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I have always had a stormy relationship with exercise. I have never had a knack for sports and I have never been a fast runner; when I was a kid this made me feel inadequate and like there was something wrong with me and my body. Later, in the depths of my eating disorder, I saw exercise as only important for one purpose: to reduce the size of my body. Exercise became a compulsion with rules and regulations and it was far from healthy or fun. Combined with inadequate nutrition, it made my body weaker instead of stronger. When I ate more than I felt comfortable with, exercise was used as a purging mechanism and a punishment.
My father, on the other hand, has an amazing relationship with exercise. My dad exercises regularly, but not compulsively. He exercises for fun and fitness, rather than to burn calories or look a certain way. His relationship with exercise baffles me, fascinates me, and inspires me. In hopes of providing some intuitive exercise inspiration, I have compiled a list of the top 3 ways my dad maintains a healthy relationship with exercise:
1) He genuinely enjoys the exercise he does.
My dad bicycles more often than he drives his car. He bicycles to work, to the supermarket, to doctor’s appointments- everywhere. When he has time, he also takes long bike rides for fun. My dad rides a bike because he loves it, not because he wants to burn calories or work toward a certain body type. As a result, he doesn’t think of biking as exercise or as a chore he needs to get done- he thinks of it as a way of life.
2) He views eating and exercise as separate entities.
This allows him to both exercise and eat in a healthy way, because he stays mindful and in the moment when he is eating and exercising. He listens to his body during both activities and acts accordingly, rather than listening to society’s “rules” about how eating and exercise should interact with one another.
3) He does not possess an all-or-nothing attitude about exercise.
My dad exercises regularly, but not all of the time. He does not allow exercise to control his life- he does not panic or feel like his day is ruined if he is not able to ride his bike due to bad weather or if he is not able to make it to the gym because of work. This also ensures that he keeps his exercise routine going, because if he goes a period of time without getting much exercise he does not throw his hands in the air and give up exercise altogether like so many people do.
Because of Dad’s relationship with exercise, he is happy. He has gained so many positive outcomes from exercising: he appreciates his body for what it can do, rather than for what it looks like; he is physically healthy and strong; he reaps the mood-enhancing benefits of balanced, moderate exercise. I am not in a place right now where the focus of my recovery can be exercise, but when I do reach that point I would love to follow my father’s example. His relationship with exercise inspires me, and I hope it can inspire you, too.
Jessica has a B.A. in Psychology and Women's Studies and is pursuing a graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She is passionate about social justice and hopes to make a difference in the lives of others and advocate for social change. Having recovered from an eating disorder, Jessica is committed to spreading the word that freedom from eating disorders is possible. Through her writing at Libero, Jessica hopes to empower those struggling with eating disorders to fight for the health and happiness that they deserve.
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