Finding peace with fitness beyond the scale

The long and hard journey of figuring out which workouts were right for me

photo of someone walking through a park.
PHOTO: Emma Simpson / Unsplash

By: Hannah Kazemi, Staff Writer

Content warning: mentions of disordered eating

Physical education was far from my favourite class in high school. I played on various soccer, basketball, and volleyball teams growing up. But I’ve always been a little bit “bigger,” and dealt with varying degrees of disordered eating, body dysmorphia, and self-esteem issues. 

I wanted so badly to be skinny that I started going to the gym — except I had no idea what I was doing. When a few months passed and I hadn’t noticed any changes in the way my body looked, I became frustrated. I swore off the gym after deciding that achieving my “dream body” was not worth the toll it was taking on my mental health. 

Since then, I’ve been experimenting with different ways of being active that don’t come with the huge expectations that encompass working out in a traditional gym setting. One of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome is understanding that the way I work out and stay active can change over time.

I signed up for the Sun Run once because I wanted to challenge myself. My mom was extremely surprised at my decision because I had never expressed interest in running before. But I trained for a few months and completed the race. I wasn’t fast nor was I very fit at the time, but I did it and was proud of myself for it. I fell out of the habit of running after that and started taking classes at my neighbourhood recreation centre to try out different types of core and strength training. That phase lasted a little longer than my first running stint, but it didn’t stick after I, once again, wasn’t seeing physical changes in my body.

It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) that my workout habits changed. I realized that my intentions surrounding working out and staying active shouldn’t actually be about becoming thin, but should rather be focused on moving my body in ways that feel good to me and get my heart rate up. Shifting my mindset in this way helped remove the nervousness, social pressure, and negative emotions that I previously associated with working out. I started doing it for me and nobody else.

I began going on really long walks around my neighbourhood, which then evolved into jogging whenever I wanted an extra challenge. Now, I feel adrenaline instead of anxiety when I think about going out for a walk or a run. YouTube has also exposed me to so many videos customized for varying skill levels and physical abilities. I’ve really been enjoying at-home Zumba workouts that include early 2000s music. It feels more like dancing to Rihanna in my bedroom than exercising, which has done wonders for my mental and physical health and has made being active much more approachable and enjoyable for me.

While exercise is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle, it should never be something that you despise. That’s what held me back from enjoying being active for so long. You have to find your comfort space, whatever that may look like. It might be the gym, or it may be on a mat on your bedroom floor. There is no unconventional space to work out, as long as it’s done in a safe manner. Working out away from a gym doesn’t make what you’re doing any less beneficial.

Most importantly, find an activity you crave. It may be hard at first, and it may take a while to feel like you’re in your element. But it should be something that makes you feel just a little bit better at the end of the day. You might not feel this with the first activity you pick up. Even when you do find something you enjoy, you’re not stuck with that same exercise for the rest of your fitness journey. I’ve learned to have fun, take it a day and a time, and enjoy the endless possibilities.