In grad school, I took a seminar class focusing on the connection between the mind and the body while reading Victorian novels like Frankenstein and Dorian Gray. (I know it sounds nerdy, but it was fun.) This class, and the deep questions it provoked, has lingered in my brain since then. One of my scholarly areas of interest before then was the body and gender, but I had never considered the links between the body and the mind, mostly because I saw these two facets as one and the same. Late nights spent discussing the mind/body question led me to ponder my own mind and body.
Until very recently, I lived in my mind, and I neglected my body. After gaining weight around 2011-2012, I escaped my physical discomfort by immersing myself in my studies and media, many books and television shows. I made minimal effort in grad school when I began working out with a trainer at my university’s wellness center. But I never pushed myself and often cancelled sessions when I was depressed or just not feeling up to it. Many days were spent in my house or the local coffee shop, writing my thesis, studying for exams, or writing semester-end papers. I would close myself off to the world with a pair of headphones and block out everything, including my own body. I would dwell for hours in my brain as my hand moved across a notebook or keyboard.
To be frank, I hated my body. I was never athletic as a kind, but I played tee ball and softball as well as gymnastics, dance, and my favorite sport, marital arts. Then came the one-two punch of puberty and mental illness, which sidelined my physical activities as most days I struggled to merely get out of bed. High school became college and I drifted from my body into my mind. I became supremely self-aware of my mental states while my body suffered. I wouldn’t say I had a bad diet or didn’t get off the couch; I was a typical American who ate large portions and wasn’t active. But when everyone around you is the same way, you don’t notice it.
Then I gained a lot of weight and my indifference to my body grew into hate. I gave up. I ate tons of pasta and takeout. My diet was terrible, and I sat in my recliner feeling miserable most days. I didn’t know how to fix my situation. I focused on school. Meanwhile, I felt trapped in my body.
My first attempt to lose weight didn’t work. Like I said, I skipped more workout sessions than I attended. I didn’t commit and I continue to eat terribly, hoping the workouts I did attend would offset the calories. I ignored my body except for the times my mom mentioned weight loss surgery. This only made me feel worse.
My breaking point came in October 2018. The following February, I moved to central Iowa and quickly inquired at my local gym about seeing a personal trainer. I can’t explain what had changed for me, but I felt it was time to get out of my mind and into my long-neglected body.
The human body is capable of many extraordinary feats. For so long I had lived with my body without pushing it to do more than walk and talk. I saw exercise as something healthy people did or a short-term method of weight loss. In America, exercise is not the norm. Growing up, I was active and healthy, but I had lost that along the way. I had forgotten what my body could do.
I have been working with an awesome trainer for almost one year now and I am excited about the changes that have happe3ned to my body. This month I have accomplished many firsts: running on a treadmill (without holding on), lifting crazy amounts of weights, to name just two. In only one year, I have gone from unable to squat to deep squatting with a weighted bar. I find myself literally dancing with joy and excitement at times. On the mental health side, I have never felt so stable in my life. My highs and lows have mellowed out incredibly. I have made my workout session habitual, by which I mean I just get ready and go with few exceptions. At first, I felt anxiety when walking into the gym. Now I actually feel relaxed. I am learning to cook at home and my diet is better. I’ve learned so much about nutrition and the human body. I don’t know if I wasn’t paying attention in school or if no one explained these facts to me. Either way, I’m making up for it. I was never great at science, but I now have a basic, functional understanding of anatomy, biology, and related chemistry. (For reference, I barely passed with a C in high school chemistry.)
My trainer has told me that this change is not a short-term solution. It is a lifestyle change. It is a shift at the core of how I live my life. I didn’t grasp the profoundness of that idea until recently. Yes, I have changed a great deal. No, this change is not temporary. I don’t want to go back to hating my body. I like how I fell and the way my clothes fit me now. I even see the appeal of fashion where I once dressed functionally, to cover everything up. I recently purged my closet of everything that is too big for me now. It felt exhilarating.
I won’t go back because I know how miserable I was living in my head. I hated my body. I have more on my weight loss journey, but I am amazed at the progress I’ve already made, especially in one year. (For the record, I’ve lost 62 lbs. as of this week.) I feel good, not just mentally, but also physically. I’ve never said that as an adult.
I feel now that I am living in my mind and my body.