A confession: the reason I started going to the gym (vs now)

Just over a decade ago, I started ‘working out’ for the first time. In the early days, I didn’t really know what I was doing. The gym was an intimidating place to say the least. I was convinced that every other guy there was huge. There was me, this small, skinny brown guy attempting to build muscle.

An uncle of mine, who was into his weightlifting, used to drag me along and show me the ropes. At first, I didn’t particularly like it – especially when it came to ‘back day’ or ‘leg day’; I actually ended up throwing-up mid-session after a leg session with my uncle, who trains particularly hard – to this day, I still get nausea if I train too intensely for too prolonged a period, and especially if legs are in some way involved.

Training for the first time, and using muscles I’d not used before, it wasn’t too long before I start to notice both strength and body improvement.

gym body post
credit: NeuPaddy

As I mentioned, I was a small and skinny kid. I was one of the shortest in my year group (140 people) until I was 17. I’ve lost count of the number of times relatives told me I ‘was too skinny’ or ‘don’t eat enough’ or some other weight-based comment. Little did I know it at the time, but really this was a form of body-shaming. In India culture, unless you’re particularly rotund and chunky, you’re under-weight. Seriously. I don’t know where it stems from. Perhaps, back in the day in India, a fuller figure was a sign of affluence. Who knows, just a theory.

As a sensitive child, I was self-critical enough as it was without these unhelpful comments. I remember going on holiday to Hawaii, when I was around 17. As often happened on holiday, I’d meet other teens and tentatively hang out. This obnoxious America kid looked at my body and said to me, in front of a couple of girls by the pool, something along the lines of “Have you never thought about going to the gym?” I blushed and felt really awkward, as well as demeaned and pretty angry at this d*ck of a guy. Of course, sensitive little me just about managed to say something or other, God knows what. One of the girls there expressed shock, gasping and saying his name as if to say “Oh my God, you’re so out of order”.

Moments like that stick with you. In my late teens and into my early 20s, I stuffed my face. I’m a slow eater, and I was eating regularly, so it sometimes felt that I was eating *all the time*. Lots of eggs and chicken. Lots of bread, rice and full-fat milk. I gained muscle, and fat, and got bigger and bigger.

I felt better for being bigger, I thought, and others started to notice, too. “Woah, have you been training?”, and “Sh*t man, you got big” and “You look like a boxer man” were some of the comments I received. Ego-boosters, for sure.

However, it was a pretty shallow confidence that I gained. Really, I was still incredibly insecure. I was the same sensitive, insecure kid. Just with a bigger shell now.

My body issues aren’t quite as drastic now, I don’t think, though I do find myself comparing myself to others. Whether it’s in the gym, on the street, or with others I know. I catch myself doing it sometimes. Instagram would have really f*cked me up if it had been a thing when I was at school and university.

My younger brother, who’s got a slightly bigger build than me, whenever I make comments about his being bigger than I am, has said that I need my eyes tested, or that I might be slightly body-dysmorphic. I don’t want to minimise genuine, fully-blown body dysmorphia for anyone that has it, but I’ve had some low-level extent of the symptoms – from what I’ve read online.

Today, I still go to the gym but my workouts have changed. So has the reason I go. I exercise for how it makes me feel, and lean into that, rather than concentrate on the body benefits. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel better for looking better. I still workout and notice the “pump” that comes with recently-worked muscles, and I’m still aware of how trim/flat my stomach is. But the thing is, I don’t obsessively look at my body in the mirror like I used to, or randomly take my top off in the house and look at myself. Exercise feels really good for my mind as much as my body, and that is what I focus on. Today, I am more my natural size. I guess if I were filling out a dating profile (I’m going speed-dating next week!), I’d describe my body shape as somewhere between slim and athletic.

After a long and slow Monday, worrying about finding the right job, whether I’ll ever be happy with my ‘work’, etcetera, my gym session in the evening was my saviour.

I do a mixture of cardio and weights (going more for reps rather than really heavy weight), and also do some stretching and yoga – which also help my mind and body in a different, meditative way.

I won’t lie, I feel better about how I look when I’m going to the gym – and I still catch myself checking my body out. However, I try not to obsess so much with how I look, and I’m more desensitised to other guys’ bodies. I’m not naturally the biggest guy, and a lot of it is down to genetics and our natural physiques.

For me, the key is to focus on the post-workout feels. That’s the way to go.

✏ Written: Monday, 26th February 2018 @ 9.17pm

the abg | articles | awkward newsletter 💌

What about you?
What’s your relationship like with your body? Do you go to the gym, or do a sport / other exercise? And, if you’re an Instagram-er, how do you stay sane with all those #bodygoals pics?! I’d love to hear from you on all this 💙

 

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37 thoughts on “A confession: the reason I started going to the gym (vs now)

  1. I enjoyed reading about your experiences. Now, you can relax and enjoy where you are…health-wise. That rude American kid is probably 500 lbs now. Lol. My ex husband is from a similar culture. He pressured me to stay super thin. Anorexic thin. He hated being chubby. Gave me body issues. My daughter looks like a voluptuous Eurasian girl…so pretty. Me? I now look like a chubby American. Time to get fit! Thanks for sharing your story.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ah, bless you. Thank you so much for reading. Yeah, right now I’m just trying to maintain the habit/routine. I’m sorry to hear you experienced those pressures, that doesn’t sound nice at all. Every body is beautiful – you do what *you* want to do ✨✨

      Like

  2. Unfortunately, I have intense and quite severe body insecurity. I very much dislike my body but I want to start exercising to gain more confidence and to feel like I’m doing SOMETHING, if that makes sense. This post was great because it gave me a bit of motivation 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  3. i am glad that you where able to move to a healthy view of your body and your goals. Society has an unhealthy obsession with appearance and it’s rarely about health and mostly about looks. We start early, learning from parents and family how we “should” look.

    I think while there is a lot of focus on the shaming of women’s bodies and the world’s obsession with how we are meant to look, act, dress, react etc etc There is a lot of pressure put on men for their appearance – the concept of what a “real man” looks like. This pressure gets so little attention and yet the toxicity is devastating.

    I give props to all the kids growing up in the era of social media. I could never imagine having to deal with that as a teenager.

    I remember when I was very young, around 6 years old… having an eating disorder. It wasn’t about the body though, it was a control issue I used when I felt overwhelmed or pressured. Growing up I’ve been torn apart because of how I look – after all, doesn’t everyone want to give you their opinion.

    In my 30s and I still get barbed comments from my parents. And recently, when making a bold move (for me) of posting my photo online… one single comment from a friend, carved me up inside and I removed the photo. They didn’t mean to hurt me. They said something, not knowing what it would do, but it was enough.

    I try not to think about how I look. My partner (apparently) finds me attractive and while that still astounds me, it is a comfort.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Ari. Yes – I feel it’s getting worse and worse these days.

      Gosh, what an experience to have at such a young age. The worst thing is that often, no matter how many nice/lovely comments you get, it’s the negative one(s) that stick.

      Thank you so much for, again, taking the time to write this, and also for being so honest and open, as ever. Have a lovely weekend. x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How true, we will always take the negative comments to heart. It’s one of the reasons that authors are recommended NOT to read reviews. They are for readers, not authors and 500 positives are tainted by a single negative.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Great article! Particularly well put on the balance between gym helping your own image of your body; as you say fine to enjoy that, but more important to focus on the post-workout boost! If anyone ever wants to send me an email about a positive experience with mental health, I’d be delighted to make a post about it (and obviously give a link to your page!) Big love for this post, J X

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for reading! I’m only human, so the visible benefits will also be there, and be acknowledged/felt… but the re-frame has been important for me! My Masters was, in fact, in Positive Psychology – which is a slightly-misleading title, but I thought it might be worth mentioning 🤠

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  5. Great post ABG!!! I had the exact OPPOSITE problem you had. I ALWAYS felt too FAT, and its not the “all girls think they’re fat” kinda thing, either. I was born WITHOUT a thyroid gland, (a 1 out 500000 case, thanks mom for NEVER going to the doctor or having ANY pre-natal care done when you were pregnant with me, ugh! but it totally could have been MUCH worse so I consider myself lucky), so the ODDS of having a skinny, sexy body was a REAL challenge for me because my metabolism was so screwy it REFUSED to cooperate when I tried to lose weight or eat healthy.

    But you know, as I have gotten older, I have become WAY more accepting of my body shape, (its not bad, I am holding firm at 175, 5 feet tall, not OVERLY obese but definitely NOT trim and skinny at all), but I could honestly CARE LESS what anyone thinks anymore.

    I get ALL decked out when I go out, fat self and all (haha), and I still have my head so RIDICULOUSLY high in the air when I am out and about that I totally get the “who the hell does she think she is” looks, and I love it!!! Haha! It’s all about self-acceptance really, and I am glad that you work out for YOU more than anything else anymore, because honestly, YOUR opinion of your body should be the ONLY one that matters. Excellent thought-provoking post as always my friend!! ❤

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you! I know, right, we’re never happy! The guys with fast metabolism want to be bigger, and those with slow metabolism who gain mass more easily want to be leaner!

      Gosh, I’ve never know of one being born without a thyroid… I guess as it’s so rare. *So glad* that you’re beyond caring, and you accept yourself for who you are! Keep doing you! Still a work-in-progress for me, but I feel I’m getting better 🙂 Thanks so much for reading + commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Such a honest post.i can totally relate on the opposite.i always being a bit chubby and thought that loosing weight and keeping fit would turned me in a confident girl….well it didn’t but sure makes you feel better but on it’s on is not enough isn’t it?untill you realize that you need to work out your inside and then it will show in the outside too😉

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for reading, and for commenting. I know – we’re never content with ourselves, are we?! Absolutely – I sometimes wish I was taller and better-looking and then I realise that, with my same mind, I’d probably still feel the same! All about working on those insides.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Very perceptive post that touches on a lot interesting questions…what motivates people to work out….and does that motivation change with time? I’m like you, I’m far more motivated these days by how I feel (getting stronger, etc) than how I look. I like that you touched on body-dysmorphia, it’s a very real thing that manifests itself differently for each person. Everyone wants to always paint gym going/strength training in somewhat unrealistic, glowing terms. It is great for you, but like anything else, balance is key. Obsess about a certain aspect of your body and you’ll be incapable of being objective. I was always skinny as kid/teenager (70s into 80s) but everyone was back then so it was never an issue. My thing now is not getting too bulky – powerlifting doesn’t go for the “pump” but train enough, even low volume, with heavy weights and you’ll gain muscle. Not being disingenuous, but that’s not my goal. To this day, I’m surprised when people make comments, it’s not part of my self-perception…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks man. I see a lot of younger teens (boys and girls) working out at the gym, and I can’t help but think they’re trying to compensate and be the idolized bodies they see all day long on their Instagram feeds. I think it’s so easy to look at someone bigger than you, and assume that their self-perception is different/better to yours. Not necessarily the case.

      Like

  8. I like your post too. About this: “In India culture, unless you’re particularly rotund and chunky, you’re under-weight. Seriously. I don’t know where it stems from. Perhaps, back in the day in India, a fuller figure was a sign of affluence. Who knows, just a theory.” Many cultures still have the legacy of preferences or values based on times when food was scarce and being ‘large’ or ‘chubby’ was a sign of affluence, so you’re spot on. I should imagine in India, being plump or well-filled out is still a sign of wealth or privilege? What do you think? Personally I am not a gym person, but I know that regular exercise makes me feel better and keeps the aching back or shoulders in check!

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Great post. I have always had body image issues (as well as several others). Since my mid 40s I have become quite the gym-bunny and to be honest it is as much because my gym is good fun as anything else. The (huge) gains in my fitness are just a bonus.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Honestly..sometimes we r way too conscious of our Bodies…I work out regularly as well but it’s only so that I can develop my stamina. I don’t stress over the perfect body type or worrying over how many kgs I lose.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Excellent post mate, thank you for taking the time to write it.
    Instagram, as good as it can be for motivation, definitely presents some issues in regards to unrealistic body goals and poor training/nutrition information making it to the masses.

    Liked by 1 person

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