There’s a reason why the expression is gym “rat.” It’s not gym “puppy;” puppies are adorable and cuddly. Rats are annoying.
For most of my adult life, I was a gym rat. I exercised every day; some days, for hours. I craved the endorphin high and the all-day energy boost. I loved being fit and strong.
My life revolved around the gym. I didn’t intentionally set out to make gym friends but only other people who make exercise such a priority can stand gym rats. Everyone else finds us irritating.
It’s no wonder. While the rest of the world was “aaahhh”-ing over their first sip of coffee, I was at grueling outdoor bootcamp classes. The crack of dawn found me running around Central Park in tights, holding a tire over my head. If an alien from another planet observed me from a far-off galaxy, they probably imagined I was some kind of AAA superhero.
“Flat tire on 86th street? Car Repair Woman saves the day!”
The truth is, I replaced one addiction with another. Certainly addiction to exercise is better than one to heroin, or to cake. Heroin can kill you and excessive cake consumption makes me look like I’m pregnant with a 7-month gluten baby.
During my exercise mania days, I ate “clean” most of the time, which means, I stripped every bit of fun out of the experience of eating. Every day I ate grilled whatchamadingle with a side of steamed doojawockey. I removed sugar, alcohol and complex carbs out of my diet, along with the will to live.
I lifted weights. I trained with kettle bells. I climbed a zillion steps to nowhere on the stairmaster. I yoga’d and spun and kick boxed.
I set impractical and ludicrous fitness goals, like being able to do 20 unassisted pull ups. As my parting gift for this achievement, I received permanently jacked up shoulder joints. I have bone spurs in both rotator cuffs. It feels like tiny angry gladiators are spearing me right where my wings would attach to my body. If I had wings.
I’m supposed to get the spurs surgically removed, but I have to recuperate in a shoulder sling for months. It’s not really practical at this time in my life, or any other time for that matter, since I won’t be able to drive, eat, sleep or wipe my vag after peeing.
Over the years, I’ve injured every part of my body exercising. I’ve pulled muscles, pinched nerves and torn cartilage.
I sprained my asshole doing walking lunges.
There were other downsides to being an exercise devotee. Going to the gym was time-consuming. Aside from exercising, there’s also getting changed, traveling to and from the gym, showering afterwards – it took up hours of my day.
I put more energy into my relationship with exercise than I did with a living human being.
A little over a year ago, I started to dread exercising. Every time I went to work out, I wanted to run away from the flood of activity on the gym floor. I could no longer bear the sight, sounds or smells of the gym.
So I stopped. I know exercise burn out when I feel it.
Playing exercise hooky freed up so much of my time that day, I was delighted. Was this what it felt like when you’re not a slave to the gym?
I didn’t want to stop exercising completely, so I took up walking. But when it was snowy or rainy, I skipped those days.
Once again, I marveled over all the extra time. Gradually, I just stopped exercising.
And then the dam…BURST.
I started eating junk food, stuff I hadn’t eaten in decades. Doughnuts, and candy bars, and cake. Carb-o-rama.
I gained 30 pounds. Of course, it bothered me immensely. But some extra weight settled in my breasts, which were finally bigger than a B cup. The last time that happened, Cujo the newborn was gnawing on them constantly. Now, I was enjoying them.
No one complained that I went from “waif” to “sturdy.” And the extra fat in my face was like taking a Black and Decker steam iron to some of my eye crinkles.
I focused on the upside.
For several months I tried to burn fat just hating exercise, but it didn’t work. When I realized I was getting winded eating pancakes, I knew I had to start working out again.
I joined a gym near my house. The fitness director encouraged me to do some of the really extreme classes, but I declined. I used to measure the success of my workout by how nauseated I became. Nowadays, I have no interest in exercising to the point where I’m yakking in the ladies locker room.
I used to be hard-wired to enjoy the pain of exercise. In just a year, I managed to completely turn that around.
This has been such a paradoxical journey. On the one hand, I feel liberated. Those extra hours a day gave me more time to
waste on the Internet write. Weekend mornings, instead of bolting out of the door to the gym, I hang out with my kid.
On the other hand – I worry about my health. My father died of a heart attack suddenly at age 46 – the age I am now. I think the the best way to avoid death is to become a moving target.
I’ve had to reframe my whole idea of myself. My identity was wrapped around being very skinny, and I’ve had to give that up. It hasn’t been easy, but to ease the pain of the transition, there’s cake. Mmmm, cake.
I’ve started back slowly, going every couple of days. I do it because I must. Exercise has lost its allure for me. The whole time I’m on the treadmill, feeling like a hamster on a spinning wheel, I’m counting the minutes until I can get home and back in front of my keyboard.
The only thing I seem to enjoy exercising these days is my mind.
Do you exercise? How do you stay motivated?
Is anything as good as cake? Talk to me. I’m listening.