Around February 2019, I realized I was completely and utterly BURNT OUT on trying to motivate myself to keep going to the gym with the goal of getting smaller.
Making less of me.
My weight-loss breaking point
I had finally reached my breaking point, and I was ready to quit the gym (and exercise in general) because I felt like continuing what I was doing was just making me feel worse about myself.
I was so done with calorie counting, and FitBit tracking, and weekly weigh-ins. The harder I worked to “control” my calories in and calories out, to hack my macros, to measure my inches and photograph my “before” shots… the more I became a prisoner to disordered eating habits and distorted thinking. And I had nothing left.
So I told my trainer, “I’m tired of trying to lose weight. Can we just lift REALLY heavy stuff instead?” And that’s when I discovered powerlifting. Bench pressing, deadlifting, and squatting.
All of a sudden, I was working out to get STRONG, not get SMALL.
Powerlifting to the rescue!
Powerlifting is about strength, not looks. I can focus on trying to LIFT more weight instead of LOSE more weight.
Powerlifting has been the most liberating type of exercise I’ve ever done. I don’t do it as often as I’d like these days, but that has less to do with gym reluctance and more to do with being a human who is prone to December busy-ness, kids with winter colds, and the primal urge to hibernate. (Okay, so a little gym reluctance.)
How I deal with gym anxiety
One of the biggest reasons I’ve been able to powerlift consistently for the past 9-10 months is that I am lucky enough to have an amazing trainer (the one I mentioned above) who understands anxiety and depression, and whose coaching style is goofy and playful instead of “SUCK IT UP PRINCESS” (which would make me cry and quit).
On weeks where my gym anxiety is flaring up really bad, my training session is often the only time I make it into the gym that week. And my trainer gets what’s going on, and finds ways to give me a kick in the butt without making me feel like a lazy piece of garbage for struggling.
I have two other great sources of support:
- My husband, Jesse, who joins me for my non-trainer lifting sessions whenever he can. Having my “safe person” with me makes the gym anxiety practically vanish.
- Our gym’s fitness manager (@jesszakk) who strikes a good balance between tough love encouragement and being her clients’ biggest cheerleader.
I don’t always need help getting into the gym. I can be feeling confident on my own for weeks. But for those times when the anxiety is really holding me back, these three people help me get back on track.
So that would be my advice to anyone struggling with gym anxiety — as much as you can, find friends, partners, or gym people who can make working out a little less lonely and intimidating.
More affordable alternatives
I know it’s not in everyone’s means to have a trainer. We find a way to make it work because of how much it helps my mental, emotional, and physical health. But I know not everyone can do that.
I’ve seen a very cool powerlifting program online called Stronger By The Day that’s only US$8/month. If we ever stop being able to afford personal training, then that program is where I would look first. It helps that the program creator is Megsquats, on whom I might have a sliiiight girl crush.
I haven’t tried the program other than the free sample, so I’m mostly just sharing where I would look first based on how much I enjoy Meg’s YouTube channel and Instagram accounts.
Where my body image is at now
I’m not completely “cured” of my body image issues. I still have moments where I dwell on my “c-section shelf” and how it seems to always be visible (to me) no matter how I dress.
But changing my focus to building muscle has helped me stop weighing myself obsessively and tracking my calories to the point of neurotic, perfectionistic burnout.
That said, I do find it really hard to find balance in one area, and that’s this: How do I make sure I’m getting as much protein as I “need” to build muscle, but do it without triggering obsessive calorie counting and restriction?
I haven’t figured that out yet, but a bad-ass weightlifting friend of mine (see her amazing lifting pin-up girl tattoos below) did share her approach, which we summarized as basically “intuitive eating plus a daily protein shake.” And I think that does make a lot of sense for people who have a history of disordered eating, or being on the restrict-binge pendulum (both of which are true for me).
Okay but seriously, aren’t Sydney’s tattoos GORGEOUS?
Conclusion: Barbells for everyone!
Long story short, I’m a super big fan of powerlifting. Clearly. It feels SO GOOD to feel strong. And it powers me up for everything else I do in life, like carry my cupcake-covered 3-year-old to the sink before she turns my friend’s house green.
Have you ever tried powerlifting?
Has another sport helped your body image or self-esteem?
Let me know in the comments!
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