Thursday, October 20, 2005

The makings of a Gym Bunny

You may have gathered from this blog that I exercise a lot. I don't know whether it comes through that I actually enjoy it, but I do. Mainly, at least. I was thinking the other night about how I got fat in the first place, and what I really don't understand is that I always liked exercise, but for some reason I just stopped doing it, and got horribly obese in the process. With hindsight it seems such a simple thing to have put right earlier, but I never realised at the time.

Growing up I was always fairly active. My dad was into canoeing and was a scout leader, and I went along with him to meetings and canoeing lessons. I had swimming lessons. We did the local "10 mile walk" every summer, one of the highlights of the year. We went on long walks when we were on holiday. We lived on the edge of town and I'd go on long bike rides up and down country lanes. I'd play in the fields behind my house, and we'd go tramping across them to either get into town or to go sledging in the winter. My abiding memory of childhood isn't of food or parties or holidays, it's of cycling to the top of the hill near my house and freewheeling back down it. Time after time after time.

But if I was generally active outside of school, I don't remember school sports with the same affection. The important distinction here is that I was enthusiastic, but not actually very good. And in schools that had a fairly strong competitive ethos that naturally meant that the girls who would play for the school or play for the county got the attention, and those who wouldn't tended to languish. I hated hockey with a passion, but other sports I quite liked. I even did play netball and rounders for the school (I've still got my rounders colours stashed away somewhere at home), but more to make up the numbers because of my enthusiasm rather than because of any inate skill.

I was bigger than average at this stage, and of course with a teenage mind I was convinced I was horribly fat. Was I? To be honest, I don't have many pictures of me to check against. Maybe my parents do, but I'm coming to realise that I didn't have any fat on me that wasn't losable, had I kept up the exercise with just a little more conviction.

The sad thing is that I always wanted to exercise, but was convinced I was too incompetent at it to be "allowed" to do it. I started playing rugby, but when I moved from school to university I persuaded myself that everyone was far better at it and fitter than I was and I should just give up. I didn't seem to appreciate that fitness isn't inate, it comes if you work at it and that the only thing that was going to get me fitter was doing the thing I didn't want to do until I was fit.

I'd get passes for swimming pools and go regularly but not frequently. Every couple of weeks maybe I'd get myself down there. I never got out of the habit of doing it at all, but I never got into the habit of doing it often. I'd look at gyms but convince myself that they weren't for people like me. And above all I wanted to run. Secretly I longed to one day run properly, maybe even a marathon. I never admitted it for fear of looking stupid, and I made sure that my early attempts were carried out when no-one I knew was likely to see, but I wanted to run. Again, I quickly realised that I couldn't at that point, and took that as a sign that I'd never be able to do it, not as a sign that I needed to start slowly.

And as study and then work became more and more demanding I stopped doing as much. I suppose I was still relatively fit for my size, but the little I had been doing to maintain myself at maybe borderline obese fell away and the weight piled on. I started to forget that I'd ever really enjoyed exercise, and I stopped having the "once I get a pay rise I'll join a gym" thoughts completely. They turned into "what's the point, I'll never go" thoughts instead.

So what changed? To be honest, I still don't know. The summer before I joined the gym I'd half heartedly started trying to run again, without much success but with a little more persistence. My weight finally started slowing me down and while I was never too bothered about my size, I was bothered about not being able to do as much as I used to, at 26. I started to realise that I had to do something about it.

And then the low risk option came up. A 6 week no strings gym membership. I saw it advertised and I just knew. If I could stick to it for 6 weeks I'd feel more confident about a permanent membership. And if I couldn't then at least I'd not wasted any more money than absolutely necessary. I'd have wasted some money, of course, because along with the membership which wasn't cheap as such I had to buy something to wear at the gym, but it wouldn't be an indefinite monthly tax on my inactivity.

And it all came flooding back so quickly. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed doing something a bit faster, or quicker, or harder than I could the last time I tried it. I enjoyed challenging myself not by what other people could do but against what I could do before. I realised that this wasn't about other people, being the fittest or being the best, it was simply about being fitter, and that anything was better than nothing.

I didn't even realise the weight loss potential. I had it in the back of my mind, but I wasn't aiming for anything dramatic, just something to make me a bit more comfortable and a bit fitter. I didn't realise how much difference the exercise would make, and how much I'd enjoy it and stick to it.

I see new members in the gym all the time. They come for a week, maybe two, really enthusiastic and regular as clockwork. Then they start arriving later and later in the morning, then they start missing more and more days. Then they disappear, to be seen once in a blue moon. It still mystifies me, how I ended up being one of the ones who sticks to it. There are others, a little band of regulars, but how did I break into that group when so many others have failed? I wish I had some secrets or some encouragement for them, something to pass on so that they can do this too, and I don't like to see it when they drop away.

I really don't know why it clicked for me, but that’s what convinces me I'm going to succeed and keep this off. Exercise isn't a struggle, and it isn't a horrendous chore. I quite like it and I'd rather spend an hour or so every day exercising than spend another minute how I was, let alone be like that 24 hours a day. (Actually, that's not quite true. Maybe I'd spend a minute or so like that just so I can really see the difference and make myself a fat cast so that I can remind myself how far I've come when I forget). The hard bit was getting fit, now I've just got to keep myself there and remind myself that I'm an exercise junkie and proud of it.


Blogger kathrynoh said...

I think high school and the high school attitude to sports really does bad things to a lot of people. When you are a kid you run around and keep active for the fun of it, then you get older and it's like there are kids who are good at sport and kids who aren't - and if you are classed in the kids who aren't, it's easy just to give up.

Maybe it's time schools stopped worrying about the kudos of having one student who makes a state team or whatever and think about the kudos of having a school full of healthy kids who all enjoy sports.

As for the secret of becoming a regular at the gym, I think you covered that in your earlier post about motivation.

1:56 AM  
Blogger K said...

This is the best post, and I'm linking to it.

9:49 AM  

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