Push It Real Good: Mental Health and Exercise

For a fat chick you wouldn’t think that I love the gym as much as I do. You wouldn’t think that I’ve been known to go 4 times a week for months on end or that my free weight game is on point. I can lift, squat, bike and row for an hour until I’m sweating and panting and feeling more alive than ever.

It’s a complete contradiction, I know, but for someone who suffers with bouts of social anxiety and body issues, the gym is one of my safest spaces.

Push It Real Good: Mental Health and Exercise

There’s nothing more sacred than a safe space, especially when you suffer with your mental health. Running from yourself is exhausting, so having a place where you can cut everything else off and just concentrate on breathing and being is an importantly beautiful thing. And that’s exactly what the gym is for me. It’s just me and the mat or bike or weight machine, counting reps, counting breaths and nothing else. It’s perfect.

I don’t keep track of anything. Not my weight, calorie intake, inches off my stomach – nothing. This is for two reasons. Mostly it’s because this isn’t why I’m at the gym and attaching failures (or wins) to that stops it being a safe space. The other reason is because I have such a struggling relationship with food that it would be useless. Having spent quite a few of my teenage years suffering with bulimia I can switch from comfort or panic eating to eating nothing at all for a day or so. It’s something I’m still working on and the key to me is currently not having anything to punish myself for when it comes to food.

Did I eat too much this weekend? Maybe. But I’ll be back at the gym during the week and back to my regular eating routine so I’ll be ok. I don’t need to know how much I put on at the weekend or how long it takes me at the gym to work it off. Like I said, it’s not why I’m there. I just know I have something which helps to counteract any food slips while I address my relationships with food and start to work through it.

When I was out of work for 4 months and had to give up my gym membership it was terrible. I tried so hard to workout at home, but with limited space and already feeling trapped by the flat I never left – nothing stuck. My body had no way to tire itself out and my safe space had vanished. My eating habits flip flopped between eating everything in sight and eating barely anything for days, too depressed to cook or get off the couch for even a snack.

Now back at work and back at the gym, I don’t want anything to taint this safe space. I haven’t weighed myself in just under a year so I don’t know how much I put on while I was out of work or how it’s coming off now that I’m back. I prefer to measure that on the way I feel, what I feel when I look at my own reflection, how often I smile and laugh and genuinely feel like my life is my own.

I know exercise is meant to help with depression but I feel like if it wasn’t rammed down our throats as much as it is (like it’s the only miracle cure) more people would actually try it, without the focus being on the physical health benefits. Of course it won’t work for everyone, in the same way medication and therapy doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, but it’s so full of options and so personable (going for a run is my idea or hell – weights are where it’s at for me) that I genuinely feel more people would actually try it for mental health benefits if we didn’t have weight and BMI and all those numbers breathing down our necks.

Hopefully society will continue to evolve and learn and talk when it comes to the importance of mental health. Maybe one day it will even been widely viewed as just as important as physical health.

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