The first time I was congratulated for losing weight, I had just gotten my wisdom teeth out. For the past week, the only thing I had been able to stomach was chocolate pudding, plain yogurt, and lukewarm soup, but my doctor didn't know that. All she saw were the numbers on the scale ticking downward — a cause for celebration, not concern.
I liked what my doctor was saying. For once, I felt like I had done something important — like I might actually have a shot at looking like the models I loved to compare myself to. I felt powerful, in control, and enjoyed being praised for what could only be my newfound commitment to health and fitness. In the moment, I didn't feel like acknowledging that my weight loss was by no means the result of a healthy lifestyle.
I had always been a healthy weight, but was never traditionally thin, so this kind of admiration was new to me. In years past, I would try to suck in my gut during dance class, shrinking my profile in the mirror as much as I could, and becoming frustrated when I couldn't make my backside look completely flat like the other girls. I became obsessed with my size and thought that if I could just lose a few more pounds, I would look the way I was "supposed to." I didn't know how, but I knew that getting thinner was my ultimate goal.
As I went through high school, I placed more and more value on superficial measures of skinniness that (spoiler alert) I was never able to fully achieve. Thigh gaps, flat stomachs, and, most importantly, the numbers on the scale, were the determining factors of how I felt about myself. What I heard that day in the doctor's office only confirmed my own toxic ideas about weight loss: skinniness meant health, and fitness wasn't anything without it.
A few years later I was off to college, and most of the exercise I attempted there continued to center around weight loss. I'd have a great workout and still find myself discouraged if I felt like I was gaining weight. Likewise, I'd pick up terrible eating habits and become delighted once I found that they were helping me become closer to a skinnier ideal.
When social distancing became the new normal, however, my goals were temporarily derailed. I was home, hungry, and didn't have anyone around me to impress — not even my doctor. Without a gym or any motivation to do anything other than skim through social media and watch Tiger King, I turned to home workouts. Not as a means to lose weight, but as a way to pass the time and keep myself moving during a long period of isolation.
I started off halfheartedly with a few videos that promised to target my abs and arms, and they delivered. The next morning my muscles were sore in a new way — a good way — and although I didn't initially believe that the various sets of crunches and planks would ever become easier, I was interested in the idea that a workout could mean more than just a smaller dress size.
I was finally working out because I wanted to feel like my best self no matter what my body looked like externally.
For the next month, I worked my way through different home workouts, even attempting intense HIIT exercises I used to avoid at all costs. In those four weeks, I grew stronger than I ever had when all I cared about was losing weight. My body was changing in a way I liked, but I was more excited about my ability to fly through the workouts I had initially struggled with, challenging myself in new ways and genuinely enjoying myself in the process. Workouts were now something I looked forward to instead of something I dreaded, and I noticed real progress that had nothing to do with my weight.
It took a few weeks of social distancing and some chaotic circumstances, but I was finally working out because I wanted to feel like my best self no matter what my body looked like externally. Going into my second month of home workouts, I'm continuing to view my health in terms of strength and nutrition, not weight loss and quick diets. Now when I approach my fitness, I remember to be mindful about what it is I actually want to achieve and whether or not I'm being honest with myself about my goals. Home workouts were my unexpected saving grace, but even when the gyms open back up and social gatherings resume, these are habits I'll want to keep forever.