Approximately two months ago, my therapist and I started addressing my difficulties with food, eating, and body image. I’ve written about my rocky relationship with body image and weight in past posts; it’s nothing new. At the end of last year, however, one of my goals for 2020 was to speak with a therapist about this relationship so we can work together on fixing it. I’m tired of putting a metaphorical Band-aid on this festering wound. I want to heal.

The past two months have been difficult, to say the least. About a month ago, I had an emotional breakdown in the kitchen in front of Dan. I’ll spare you the details, because it was messy. However, Dan asked me a very important question during it: What kind of body would I be happy having? Because I am not happy with it now, and I assured him I wouldn’t be happy with it if I were underweight and anorexic, either. His question did prompt me to think seriously about what kind of body I would be happy with, though, and the answer came to me almost instantaneously:

Strong.

Four years ago, I developed a fascination with weightlifting thanks to Andrea, a midwife and Olympic weightlifter I met at Raven’s Knoll earlier that year. Watching her training videos inspired me to do something similar. I enlisted the help of my friend Dorothea, who was studying to be a personal trainer, to get me started on lifting weights at the local gym so I could eventually start powerlifting. That effort only lasted three months for a number of reasons:

  1. I was going alone, so boredom became my companion there. I ended up dreading going to the gym when I would rather be doing something more fun.
  2. I was going alone, so when I attempted to bench press an empty barbell without a spotter, I was so scared I would drop it on myself because I didn’t feel strong enough to complete the exercise.
  3. I was gaining weight, which triggered a panic attack and made me want to stop weightlifting immediately.

These reasons didn’t stop me from being enamored with becoming strong, though. When I started bouldering last year, I loved witnessing my own progression and observing my own strength. Rock climbing helped me develop back, arm, and core strength that I lost after I stopped weightlifting. But rock climbing is obviously not the same kind of exercise as weightlifting, so it was never a replacement. I think, deep down, I always knew that.

After my emotional breakdown and discussion with Dan, I started to research weightlifting again. I decided to purchase a 10-lb. kettlebell for myself so I could develop a base level of strength before going to the gym and using the free weights there. I compiled a list of exercises for different days and suffered through the first week or two of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). However, I was dissatisfied with my home workouts. I felt a disconnect between what I was doing and what I wanted to do. I looked at a few Instagram accounts of female powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters, and I realized I want to be like them. Not at home working out with a kettlebell, but lifting heavy weights on a barbell.

My therapist described a common phenomenon that she sees in people who are dieting: they will crave certain food, but prevent themselves from eating it, which only worsens the craving until they break down and binge. However, if they had allowed themselves to eat the food right away when they first had the craving, they would only need a small portion to feel satisfied. When I finally acknowledged the dissatisfaction I felt with the kettlebell, I understood that I was going through this same phenomenon, only with weightlifting. But instead of putting off barbell training because it’s “bad” for me (which is the reason people on diets don’t eat certain food), I was putting it off because I was afraid.

Afraid of hurting myself. Afraid of dropping the weights like an idiot. Afraid I wouldn’t know how to use any equipment. Afraid the other gym goers would laugh at me.

“Well,” I said to myself, “fuck it.”

After some research, I emailed a local gym that provides special training in powerlifting. While waiting for them to reply, I downloaded the StrongLifts 5×5 app and drove to the rock climbing gym. There is a free weights area, so I thought I would give it a try in the meantime. And I did it. I completed the exercise without looking or feeling like a complete fool. When I was finished, I was so shocked that it was already time to go home. I wanted to stay and lift more. I wanted to return the next day and lift more.

I left the gym elated.

I have only been lifting for two weeks, so I don’t know how this most recent venture will turn out. I may quit again in a few months, or I might keep going for the next five years. That would be ideal, but I’m not making any promises to myself. All I know is that I’m having a lot of fun and feeling really great about weightlifting again. I want to keep doing it.

I do have a plan. StrongLifts is great for starting out, but if I want to train in powerlifting specifically, I need personalized instruction. I spoke with the local gym to confirm their COVID safety measures and how to sign up for powerlifting, so I intend to visit them this week. They are farther away from home than my rock climbing gym, but not too far — perhaps a 20-minute drive on a good day. I just hope the trainer assigned to help me is compassionate and understands my goals.

To celebrate my body for what it can do, not for what it weighs.

To free myself from the scale.

2 Replies to “Lifting Heavy and the Pursuit of Self-Love”

  1. I really appreciate this blog post! I also have a lot of body image issues and struggled with anorexia and disordered eating for most of my teens and twenties, and so much of the heavy lifting in the past few years has been about coming to terms not only with that but also with how it plays with the gender stuff and wanting to be strong (and in my case, the health problems that keep getting in the way and have to be managed… sigh!)

    Thank you again for this <3 Keep lifting, you got this!

    1. Thank you, Gersande! It has been a long and difficult journey, and it’s a struggle everyday. I am hoping that this helps; I know I just have to be patient and remind myself I am not the number on the scale. I wish you the strength (mental, emotional, physical, spiritual) to get through your own struggles, as well!

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