Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Exercise (with Megan)
with Megan Gahan
1) Describe your relationship to/experience with exercise. If it has changed over time, describe the change.I started out working in gyms, where I trained women of all ages and abilities. Everything was very focused on pounds lost and inches trimmed. My clients would stare at themselves in the mirror, pinching ‘fat’(actually skin) and moaning about their need to lose 20 or more pounds. I remember being stunned at how disconnected they were with their bodies. Losing 20 pounds would have put many of them in the underweight range. Not surprisingly, I critiqued myself harshly during those years. Clients often choose their personal trainer based primarily on appearance, not qualifications (kind of like how you wouldn’t choose a hairdresser whose hair you didn’t like). I would emotionally tear myself apart when the buffest and fittest trainer got chosen over me again. It made me feel very inadequate. My relationship with exercise was one of necessity. But I wanted so much more. I wanted to help women see themselves and dig into their emotional issues. I wanted to talk to them about self-worth and body image and Jesus’ view of His precious daughters– not just perfect push-up technique (which, incidentally, is also very important). Eventually God led me to a position with Mercy Ministries, a residential faith-based program for young women wanting to overcome life-controlling issues: eating disorders, self-harm, addiction, and abuse. I ran the fitness department and delighted in putting together a well-rounded fitness curriculum. One that incorporated the physical, emotional, and spiritual elements of exercise. My relationship with exercise changed as I worked with the young women in the program. I began to show myself more grace. I started giving thanks to God before my workouts. I was grateful for my body’s abilities and capacity. I also asked God to keep my mind free from comparisons and harsh self-criticism. I wanted my workout to be an offering to Him. That’s what it’s meant to be.
2) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?Working with women who struggled deeply with their body image forced me to be very conscientious of my own. I became aware of how often I allowed negative self-talk to narrate my day-to-day life. I began calling myself out on it, because I needed to walk the talk. In modeling a healthy example for the girls, I also stopped working out for the wrong reasons. If I was having a bad day, or I felt fat, or I felt I needed to work out because I had just inhaled a Costco sized bag in Mini Eggs, I didn’t compulsively reach for my cross trainers. I went to God first. He became my first line of defense, my healthy coping mechanism. I am the first to admit that fitness is a great stress release. But it shouldn’t be your only one. It definitely isn’t the most essential one. My relationship with my body took another turn when I wrote A Love Letter to My Body, where I confronted all the dark, ugly words I had spoken over myself throughout the years. It was extremely difficult, but deep wounds began to heal as my fingers flew over the keyboard. I knew I was much closer to seeing myself as my Creator saw me.
3) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you relate to others?I will not tolerate ‘fat talk’ in any conversation – not from myself or my friends. I address it right away because I know how damaging it is.
4) How has that relationship/experience affected your spiritual life?I used to speak such hate over my body that God couldn’t get a word in edgewise. When I finally allowed His still voice to speak love and beauty over me, it changed my spiritual life drastically. I wasn’t calling God a liar anymore. I wasn’t calling his workmanship junk. It’s hard to have a relationship with the One who created you, a relationship built on trust and gratitude, when you’re railing against Him for making your thighs too big.
5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?Don’t hold yourself to a standard that doesn’t exist. If you feel like you have to work out, or you feel guilty when you don’t exercise, that’s a flashing neon sign that you’re headed down a dangerous path. It’s very easy to slip into obsession with fitness and pass it off as ‘getting healthy’ in this day and age. They are not the same thing. For those wanting to begin creating a better relationship with their body, I would highly recommend writing a letter to yours. It is the most transformative exercise I have ever done. After I wrote mine, hundreds of women joined me. To read through some of their journeys, go to www.shelovesmagazine.com and click ‘A Love Letter to My Body’ at the top right hand side of the page.
What about you?
Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com. You can also post anonymously if you wish.