My Fitness Journey, Part 2

WELCOME WELCOME to Part 2 of the story of my fitness journey! This is where it gets interesting. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can do that here. If you’re already caught up, I’ll pick up where I left off. The addiction.

I was very disciplined with my fitness routine. Over time, I started to feel really tired. Mentally and physically. Every day my body ached. I remember the torture of walking to class. The hills! I didn’t want to get out of bed. I laid in bed as often as I could, but I mustered up the energy to do my workout each night. That’s about all I could gather the strength to do. But I HAD to do it – or so I thought.

In the back of my mind, I knew something wasn’t right. But exercising is healthy. It’s good for you. It was me taking care of myself, right? In fact, it was the only way I knew to take care of myself at that time, while everything else fell apart. My stomach was a complete mess, and I was in so much pain that I could barely think straight. I was still a mystery case – no doctor seemed to know what to do. I was sick of taking pills and running tests.


I asked every doctor I saw about my exercise routine, and each told me to keep exercising. They told me to stick with it, because it could only help. Looking back, I shudder at this advice. I became obsessed with learning about other people’s exercise routines, and mine seemed similar or even “less than” theirs. I kept comparing. I kept searching. I just wanted reassurance, but nothing reassured me. In the back of my mind, I wanted someone to tell me I was doing too much. I was desperate for someone to tell me I didn’t have to feel so tired or so chained to an exercise regimen. However, everything I read and every person I asked, up until that point, told me that I was doing the right thing. In fact, sometimes I felt like I still wasn’t doing enough. That’s the damn Internet, for ya.

I worked out 6 days a week, and I had severe anxiety if I didn’t. I would have a panic attack at the thought of skipping a workout or deviating from my routine. I followed my split exactly. Leg day. Chest and back. Cardio and abs. Leg day. Arms. Cardio and abs. Rest. I worked out in the afternoon, and all I could think about the entire day leading up to my workout was my workout. I was scared I would get home too late and not be able to fit it in. I was nervous someone would invite me to do something and I would have to say no because I had to work out. It was controlling my life. I would make up excuses to not go places, when I was actually just working out. I was embarrassed that I was prioritizing exercise so much, and I didn’t want anyone to find out how much I thought about it. I thought that if I skipped a day, my entire split would be off. If I messed up my routine, what would I do then? What if I couldn’t get back on track? What if it threw everything off?

I knew I was addicted to exercise, but I didn’t want to say anything. I didn’t know who I was without exercise. It was my drug. It was truly the only thing left in my life that I could control. Doctors still didn’t know what was wrong with me, after months of testing and seeing way too many “specialists” to even count. I felt like I had lost most of my friends. I hated school, and I was sick of work. My relationship with my family was strained, to say the least. As I lost more and more weight, though, I knew in the back of my head that I needed to stop. I didn’t want to, though. I was afraid of what would happen if I did. The one thing I was trying so hard to control was actually spiraling out of control, but I didn’t want to face it.

Meanwhile, I was actually becoming increasingly embarrassed of the way I looked. I didn’t want people to see me. I felt like I was too skinny, and too muscular. My arms were my biggest insecurity because my biceps jutted out so far. I didn’t want to look the way I looked, and it was the first time in my life that I really felt insecure in my own body. I wore baggy clothes to hide it.

I sent my workout plan to my doctor, and he told me it was fine. I felt let down. I was secretly hoping he would tell me to scale back. I then sent it to my cousin – the one who originally taught me everything about strength training. He hadn’t seen me in a long time, and I didn’t even know if he knew how much weight I had lost. He revised it, big time. He told me to stop doing so much, and that it was unnecessary. I couldn’t let myself believe him. Throughout my life, I had learned that nothing could be easy. Everything had to be a fight. I was used to struggling, and I didn’t know any other way to be. I was afraid to change anything. I ignored his advice because it scared me, and I kept doing what I was doing.

Eventually I saw a nutritionist who explained to me, very bluntly, how dangerous my situation was. She told me she had never seen someone with body fat as low as mine. She explained how much stress that was putting on all of my organs, especially my heart. She told me that I was at risk for a heart attack at any time. Tears welled up in her eyes, and they did in mine, too. Part of me was relieved, because someone was finally telling me I shouldn’t feel the way I felt. Why had it taken so long?

The other part of me was angry. She told me I wasn’t allowed to exercise until I reached a safe weight. When would that be? No exercise at all? What about walks? What about just fewer days a week? 30 minutes instead of an hour? I couldn’t stop. It was the only thing that reduced my stress. It was the only thing that helped my stomach. I gave excuse after excuse. I tried to argue and reason. She told me I could do gentle yoga, stretching, every so often, but that was it. She preferred I do nothing at all. I cried the whole way home.

When I got home, I called the few friends I had left and told them what happened. I explained that my nutritionist told me I wasn’t allowed to exercise anymore, and I didn’t know what to do. She was being ridiculous, right?  I gave them the same excuses I gave her. While these excuses might have been valid for someone else, they weren’t valid for my physical and mental state at that time. Yes, exercise reduces my stress levels and helps with my digestion. But under those circumstances, it did not. Under those circumstances, exercise was a much bigger harm to my health than a help.

My friends all told me the same thing. “If she says you need to quit, you should quit. You’ll be fine.” I didn’t want to hear it. They tried to help me, but I could tell no one was going to tell me what I wanted to hear, which was that she was being ridiculous and that I should keep exercising. I didn’t know what I wanted anymore. It was a mess. My friends tried to support me. They told me to fill my time in other ways. They reassured me nothing bad would happen if I stopped exercising. I felt like no one understood me – none of them were interested in health or wellness. I was frustrated and mentally unhinged. I spent the next few days crying.

The first week without exercise was the worst. During my scheduled hour and fifteen minutes of a workout, I had a panic attack every day that week. I hid in my bathroom, hyperventilating, head spinning. Eventually, I learned to fill the time with other things. I started to work on my blog more. I spent more time researching my mysterious illness, being my own doctor. I read more books and research studies about nutrition than I ever thought possible. I watched movies. I read books. I tried to make plans with friends when I could, to hold myself accountable. I learned a lot of tricks to distract myself.

Eventually I decided to switch out that hour with yoga and meditation. I went on YouTube and found a few beginner yoga videos. Yoga for digestion. Yoga for breathing. Yoga for relaxation. Basically, stretching with directions. A few days a week I would do my yoga, which usually consisted of me laying on the floor and accidentally falling asleep. Other days, I sat on my yoga mat, cross-legged, and went deep into meditation.

Over time, I felt a lot of relief. My life wasn’t ending. Yoga and meditation were truly changing my life for the better. Calming me down. Giving me perspective. Helping me to find myself and get in touch with my inner being. This post is already too long for me to go fully in depth about how I changed during that time period, and how yoga helped me recover. But it was pivotal. I didn’t do any traditional “workouts” for months, and I found myself with a lot more free time on my hands. Not only did I have extra time in the day when I wasn’t working out, but I wasn’t spending all day stressing about when I would work out or what I would do if something came up and I couldn’t. It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Literally.

As a few months passed, my weight still wasn’t budging. That was very enlightening for me. I thought that as soon as I stopped working out, I would easily put on a few pounds. It didn’t happen, though. My weight stalled, unfortunately, but quitting my regular workouts and really resting made me feel better than ever before. I could sit down without being sore. I could walk up the stairs without getting winded. I finally had energy. I felt like I had time to have a life. I felt free.

Eventually, my nutritionist told me I could start adding in some exercise. I was nervous. The tables had turned, and now I was actually scared to exercise again. I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t know how to add in just SOME exercise. I’m such an extremist that the only thing I could fathom was an all or nothing approach. We went over options. Would I rather do less days a week but a little more time, or more days a week but less time? She told me to start with twice a week of strength training for 20 minutes each time, and to see how I felt. I was pessimistic. What was the point of that? I didn’t know what to do, because all I knew was my old split. How would I pick which exercises to do? I was used to doing every exercise I knew during every workout.

I tried it, though. I started slow, and each week I added a little more, until eventually I was able to strength train 3 or 4 times a week, 30 minutes each time. It took me awhile to get there, but I finally did. I loved this new way of training, and I didn’t feel like my body was “worse” than before. It was interesting to me, because I realized I didn’t have to do so much to feel satisfied with exercise. I didn’t have to feel completely wiped out after exercising. I could leave a workout actually feeling energized. I also finally realized that at the end of the day, diet has the most profound effect on body composition.

That launched me into a time period of having a really good relationship with exercise. I did it as something that made me feel better, not worse. Now that I knew what it was like to not do anything at all, I knew that any movement was good for my body. I wasn’t worried about doing “enough.” I never incorporated cardio again, because I realized there was no point in doing something I hated. I worked out to feel good and strong and happy, nothing else. So I did what I wanted. What I actually enjoyed.

As my health improved and my weight normalized, I fell into a routine with an upper/lower split. On off days, I did what I felt like. Sometimes I did yoga, sometimes nothing, sometimes a bodyweight circuit. I still did all of my workouts at home in my room. Still hated the gym. I had read so much about lifting in the past few years that I felt like I could easily justify my program, and I felt good about it. I alternated between gaining muscle and maintaining, and everything was going swimmingly.

Fast forward almost a year. I was stuck in a routine. My body felt fine, but mentally, I was bored. Every week was the same, and I started dreading my workouts because of it. There was no excitement – I knew exactly what I was going to do each day, and I didn’t feel a challenge. I liked sticking to my routine and knowing my plan ahead of time because it was one less thing I had to think about, but I didn’t like it because I was bored. Tradeoffs.

I still spent a lot of time learning about fitness. I learned about different training styles, splits, philosophies, and more. There were so many things I wanted to try, but I was scared to change anything. I knew how my body felt with my routine. It felt good. I was never really tired, and I felt like I was in shape. Still, something was off. Even though I felt strong, it wasn’t functional. I could do a bicep curl, but that didn’t translate to my real life.

I was really afraid of overtraining again because of my past, and I still didn’t trust myself. What if I switched something out and it was too much for my body? I didn’t want to accidentally spiral into overexercising. So I stuck with what I knew, but I was bored out of my mind. I wanted to experiment and try different programs, but I didn’t. Too scared. I became really curious about how doing more plyometrics and bodyweight workouts would affect me. I wanted to learn more about Crossfit moves. Just something to switch up the basic weight training I was used to. I researched and researched, but never did anything.

Meanwhile, I grew extremely irritated with the things I was seeing on social media and the Internet. So many girls were posting their workout routines, and to me it seemed like major overtraining. Girls were talking about how they used to overtrain and finally had a good relationship with exercise, but then they would post their current routine and it was still overexercising. What kind of message was that sending to other girls who were trying to figure out if they were overtraining, too? It started playing mind games with me. What if I was overtraining again, too, and didn’t realize it? What if what I thought was “normal” was actually too much? I felt like I couldn’t trust anything or anyone. I realized everything I read on the Internet was basically bullshit. I found out how many bloggers, some of them my own friends, were either lying about their exercise routines or still unknowingly promoting overtraining. Or still had exercise addiction but didn’t want to admit it to their followers or themselves.

At that point, I turned to probably the one person on this planet I trust completely when it comes to fitness – Les. She is a certified personal trainer, so she has actually studied this information (a.k.a. knows science), but also has years of real-life experience training others and herself to back up her opinions. Personal experience is always what I value most. She also just gets it, emotionally. She had her own struggles with overexercising and body image, and she overcame them. She is strong and confident, and I respect the hell out of her.

I also really love her training style. It’s unlike anything I have ever seen before, because it incorporates basically every type of training. (Except traditional, boring cardio, thank god.) I follow a lot of fitness professionals, but I have never seen anyone really give the best of every world. Trainers usually gravitate towards one style alone. And Les’s workouts are all about real strength and feeling good, not just aesthetics. It’s the type of training style I always dreamed of having, but didn’t really know how to do it. I could easily build a basic bodybuilding split, but I didn’t know how to create a workout plan that incorporated so many different styles of exercise. The Internet couldn’t help me with that one.

So I started being really annoying and asking her all of my fitness questions, instead of asking Google. I got much better answers from Les, and I saved a ton of time by avoiding the Google trap. She made me realize, even moreso, how much bullshit is out there when it comes to fitness. How things aren’t so clear-cut, and fitness is so different for every person. In talking with her, I realized that what I wanted, and what I needed, was a way to switch up my routine while still feeling “safe” about it. So I asked her to train me, because she is literally the only other person I would trust to ever train me at this point in my life, and she obliged.

I was extremely excited at first – we talked about my goals and how I wanted to feel. What my time commitment could be like, the equipment I had access to, etc. I loved having someone focus on me exclusively, as a unique individual, because I finally was going to have a workout routine tailored to MY body and created by someone who genuinely knows what she’s doing. That’s the problem I have with a lot of guides — I want something customized for me personally. I want to workout from home, I only have access to certain equipment, and I refuse to do steady state cardio, so I needed someone to take that into account and make the most of what I have.

Then, I got scared. Just really scared about change. The workouts she sent me were really different from my usual workouts. I was no longer going to be doing the same exercises I was used to. Ever single workout was different. She gave me exercises I had never tried, or even heard of, before. She incorporated traditional weight training alongside Crossfit moves, plyometrics, and bodyweight movements. It was basically exactly what I asked for, so I’m not sure why it scared me so much that it was right there in front of me. The other thing was, it was less than I was used to. Or so it seemed to be less, on paper. And WAY less than what those crazy girls on social media were posting. I was afraid I was going to lose muscle and progress. I didn’t want to get weaker.

Les had to be my therapist at first. She talked me through it, and she convinced me to just give it a chance and trust her. So I did.

I quickly realized that she could completely kick my ass in under 30 minutes, sometimes even 15, and that was much more efficient than the 45 minutes I used to spend lifting weights. The first two weeks, I was sore as hell. I was honestly shocked that I was so sore. I began to understand the importance of switching up your workouts to keep your body, and mind, guessing. I started to genuinely look forward to my training sessions. It was like a game. What was I doing today?! I never had the same workout twice, and for the first time in a long time, I felt challenged.

My relationship with exercise feels better than ever before. My body right now feels better than ever before. I feel stronger than ever. Functionally strong. Like, actually useful. I also feel like I have so much progress to make, which is exciting. I’m being pushed out of my comfort zone constantly, and I’m learning to love that. I love that I’m not committed to one style of training anymore, and that I can incorporate it all. I feel like my workouts are so efficient and effective. I’m getting more out of less – less time, less equipment, less weight, less stress! Get in, get out, sweat hard (most times), have some fun. I am never bored.

I also feel like I’ve been learning how to really listen to my body. I’m getting closer and closer to being able to actually intuitively train. I know a lot of people throw that term around, but being able to truly intuitively train is not an easy skill to learn. It’s bizarre to me how sometimes I will wake up and just know what my body needs. I never used to be able to know that – I just followed my schedule. Now, it’s like I crave a certain movement the way you might crave a certain type of food. Each day I’m learning more and more how to tell what my body wants from me.

I love fitness. It’s a huge part of my life, and it always will be. It makes me feel strong. It boosts my mood. It calms me down. Yes, it helps with my digestion. It fascinates me. More than anything, fitness has been a learning process for me. About exercise itself, and about me personally. I learn so much from Les, which I value a lot because I have such a hard time trusting pretty much anything on the Internet anymore. That’s also why I started studying to become a certified personal trainer. Who knows if I’ll pass the test – I really just want to learn about fitness as much as I can. I’m done with all of the random info put out there on the world wide web. I want some unbiased information in addition to more real life experience to figure out the myths and truths in the fitness world. Basically, my resources right now are Les, my own body and experience, my CPT program, and a few select other science-y people/studies that I have deemed worthy of my attention.

There you have it. My fitness journey. Always evolving and changing, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

P.S. Head to Les’s website, thebalancedberry.com, if you’re interested in getting trained one-on-one! She can do it online, from afar, like she does for me. She’s also running her online bootcamp again soon, so you can sign up for that too!