Health and Wellbeing Lifestyle

How my relationship with exercise changed in 2020

CW // body dysmorphia; eating disorders

The connotations around the word exercise are undeniably positive, for, as the iconic Elle Woods said, it gives you endorphins that keep you from killing. However, pre-quarantine me could safely say that if she heard one more thing about the mood lifting effects of exercise, she would throw a free weight through a window.

It has always been an unnecessary evil for me, the underweight teenager. When I was younger, it felt like something to be avoided at all costs: I perfected the list of excuses that would get me out of gym class (for the record, feminine issues always work), and was always the one on the bench at sports days. 

Then came the summer of tenth grade when I packed on one too many pounds while abroad on holiday. Mocking and merciless teasing ensued. I was the overweight child in the family and was made to feel inadequate at a time where it seemed like most girls were blossoming into beautiful young women. Multiple body image issues developed, and I slowly ate less and less until I reached a point where every article of clothing I owned was much too big, and every snack a luxury I would not allow myself. I had lost an unhealthy amount of weight. Recovery was long and filled with help from family, nutrition experts and therapists, but slowly came about. 

I improved my eating habits, and the body dysmorphia lessened; that is, until 2020. Lockdown in March, a cancellation of exams, immense nervousness about meeting my Oxford offer, and, of course, anxiety about the virus infecting so much of the world, led to an enormous amount of stress eating. I somehow gained my freshman 15 before university, and failed to realise it. Standing on the scale at a doctors appointment snapped me back to reality, but this time I knew there was nothing wrong with gaining some weight. 

I was, however, determined to be fitter, and so committed to exercise, no matter how much I hated it. And then I found my saving grace: YouTube home workouts. I found myself obsessed with Chloe Ting, Emi Wong and Lily Sabri and their fun but intense workouts, which had me looking and feeling the fittest I had ever been. 

Though I initially struggled to breathe through these workouts, though I panted and cried, and sweat more than ever before, my beating heart and the adrenaline rush brought a smile to my face. These workouts slowly became the best part of my day: they were so fun, and so worth it. Post-quarantine me can’t go to sleep without having worked out. These easy and accessible workouts make me feel inexplicably fresh and so good about myself.

I no longer view exercise as a punishment, and it no longer remains something I force myself to do. It’s something that I enjoy, that I can do with friends and family alike and be proud of.

I have better stamina for harder workouts and more energy throughout the day. I’ve also noticed that regular exercise has kept my migraines in check. I can see muscle definition coming back to my arms, abs, and legs, and yoga moves that felt far beyond my reach a few months ago are now a regular part of my routine.

But the mental shift still feels like the most profound change. I find myself racing through work in the afternoons to ensure I can complete my home workout. Some days it’s an hour and intense. Other days it’s 10 minutes and exhausting. I’m okay with both. And now that the warm weather is here, I’m even thinking about lacing up my running shoes again. Just to see where I might go.