For The First Time In My Life, I’m Exercising NOT To Lose Weight

by Kristen Mae

For most of my life, whenever I’ve exercised, it’s been for one specific purpose: to make myself smaller. Even though I knew exercise was also great for my physical health, for strength and longevity, my main goal was getting smaller. Even when I learned exercise also benefited my mental health, my main goal was getting smaller. All the other positives — feeling mentally well, feeling strong, having lots of energy — were just an added bonus.

I was still obsessed with that number on the scale, and with my size.

About a year and a half ago though, I stopped exercising. I had come out as gay and was in the trenches of divorce and working through all the trauma that comes along with that. Rebuilding a life very different from the one I had stepped away from consumed every bit of my mental and physical energy. My focus was on making sure my kids were okay and becoming financially stable. I slid quietly into a low-grade depression that was different from the one I’d been in while in the closet.

I binge-ate my way through 2020 and all but stopped moving aside from an every-other-day walk. Throw in the occasional workout here and there where I promised myself I would “get back on the wagon.”

I was watching myself get bigger and feeling like I had failed myself. None of my clothes fit.

I played fucked up mental games with myself trying to get myself to hate my body enough to motivate me to exercise. Just like always, my thinking about exercise was centered around getting smaller.

I’m embarrassed I had these feelings and thoughts. It wasn’t healthy, and it was hypocritical. I’m all about body positivity. Every body is a beach body. Every body is a bikini body. I really believe this — for everyone else. For me though, the things I said to myself were really, really hateful. I would never, ever say the things I said to myself to anyone else, or even think them about someone else.

Then, three months ago, I started taking antidepressants.

A few weeks after I started a low-dose SSRI, I started noticing a quiet urge to get up and move. I’d picture myself using my little weight set, doing pushups, dripping sweat while listening to music with a loud bass thump. The weird thing was, that urge to move was not motivated by a desire to be thinner. It just seemed like … fun.

The feeling was just like suddenly remembering something I’d forgotten for a long while. I was looking forward to exercising. That used to be normal for me. I never used to have to “force” myself to exercise. Exercise used to be something I genuinely looked forward to.

Still though, along with that urge to move, exercise always used to be linked to the desire to be smaller. I had never been able to separate wanting to move from wanting to be thin. Since I was 12 years old, the word “exercise” was synonymous with “diet” or “weight-loss.” I would not exercise without also counting calories. The two went together.

But now, after having been through so much in the last few years, exercise has a different purpose. I’m heavier than I’ve ever been, but I’m not exercising with the intent to get smaller.

I am tired of hating myself over something so trivial as the shape of my body.

And so, after decades of disordered eating and obsessing over my size, I am finally approaching exercise as the activity it should be: something that simply makes me feel good, both physically and mentally. I threw down a carpet fragment in one corner of my garage, stacked my little pair of tens and eights weights, a kettle bell, and a medicine ball, and set up a bluetooth speaker. That’s my “gym” where I move for 30 to 45 minutes every day.

Here’s how I know it’s no longer about the weight: I’ve been exercising almost every day for a month now and haven’t lost a single pound, yet I have no feelings about needing to “work out harder” or “adjust my diet.” In the past, a static number on the scale would have left me feeling like a “failure.” It would have been a reason for me to restrict my food intake or to just stop working out altogether. I would think, What’s the point if I’m not even losing weight?

But I just do not fucking care about the number on the scale anymore. After a month of daily workouts, I’m noticeably stronger. My tens aren’t enough for bicep curls anymore; I’ll need to buy heavier weights. I added an inexpensive spin bike purchased from Amazon to challenge myself with cardio while still protecting my knees. I don’t need as much time to recover after a heavy set or a cardio sprint. It just feels so damn good to sweat. It feels so good to want to move my body. It feels amazing not to be depressed.

These short workouts are my favorite part of my day. I genuinely look forward to this time that is just for me, a place where I can zone out and listen to music and feel myself getting stronger. Combined with antidepressants, my daily workouts have me feeling more emotionally stable than I have in years.

And if I stay the same exact size I am now but continue to feel strong, energetic, and mentally well, I consider that a far bigger win than dropping a couple of pants sizes.