Resetting my intention with exercise

Ella Schuellerman, Arts & Life Editor

This week in E’s Editorial, I want to take the time to unpack my intentions with working out and the dangerous slope I headed down three years ago. I also discuss how I was able to refocus myself towards a goal of strength and happiness, not obligation. (Ella Schuellerman)

I had a tumultuous relationship with my body three years ago. More specifically, how I felt about working out. During my first year of college, I would set my alarm for before the sun even rose and head to the gym for a 6 a.m. workout. I would rip myself out of bed already wearing a sports bra and shorts, so I could get out the door faster. I’d hustle across South Belvoir Boulevard. and workout for about an hour despite feeling like a groggy zombie.

One of my favorite ways to get moving on a daily basis is quick walks through my neighborhood. (Ella Schuellerman)

That was just my first visit to the gym in a day. I’d go to class, eat a bland spinach salad for lunch and go to the gym again, but this time for one and a half hours. This was the uncompromising, unchangeable cycle that I kept up with until my sophomore year when I was diagnosed with an eating disorder, fueled by excessive exercise and severely restrictive eating. 

According to Psychology Today, if people cancel plans to get a workout in, exercise to compensate for the food they ate or exercise despite being exhausted or ill, they might have an unhealthy relationship with exercise that needs to be healed. 

When I assumed I was at my healthiest, I was not healthy at all. My body was tired, and my mental health and perception of myself was distorted. It’s taken every day since to actively pivot my mindset and relationship with working out. 

While I did not grow up as a school athlete, I played sports most of my childhood, danced, cheered and even did CrossFit for a bit. Once I got to college, I had this internal assumption that I needed to keep it up, but instead went above and beyond to try to reach some invisible, unattainable, never-ending number. Looking back, I have realized that I went about moving my body all wrong. I was not working out because

I enjoyed it. I was working out because I felt like I absolutely had to or else there would be consequences. 

The Psychology Today Writer Jennifer Rollin says “Many of the popular ‘fitspiration’ images and quotes seem to glorify the idea of taxing your body to the extreme. For instance, a quick Google image search of ‘fitspiration,’ yields a picture of a woman exercising with the caption, ‘Don’t quit. You’re already in pain. You’re already hurt. Get a reward from it.’ However, there is nothing admirable about exercising when you are sick, injured or physically and mentally exhausted.”

One of the things that has helped me most when working out or maintaining a life that prioritizes health and wellness is simply a word change. (And getting the word fitspiration out of my head for good). Instead of saying “I have to work out today,” I say, “I bet I’ll feel good today if I move my body.” 

Movement. Just saying it makes me feel relaxed and happy. I have turned that word into a positive experience I make sure to get each day. I move my body every day not because I have to, but because I really want to. Rather than working out to try to look some way, I do it to feel good and proud of myself. 

Having my gym close in 2020 forced me to get creative with my workouts. Typically my movement for a day would include a hike at a local trail (Hudson Springs Park pictured above) and then I’d head home and use laundry detergent gallons as my make-shift weights. (Ella Schuellerman)

Nowadays, I schedule time each day to move my body, whether it be a run or a good gym session that I will actually enjoy. I still do work out every day, but my intentions have completely changed when I go to the gym. It’s not something I do for this invisible, unattainable goal, but instead, because I want to feel strong, confident and proud of myself.

I am considering picking up CrossFit again this summer because one of my favorite things to do is lift weights and beat my personal records. I remember when my brother and I did it in high school. We loved the competitive, supportive energy as we walked into the building. I also began taking daily walks or runs since last March, because getting outside each day helped me get those steps in. But most importantly, it helped me check out of the many scares 2020 brought.

Whatever your choice is in daily physical activity, think about why you do it. Is it because you feel forced to? Because you have to? Or is it because you truly love moving your body and feeling strong? In order to build up to the latter, you need to start with completely refocusing your intentions.