Tell me if this sounds familiar: I used to go to the gym kicking and screaming. I went because “I had to” or because “I should.” And because I went in with that mindset, I felt like every minute I spent on the elliptical was a lifetime. Are you nodding along with me?
So many of us move our bodies from a place of shame. We move to get away from a body type we don’t want to be, or to make us “feel better about ourselves”—which for most of the population really means to not feel lazy or like a slob. The bottom line is that we connect movement and the results of movement with how “enough” we are.
Like so many others’, my movement story started with shame. I started working out to lose weight because I believed that my size was my worth, the skinnier I was, the more worthy I was. Since I felt like a piece of s*** all the time thanks to my buddies—clinical depression, anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder—I thought losing weight was the only way I could start feeling better about myself.
A miraculous thing happened when I began working out consistently, though. Through moving my body, I started to realize that I felt stronger inside and out even after I left the gym. It helped me turn my life around after a hospitalization under suicide watch. My depression and anxiety became easier to manage, and I was better able to focus on the techniques I was working on with my therapist.
While these benefits were astounding, I wasn’t aware how dangerous it was to be motivated by metrics and aesthetics. I was constantly running toward “being enough” through my body shape and size. But the finish line was always the same distance away no matter how skinny, toned, or strong I got. I was never enough. Without my realizing it, I’d spiraled into the depths of an eating disorder.
After years of being driven by shame to work out harder and harder and eat less and less, I hit rock bottom and landed back in eating disorder recovery. It was when I lost all control that I finally realized what I’d been doing was killing me, and that shame was the voice that said I deserved it.
Through working with an individual therapist and support groups, I was able to see that shame had caused me to believe that Health was punishment.
During my healing, I re-dedicated myself to moving from a place of love, and made a commitment to what I now call “True Health”—a highly individualized, shame-free version of Health. True Health is whatever you need to do to feel good, not what someone else or our mental illness says will get us to “enough.”
The most profound tool I used to release shame around movement was to simply connect to my body.
I learned how to listen to my body. I heard my needs for the first time, and listened. I felt my body enjoying certain types of movement and reeeally not liking others. Opening up to my body’s voice was a revelation.
Through honoring my body’s needs and desires, I cultivated a deep trust within myself that I’d never had before. I began feeling the difference of moving for fun and True Health rather than shame. All the negative charge from movement slowly disappeared, leaving joy in its wake. As I continued investing in the growth of that connection, my body image and self-worth as a human skyrocketed.
Now, I move in ways that my body wants. When it needs rest, I listen. When it needs to move, I listen. Without shame running the show, I look forward to moving.
The reality of shame is that it’s just how many of us were taught to motivate ourselves to become “enough.” But that technique doesn’t work. It leaves us feeling horrible about ourselves and often sabotages our efforts when enough-ness isn’t found with the final results (it hardly ever is).
So what’s the key to breaking shame apart? It’s waking up to the fact that shame is inherently flawed. Shame cannot live in the face of the truth: no one needs to earn “enough-ness.”
To dissolve shame we need to understand that we are all enough exactly as we are right now.
It doesn’t matter what size you are, how fast or long you go, or what kind of movement you do. What matters is how you feel doing it. Your experience is your whole world after all.
The shame voice still speaks inside my head every so often, but the difference now is that I know what it wants. So I turn around and remind it that I don’t need to hurt myself to be enough, and True Health never demands that of me.
Thanks to my recovery, I don’t run away from who I don’t want to be; I move in celebration of who I am.
Movement is so much more than a weapon of shame and my story is proof that it can be rewired. So the next time you hear, “You should go work out,” in your head, check yourself on where it’s coming from and ever so gently focus yourself back onto True Health. Because you’re worthy of feeling good now.
On April 14, TWLOHA will be hosting its 6th Annual Run For It 5k. It’s a chance for you to move for things that matter—whether that’s health, recovery, or in memory of a loved one. You can run/walk directly from your community as a virtual runner, or participate in the local race being held in Satellite Beach, FL. Either way, we hope you’ll join us as we move to bring conversations of mental illness to the forefront of our communities.
Amy Clover is a writer, coach, teacher and the force behind Strong Inside Out. Strong Inside Out is a movement devoted to helping you break free from shaming, metric-based health standards, so you can build individual health without scales or judgment instead.