On health and the gym

I started thinking more about my post from the other day about the woman who was kicked out of her gym for being too big for the equipment, and recognizing what an outsider I am when I write about such things. I have to be careful when I talk about HAES-related stuff, because my “every size” is a privileged one. Speaking about body acceptance from a perfectly able-bodied, thin body – a body that works out six days a week, no less – is a very fine line to tread. Further complicating the issue is the fact that I’m trying to move down a weight class, so I actually am dieting for weight loss right now. It may look to a visitor as though I can’t possibly be espousing body acceptance since I did not, in fact, accept my body and have moved to obtain the body I wanted.

This is true to a point. But not in the sense that I thought my body shape was wrong and needed to make it right, or that I thought I was ugly and now I think I’m attractive (or attractive-r). I can’t say I’m not guilty of having subscribed to that mindset at one point in time, but no more. In point of fact, the body I have not accepted recently was the one with a faulty lumbar vertebra. I was first diagnosed with a bulging disc in my lower back in 1996. It caused slight twinges every now and then over the years, and three times in my 20s it laid me out flat for days at a time. Most notably, I spent six months last year in near-constant pain and had to go through a series of really unpleasant cortisone shots and lots of physical therapy. When that was over with and the pain was at least controllable, I did the thing that doctors told me over and over would lessen the chance of another flare-up – I worked on building core strength. Eventually that led to boxing, and the six days at the gym, and now I am far stronger and in a whole hell of a lot less pain. I built muscle and lost some weight in the process, but if I hadn’t, or if I hadn’t gotten this far with it, I’d have achieved the primary goal just by being able to manage my pain.

I was extremely lucky to have the kind of injury that actually gets better with more activity. I know physical limitations keep some people from being able to do that, and this wouldn’t be a healthy solution for everybody. But I also believe that physical activity, on any level you can manage it, will make you feel better – getting tangibly better at something is the biggest mood-booster there is, not to mention all that crazy endorphin stuff. That is all without considering, or making value judgments on, physical changes a body undergoes after prolonged regular workouts.

Do I think you need to go to the gym? No. Am I telling you to go to the gym? No. Do I think it’s good for you? Yes, and I think that’s true no matter what size you are and what your current health status is.

Eating nutritious foods and participating in physical activities are good for you, no matter how big, small, round, pointy, or oblong you are. Therefore, if I refer to going to the gym as taking a step to improve your health, I’m not implying that fat = unhealthy. I’m not implying that fat people always have one foot in the grave – they don’t – or that they need to change something about themselves to pass muster as “healthy” and “acceptable” – they damn well don’t. Too often, people – even doctors, to my perpetual shock – dismiss every possible health concern someone has with the exhortation to hit the gym, and you need to know that I’m not just doing that too. You should see a doctor if you’re sick or in pain. Going to the gym will likely not cure any real illness or infirmity, and it might even make it worse. But for the vast majority of people, regular exercise does have a whole shit-ton of tangible health benefits, and I firmly believe it’s a big part of taking care of your body.

And maybe the sport or activity that calls to you doesn’t even involve the gym. Fine! “Going to the gym” happens to be what I do, because that’s where training for my sport happens, so that’s how I frame it. When I say “go to the gym,” I could also mean go to the pool, or the park, or the roller rink, or the tennis court, or whatever.

I’m also not going to sit here and pretend that I do 100% healthy things 100% of the time, or that my example is the best one for you personally to follow. You may even validly argue that participating in a sport that risks brain damage and has actually caused deaths is not necessarily physically or mentally healthy. I’m aware of that. For me, for now, the rewards outweigh the risks.

In short, though I do not have all the answers, I do know that finding something you CAN do, or are willing to learn to do, that gets you moving and makes you happy…that is always, always a good thing.

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4 Responses to On health and the gym

  1. Mike says:

    Several things bothered me about that story, including:

    1. I dislike when people are denied services due to bias or prejudice.
    2. She had probably been told all her life she had to lose weight. Like you, I don’t approve that message.
    3. She faced ridicule while doing something in designed (at least in part) to reduce the ridicule.
    4. Leading to the feeling that she “can’t win” based on the reality of not being able to win.

    That story was so infuriating.

    Anyway, I have struggled with this topic, but ultimately concluded that I have no problem believing that imposing cultural norms is b.s. and that people should have the option to accept themselves as they are, while also thinking people have the option to change who they are.

  2. Natalie L. says:

    A tiny quibble–please don’t refer to fat people as “the obese”. It’s de-humanizing.

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