When I was young, I was never much of an athlete and had zero interest in playing a team sport. In elementary school, I dreaded gym class especially when we played dodge ball because I knew it was only a matter of time before I would get hit. Hard. I was usually one of the last, if not the last, picked by my classmates to be on their team. I couldn’t blame them though; when it came to sports, I was a weak link.
Time did nothing for me, and I was thankful that gym class at my high school in the town where I lived since birth was limited to only every other day and hardly qualified as rigorous. More than anything else, I remember standing around on a field chatting. Then in November of the ninth grade, I moved to New Jersey.
I don’t know what was in the water at my new school but on my first day there I walked into a huge gymnasium filled with students doing “calisthenics.” Yes, that was how the gym teacher who was leading what seemed like over a hundred students in the room referred to it. The kids sat in straight lines. The moment I saw them, I began to convulse. I felt like Judy in “Private Benjamin.” And then I assumed the position, out of fear. First came push ups. Then sit ups of multiple varieties, none of them pleasant. And jumping jacks, never a fun activity for the uncoordinated. I thought I was going to die.
The next three and a half years I managed to sprinkle with medicals, “legitimate” reasons why I should be exempt from gym class for a given quarter. Irritable bowel syndrome. A pinched nerve in my neck. Growing pains, long after I had stopped growing.
Graduation couldn’t come fast enough. On my last day in the gym as I posed for a picture with a friend in my cap and gown, all I could think about was that I would never have to step foot in that place again. Ever.
Thanks to my fast metabolism, I stayed rail thin for years without ever having to watch my weight. The Freshman 15 were other people’s problems. My claim to fame was eating an entire pizza the night before the GREs without ever gaining weight. Years later, pregnancy would change all that, and I eventually joined the ranks of women who had to “watch.”
When I was done having babies (three in under five years, two of which were back to back), I went on a health kick and got my now ex-husband on board. (No, that isn’t why we are divorced!)
As usual with everything I do, I went full force ahead, enlisting the help of not one but two trainers at two different gyms. I weighed my food. I counted cashews. I watched everything I put into my mouth and ate no more than 1100 calories a day. I weighed myself daily. Then multiple times daily, completely undressing every time.
On the day I reached my goal weight, I congratulated myself and vowed I would stop. When, during a subsequent stomach virus, I began weighing myself after every bout of sickness and became excited as the number on the scale dropped further and further, I recognized I was developing a problem and feared one day I wouldn’t be able to control it. Thankfully, I was able to put an end to it right then and there. I also took note of the wake-up call.
I hadn’t been treating my body well. Eventually, I stopped working out altogether.
The lifestyle I had created for myself was not one I could have ever maintained long-term or should have wanted to. The rigorous workouts were, at times, making me sick with muscle pain and fatigue and, although I looked as if I was in the best shape of my life, I wasn’t. I hadn’t been treating my body well. Eventually, I stopped working out altogether.
A few years later, my husband and I separated. And, without even being aware, I found myself on the “divorce diet,” shedding those few extra pounds I had put back on after my excessive daily workout days. And then I lost some more and became too thin. Only because I found solace in walking alone to sort my thoughts did that activity become my go-to form of exercise. I began walking up and down hills in my neighborhood for as many as nine miles per day or walked on the treadmill in my house. Without trying or even realizing, during that period I got into the best shape of my life, physically and mentally.
Today, I don’t walk nearly as much or as hard. Even so, power walking remains an activity that meshes well with my parenting, work schedule, and social calendar. More importantly, I love it. Whether I am walking alone or with friends, up and down hills or to the mall, I feel good. Best of all, it is free! No more gym or trainers for me (another part of the divorce financial diet). And I remind myself each day that a healthy workout is one that works for me, not the other way around.
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