Confessions of a Former Gym Rat

gym rat
noun phrase

An athlete; a person who frequents gymnasiums; someone who prefers to spend leisure time working out in a gymnasium over other activities;

addict, freak, junkie, nut; someone who is so ardently devoted to physical training that it resembles an addiction

I used to hate my body.

Ever since intermediate school, I have been curvy, and I never saw anything cute or sexy about it. In 5th grade, my power tumbling coach refused to teach me a back handspring because she said I was too fat to spot. I started shopping in the juniors department when my peers were still decked out in Limited Too, and by the time they graduated to Abercrombie & Fitch, I was clear on to the women’s section. When I got my first job at Cracker Barrel and my work uniform was a button down shirt, I had to wear my dad’s because I popped the buttons off all the ladies’ shirts.

Even when I was younger and only slightly overweight, I hated my body for all the problems it caused.

Then I had three kids in 3 1/2 years, and suddenly I found myself not just curvy, but clinically obese. Clothes didn’t fit, my skin looked like cottage cheese, and I was absolutely miserable. I hated my body like I have never hated anything in my life. I hated it so much that I realized my feelings were a real problem. I couldn’t keep living – or thinking – like this.

I started with small steps: positive self-talk and researching how our bodies benefit from good nutrition and activity. I decided I was going to lose the weight, not because I hated my body and deserved to be punished, but rather because I loved my body and wanted to take care of it.

Being a stay-at-home mom with three kids three and under left me with few options for working out, so I started going at 5am, after the baby’s early morning feeding and before my husband left for work. At first I would do 15 slow minutes on the elliptical machine and leave looking like I’d just run a marathon. Eventually I gained endurance, and I started seeing some results on the scale. My clothes fit better. I felt more energized. I chased my kids around the yard without needing to sit down. When I started to see just how amazing my body is when I take care of it, I was hooked. You could find me at the gym every day from 5:15-6:30am, then back again at 10am for a group fitness class. I used every area of the gym, even the “men’s” weights, just to prove that there’s no such thing as “men’s” weights. I lost all the extra pounds I had been carrying, and I looked and felt better at 28 than I had at 18. I loved working out.

I was a proud gym rat.

A few years into it, life got… different. I had two miscarriages. I became severely depressed. I got pregnant for the 6th time and was high risk — that meant low impact. I was sicker with this pregnancy than the other five combined, and for the first time I experienced wicked prenatal insomnia. Lying awake at 3am every night, there was a voice in my head that would always say, “Welp, may as well go to the gym!” and a few times I actually did. But it didn’t take long for the lack of sleep and overexertion to catch up to me, and I felt absolutely horrible. I tried to eat healthy and continued bi-weekly yoga past 33 weeks, but I still gained 50 lbs. while pregnant.

“It’s okay,” I would laugh whenever I talked about it. “I lost it before, I’ll just do it again!” Grand were my plans to get back to the gym after baby and shed the weight in no time, now that I know what I’m doing. Grand was my failure when I realized this baby changed everything, and it just wasn’t gonna happen. But you know what? I don’t even care.

As it turns out, during my weight loss journey I learned a lot more than how to use HIIT to maximize calorie burn and the difference between 200 calories of avocado versus 200 calories of Oreos. In fact, I also learned that my body is pretty flipping amazing at any size. My physical self-discovery was equal-if-not-more parts emotional self-discovery, and I now know myself better. Some of that was hard as I realized there were plenty of things I didn’t like when I looked into both the literal and metaphorical mirrors. But I put in the work, and I became a person I really love. Best of all, those positive inner changes I made are unaffected by any outer change in my pants size. I like who I am now, and as a result, I don’t really mind my overweight body anymore.

If you and I were sitting at Chick-fil-A chatting while semi-supervising our kids on the playground, and you told me that you hate your body because of your weight, I would shut that mess straight down. I would tell you all the wonderful things that define who you are, and none of them would be a number on the scale. I would talk about what a good listener you are, how tender you are with your kids, your contagious laughter, and the way your eyebrows are always on point. You would probably blush and roll your eyes because you secretly really adore your eyebrows, and hopefully you would walk away with a little more love for the woman you are regardless of size.

If I can talk to you that way, why would I not do the same for myself?

Sure, I’d love to get back to my active lifestyle and lose this weight again, but to be honest, it’s not as high on my priority list as it once was. Due to some recent life changes, I have fallen back into old habits of being sedentary while eating too much fried/sugary/processed food, and I feel terrible. But I have learned that eating terrible and feeling terrible doesn’t mean I AM terrible.

I have started making better food choices because I love myself, and I deserve to feel well and energized, not because I hate myself and deserve to be punished with deprivation. I am making a solid attempt to go to the gym more often than not, because I feel strong and enjoy mood-boosting endorphins when I work out, not because I am a slob and ought to be tortured. When I eat a doughnut or skip the gym, I am not a failure; rather I am a woman with a life and a ton of other responsibilities, and it’s okay to not do everything.

Truth be told, I will probably always be a little bit fat, and that’s fine with me. My kids love snuggling their faces into the extra soft fluff of my midsection, and I love snuggling my face into a warm chocolate brownie with ice cream. I wholeheartedly believe confidence is the best makeup, and as long as we love ourselves, we will exude our own personal beauty, whether or not that meets some arbitrary and often unattainable social standard.

So if you’re super fit and love working out, more power to ya, girl! Lift like you mean it! If you’re more interested in shredded cheese than shredded abs, yum-o girl! Make something creamy and melty and delicious! If you’re somewhere in the middle, or somewhere else altogether, you do you, girl! This life is all yours, so honor your body and your mind by being both physically and mentally healthy.

You are so worth it.

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6 Responses to Confessions of a Former Gym Rat

  1. Natalie
    Natalie March 13, 2017 at 10:10 am #

    I love this post Mary Beth!!!

  2. Jama March 13, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

    I’m a fit chick who loves this gym…and I love this post super hard! Way to go, mama. You rock!

  3. Mary Beth March 14, 2017 at 7:51 am #

    Thanks, Jama! Keep doing what you love and loving yourself!

  4. Ruth March 19, 2017 at 2:36 pm #

    I love when people have seen both sides of something. Best part of Tina Fey’s book is when she urges everyone to be skinny and be chubby.

    • Mary Beth March 20, 2017 at 8:34 pm #

      Thanks, Ruth! Tina’s book is on my list of things to read when I can sit in quiet for longer than the time it takes to use the bathroom. 😉

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