How I learned to love exercise
I cannot tell you the lengths I would go to get out of PE at school. I absolutely fucking hated it. Even in primary school. For as long as I can remember I’ve had weight issues. I’m sure this can’t possibly be true but I cannot ever remember not being overweight. Luckily, I went to nice school and I was never severely bullied for it like some people, but I was definitely self-conscious from a very early age and never developed the love of sport my Dad had.
I remember being the last kid at the back of the pack during cross country running, walking with stitch. Ugh, makes me sad to think about it. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t try to make me do things. I was just way into drama and didn’t give a fuck about making myself exercise. Then at around age 10 I was diagnosed with a condition called Osgood Schlatter’s disease which is super common in kids who grow really quickly, like I did, and it put an end to any hopes of finding a sport I liked. One day, I got an acute inflammation in my left knee and my leg was put into a cast from ankle to hip! I’m not sure for how long, it must have been several weeks and I had to go to physio to walk properly again I remember that. These days I believe the treatment is different but after that I was given a lazy child’s golden ticket - a doctor’s note that said I was permanently not to do PE unless it was swimming. *shudders* A chubby teenager’s worst nightmare.
The more I didn’t exercise, the worse I felt about my body, the more I started to secret eat at home and the fatter I became. Then around 14 I started dieting and I got praised for getting thinner. Exercise just became another tool to drop the pounds. I began to do aerobics videos on my own at home, almost religiously every day. I had a Cher one which I really loved, lol! But I wasn’t loving exercise for the joy of moving my body. I was exercising to fuel my obsession with weight loss. By the time I was 16 I was pretty much a normal weight. I say that only from looking back at photographs. I didn’t feel it. I still felt massive. Unfortunately for me, my two best friends at the time were petite while I was 5’8, I probably could have been a size 8 and still felt huge.
But at 17, I changed school and the most miserable I've ever been. I ate my feelings and then some. I don’t think I did any exercise that year. I have no idea how much weight I put on but I reckon probably a couple of stone. I failed my AS exams and thankfully got to come home again to do my A levels in my local school. But by now I hated my body, I was buying size 18/20 jeans and was royally fucked up about food. Back to Weight Watcher’s I went and down my size went again as I passed my A levels.
I started running and for the first time began to enjoy the feeling that exercise brought me. I used to drive to a wildlife park and run a short route through the wetlands. The feeling I got when I ran the whole path for the first time, pure pride. It’s over half my life time ago and I can still remember the feeling. But despite this, exercise was for weight loss, not pleasure.
At university, I was still too subconscious to join the university gym or use the pool but I would run through Sefton park but I was also in my worst cycle of bingeing and purging so again, exercise was something I did to change my body not help my mind.
As long as you're linking exercise with dieting you're continuing a cycle that tells you that you're not good enough.
Thankfully, I began to heal my relationship with food and as I started to get more into health and became happier, I no longer dieted so much. I don’t remember when the switch happened but I slowly stopped bingeing too. I loved going dancing and me and my best friend Lydia would go out and sometimes not even drink (shock horror in uni days), we just loved the music and having a proper dance I didn't know it then but that's the whole point of moving your body - just for the love of it.
I eventually got the courage to join the gym and began to enjoyed the feeling of exercise, but I still always did it with the end goal of getting thinner. It took years to undo the connotations of exercise and loosing weight.
The problem was no one ever told me that exercise will make you happier. It’s proven to be as effective as antidepressants. And not once did it occur to me to move just so that I can be fit enough to do all the amazing things that the body can do - simply, being fit enough to be useful in my life! Shouldn’t this what we should be aiming for? Not to have a six pack for a selfie but to be strong enough to carry things and fit enough to run around with your children or carry a person for a burning building if necessary?!
I still have a lazy chubby kid inside me who sort of can’t be bothered to go to the gym.
It took me a really long time to love exercise but thankfully, I know enough about myself now that I know once I start, I genuinely enjoy it. Especially if it’s a pumping spin class with loud music - this surprised no one more than me but I’m there smiling like the Cheshire Cat! I love it! Weirdly though, I’d never cycle around London for fun. Nope. Just go with what your instinct tells you.
I also try to do things that move my body but aren’t counted as ‘typical’ exercise like hula hooping, climbing and sober raving. I try and do some yoga every day (even if it’s just one sun salutation) because I enjoy how it loosens my joints up.
I still fucking hate team sports. I just do. I know people love them but they just ain’t for me. It’s pressure and I don’t like it. But it's ok because I don’t force myself to do them! It was a proud moment when a couple of years ago I ran a 10k. My knees are fucked and I don’t think I’ll ever run that far again but I have a medal to say I did it.
I still battle body demons, but I battle dieting ones more and I refuse to go down that path again. Yes, I loved to have Giselle's legs but I quite frankly, just don’t have the time or motivation to spend that long in the gym and I also can’t change my celtic DNA, so I’m over it. I’m OK with the legs I’ve got and the more I tell myself that, shockingly (not) the more I believe it.
The thing I've learned about exercise is....
IF YOU HATE THAT PARTICULAR THING, DON’T DO IT! I promise there will be something you will enjoy. Just keep exploring, and be curious. Aim to find a something that makes you smile.
Exercise because it’s good for your mind, body and soul and so you can run for bus or open a jar, not because you think it’ll make you thinner.
It took me an awful long time to come to this realisation. I’m a long way from Cher aerobics now thank god.
Love Harri x