The summer after I graduated from high school I worked in a daycare at a family resort. It meant staying there during the week and spending lots of time with the other teens who also worked in various places around the resort. One evening my friends and I were walking on the path around the lake when one of the other girls took off running. When we caught up with her one of the guys asked her what that was about and she replied, “I just love running.” When I commented that I did not one of the older boys looked at me and said, “Maybe that’s why she’s so fit.”
I was crushed. And I never forgot that moment.
The reality is that I was actually in pretty decent shape at the time but my frame has never been long and lean like my running friend. And there were other forms of exercise I did enjoy but I wasn’t confident enough then to say that (and wouldn’t be for years to come) or even realize that it should be said. Instead I internalized the comment and learned in that moment to NEVER admit that I didn’t like any form of exercise. If I didn’t like it all, I’d be judged.
Fast forward twenty (!!!) years and even though I’m more confident and learning to embrace my body as it is I still find myself feeling as if I MUST not only exercise regularly but also enjoy it. To admit that I don’t like exercise takes me back to that lake and I’m an insecure 17 year old again.
But there it is, I still don’t like exercise. I find it tedious and boring. There are a few things I think I could learn to like (though never really love), or at least find a bit of pleasure in. But they are all things that cost money I don’t have right now. I had to let the gym membership go when I lost my job so no more elliptical or lap pool access. I also enjoy walking outdoors (sometimes, it gets boring after a while too) but not where I live. I’ve rolled my ankle on loose gravel a few too many times (once taking months to recover fully) to really enjoy walking on our gravel road and I prefer paved trails- but I can’t drive to a paved trail three times a week. I’ve done the math and it would cost about $100/month in gas if I did. (And I have a fuel efficient car.) I could group it with other errands near the trail but I’ve tried that and it doesn’t always work. Sometimes doing both is too much and leaves me feeling completely depleted. Sometimes it’s not a good time of day for walking (especially in the summer when the heat requires early mornings).
And when I look at that paragraph I think those reading will see me whining, making excuses. They’ll think I should just find something and make myself do it. And maybe I *should* do that but for some reason I have just never been able to make it happen for a sustained period of time. That’s really difficult to admit; I have tears stinging my eyes as I write this at the thought of exposing myself to all of this judgement.
But, thankfully, I’m not 17 years old anymore. The idea of people judging me still makes me uncomfortable but it doesn’t paralyze me anymore; I am no longer driven by my need to please. Now it’s more like an observation, “Oh, I still have an issue with that, interesting.” And then I move on. Some may be judging me for my lackluster attitude toward exercise (though most probably wouldn’t if I were thin) but I realize now that this kind of like judging someone for not liking broccoli. We like what we like and don’t have complete control over it. You might be able to learn to tolerate broccoli but that doesn’t mean you’ll love it just because I do. We are not all the same, inside or out.
So, today, in spite of being very uncomfortable about saying it, I’m giving myself permission not to exercise regularly if I don’t really want to. (And you don’t have to eat your broccoli if you don’t really want to.) When I talk about health at every size my mental and emotional health are part of that equation too. I’m still looking for something I love that fits in with our budget and if I find it I’ll be thrilled. But I’m done beating myself up about it if it I don’t.