It was a dark Monday morning when I laced up my shoes and drove to the gym, all the while dreading my workout. My eyes started to droop as I walked up the staircase, and I stopped in my tracks. I couldn't get through this. I drove all the way back, the back of my eyes stinging, and burst into tears as soon as I was alone.
This had been happening for a few days now, and I had convinced myself that I was just going through the average workout slump. I had gotten used to the tears, the depression, that feeling of absolute failure that weighed me down throughout my day. Every morning, I would either slog through a routine or cry because I couldn't get through it. I knew that something was wrong, but I was too scared to make a change. Fitness was my life, my identity. Without the gym, I didn't know who I was, and that frightened me. And so I kept up with it. Eventually, the depression started to infiltrate my performance at work. I started to binge-eat, and the pounds slowly crept back on. I was miserable.
After a few weeks of this routine, I woke up one day and was immediately hit by that usual wave of dread. There was nothing special about that morning, nothing to indicate that it would be a life-changing moment, but I got up and went straight into the shower instead of lacing up my shoes. My workout outfit stared at me, judging me for not pulling it together. I studiously ignored it. When I finally reached my office an hour earlier than I normally would, I burst into tears. But this time, I was smiling through it. I did that the next day, and the next, until it became easier. I had finally managed to break my toxic relationship with the gym.
From there on, I had no idea where to go. I knew that health was definitely going to be a major part of my life, and so, I turned to an aspect of fitness I had previously ignored: food. I ramped up my eating habits and started to spend more time with myself in the kitchen, experimenting with new recipes. I quickly discovered that I loved cooking, and I started to look forward to making my own meals each day.
I can't guarantee that I will never go back to the gym, but for now, I am happy where I am, rediscovering the simple joy of being able to move my body on my own terms.
I kept moving
Giving up the gym didn't mean I became completely sedentary. In fact, without the pressure of those numbers weighing down on me, I became even more active than I previously was. I went for long walks each day along the beach. Weekend swims became a regular part of my life. I started to experiment with all those options I had ignored before: hiking, cycling, dancing, and rock climbing were just a few on my list. The possibilities were endless. If someone had told me that I would become a hiker a year ago, I would have called them crazy. Today, I am in love.
I strengthened my relationships
Once I cut my toxic relationship with the gym, other relationships began to improve. Without all that time I spent dreading my workout, I could reach out to people I hadn't had time for before. I was noticeably less touchy and stopped snapping at everyone. I found a new community through swimming classes and hiking.
I lost weight
The biggest surprise to me through this journey was the change in my body. I had been resigned to the fact that I would probably gain back a few pounds or lose all my hard-earned muscle. But to my surprise, I not only LOST weight, I lost fat. Those layers of flab around my midsection that hours of weights and treadmills hadn't been able to incinerate were finally gone, with almost no conscious effort on my side. My legs and arms were noticeably leaner, and my waistline was finally coming in. Without all the rigorous high-intensity cardio, my curves also started to fill out.
I changed my mindset
Throughout my journey, the biggest change I've seen is in my mind. I am happier than I've ever been before in my life. I've switched my mindset from the number of calories I burned today or how heavy I could squat to how I actually FEEL on the inside. I've started to meditate daily and practice gratitude. Yoga has become an essential part of my life I didn't know I was missing.
Last week, I moved into an apartment and impulsively decided to visit the gym there. The trainer saw me looking around and asked if I needed any help. I smiled and shook my head, heading back out. In a way, this was closure, and I felt liberated from all the stress, the pressure, the tears. I'm not trying to imply that the gym isn't the right place to maintain an active lifestyle; it definitely can be. But for me, it simply didn't fit. I can't guarantee that I will never go back to the gym, but for now, I am happy where I am, rediscovering the simple joy of being able to move my body on my own terms. I couldn't be more grateful for this life.