?

and I realized that I still wanted to know the answer to that question.

THE COMMITMENT

That became my “I’m all in” moment. In the days to follow I searched Hamilton, Ontario for free Wi-Fi to download the workouts to my phone. I swatted away mosquitoes and withstood the humidity while I knocked out my workouts one day at a time. 21 days later I completed my first workout from start to finish. I felt strong and empowered.

STRONG, NOT SKINNY

It’s been just over a year since that “stuck in Canada but moving forward with my plan” moment. I’ve set goals and reached new milestones. In January of 2018 I ran my first 5K. In May of 2018 I completed my first advanced level workout program. I started out with 2 lb. dumbbells and I’ve worked my way up to 20 lb. Just this month I broke 200 pushups in one 30 minute workout session and I completed my advanced first 90-day program. I don’t tell you any of these things to brag, I tell you so we can celebrate together what can happen when a shift in mindset occurs and fears are broken. Notice that I haven’t told you how much weight I have lost because my focus is strong, not skinny.

i quit exercise for 20 years
Photo: The morning I completed my 90-day challenge. I wanted to take a photo (and share it this time) to remember how good it felt to finish strong!

WHAT HELPED ME

Changing my mind:

What I’ve discovered since my plank challenge is that our mind is our single most limiting factor. What we believe we can or cannot do holds great power. It’s important to feed my mind with truth from God’s word about who I am in Him as well as wisdom from others who have broken through the bondage of fears and limiting beliefs. I’ve made it a discipline to be in God’s word as well as at least one other personal development book each day.

Creating a support system:

Tapping into the benefit of accountably with others who have similar goals has been not only motivating but fun. Knowing that I’m not the only one struggling to fit in a workout before a travel day or consume my daily water goal creates camaraderie. Realizing that I’ve got ladies expecting me to check in with them on my progress encourages follow-through.

Sharing my story:

Several months ago God started nudging me to be more open about this part of my story. He wanted to use it to for His glory. As I leaned into what this might look like I felt He was encouraging me to share my past eating disorder and exercise addiction but my current day-to-day life through my Instagram Stories in order to be an encouraging light. I’ve identified a bit with Moses in the Bible since that time. It pushes me outside of my comfort zone. I still occasionally fight the tendency to “delete” instead of share because of what you might think. But the process is good and I hope my desire to encourage and build up comes through.

Taking the next step:

After seeing my own physical and mental growth through this process, I’ve discovered my heart for other women struggling to wade through their own mental battles of food, exercise and self-worth. While I can’t fight for them, I can offer to fight alongside them. I want a platform to declare: You can do this. You are bigger than this fear. So much more is lying dormant inside of you. God loves you. You have value. You have unspeakable worth. You are more than the number on the scale or the size of your jeans! Stepping into the role of health coaching has allowed a platform for this to happen.

Each month I get the privilege of inviting women into a private accountability group where together we can dig deep and reach high toward our goals of better health both inside and out. Some of my groups are free and others accompany the paid subscription of the workout programs I’ve used for the past year and a half (the one that shocked my husband with its affordability).

HELPING YOU

It is my prayer that in telling you my story, God will stir something inside of you. Maybe it will be a greater understanding or compassion for someone who struggles with their own form of addiction. Maybe it will be seeing a part of your story reflected within my own. Perhaps it will just be thankfulness at one more bond being loosed.

I’d love to hear your story so please feel free to share what’s on your heart. I’d also love the privilege of working with you. Reach out if you’d like to hear more about any of my upcoming accountability groups.

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