My Toxic Relationship with Exercise and How I Overcame it

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The first thing I think of when I hear the word exercise is mainly how it sounds so fierce and harsh, shedding pounds and breaking muscles all in order to become fit and healthy, which, don’t get me wrong is a great thing, if that’s what you’re striving for. But me? I can’t say I want to strive for that, at least not anymore.

As a young pre-teen/teen I loved exercise, it was the one thing in my life I had complete control over, besides my diet, and that felt great. I felt very adult and more capable of making decisions such as what I wanted to work on and how. It all started with pilates (which I still think is good, just not for me anymore). Of course, with things like exams and education looming over my shoulder I stopped, and I’m glad I did because I was no way getting enough food or nutrients in my body to begin with.

Fast forward to a few months ago, I downloaded an app to track my process (essentially, burning calories) which once I ended a workout gave me motivation to continue. All I wanted to see was a graph which was linear and inclining, so burning more calories than the day before. At this point I still wasn’t consuming enough food, some days I was burning more than I was consuming and though I felt awful I made a promise that I would exercise.

Not really for any particular reason but just for seeing the numbers get bigger. I was always a slim child and now at age 21 I’m still pretty slim, I haven’t changed very much over the years, but some days I would see a pouch, my stomach and that also made me want to continue shedding my weight (I want to emphasise I had not very much to begin with).

And that’s when the red flags started popping up, every time I missed a day due to work (I was working a 9-5 at this time), I felt more and more insecure about my body, the way it looked, wondering how it would look once I lost all the so-called progress I’d made. All in all, I felt utterly crappy. But at the same time not moving my body also made me feel crappy.

And then I had my a-ha moment. I’d been reading up on yoga and the benefits of it, I’d tried yoga many times in my life, but I found it too slow, too boring and too just plain. There was no rush of adrenaline that pilates provided me with, there was no jumping jacks or sit-ups. It was all breath and calm movements.

Once I made the decision to quit working out, I decided to try yoga again for a week. If I still wasn’t getting into it after 7 days I’d move onto something else, simple as that. The first day was the most difficult, despite my attempts at breathing and calming my mind, too many thoughts were rushing through.

The second day though I decided to change my perspective, yoga wasn’t a punishment, it was to help me be flexible and stretch my muscles, it was just another form of self-care. That’s when my relationship began to change, I was more aware of my breath, I could easily quieten my thoughts and focus on movement.

Safe to say, many many weeks later I’ve fallen in love with the art of yoga. And have no plans to quit. I might not be seeing the calories drop or even the sweat forming on my forehead. But I am feeling a sense of peace and calm, something which I never thought would be possible. All because in the past I let exercising consume me.

How I Overcame the Toxicity

I changed my mindset. The mind is a powerful tool, more powerful than we could ever imagine. Instead of seeing exercise as a pursuit requiring losing weight, I reframed it as a way for me to clear my thoughts and let go of the days worries, it went from pressurising to meditative.

I lost sight of the end goal and focussed on the journey. This was difficult to do, I could easily imagine killer abs and rock solid biceps, but what came after yoga? A headstand? The splits? I couldn’t picture much. Then I decided to see what would happen if I thought about the process, I realised the movements themselves and art of focusing my thoughts and breath meant more to me than the possible end goal.

I took better care of myself. This by far, is the most difficult, and when you really think about it’s not something that can be accomplished overnight, it’s a lifelong process. I’ve always had a bad relationship with myself, I grew up wanting to me anyone but myself and I relished any chance I could get at changing who I was, at least outwardly. When I came to realise this body and soul were forever mine and that forever may not be a long time, I started to let myself be heard and open up thoughts and feelings. I picked out red flags (the negative associations I had with exercising) and decided I didn’t want to torture myself any longer.

I let myself have bad days. Even now it’s been weeks of me practicing yoga and I still run into obstacles, sometime my anxiety will be overwhelming and I won’t be able to move my body the way I want to or calm my racing thoughts. But I try my best anyway and move on, as long as I know I did what I could, there’s no point hurting myself for not trying harder. In those moments, I can’t and that’s okay. I’ll try again another day.


-Whenlifeawakns (1)

© Afiyah/WhenLifeAwakens, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Afiyah/WhenLifeAwakens with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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