That's when I started to feel pressure to be thin. So I started binging and purging, and obsessively doing cardio. I became fixated on calorie burn, because if I worked out harder, I could eat a little more. I started running four, then 10 kilometres a day. Fitness became both the answer to my dreams as well as something I dreaded doing. It became a chore—and an unhealthy obsession.
Thankfully, in my early twenties, I started seeing an eating disorder therapist and nutritionist who helped in my recovery. I started working through all my baggage, figuring out why I felt the way I did and why I hated my body. I had to learn to change my thoughts and relearn how to have a relationship with both food and fitness that was healthy.
Then, I started dating someone who was a CrossFit coach. He wanted me to come check out a class, but I resisted going for a while, since my relationship with fitness had been so rocky. But eventually, I agreed to go see what it was all about.
1. THE CHANGE
I was so intimidated. But the community at my local box (the name for CrossFit gyms) was so welcoming. All around me, I saw these positive, intense, strong, supportive women. The music was loud, as were the banging barbells, and grunts coming from everywhere. But mostly, what I noticed was how different everyone looked. There were moms, teens, women in their twenties, thirties—all of whom wanted nothing more than to be strong. I loved that women wore short spandex and had big, muscular thighs.
Everything about the environment drew me in. I was quickly hooked.
I had always been scared of bulking up, but being surrounded by these women who were so strong took the worry right out of my head. I saw how badass they were and realized if lifting more and more weights is what got them there, I was in.
And after a few workouts, my body felt so good. I started building muscle, building strength. I felt like my body was made for heavy lifting and my personality fit with this crew. I stopped worrying about how I looked while working out, which had never happened before. You can’t make deadlifting 115 kilograms look pretty, so I said screw it and lifted!
I started going to classes as a form of therapy. While cardio was once a chore, CrossFit helped me sweat out my stress and feel so confident.
I loved waking up energised and sore. I loved the feeling of going to class and being able to do something I couldn’t before. I loved feeling my muscles shaking and growing and progressing. These became the things I started looking for in my workouts—taking the focus off how my body looks, and putting it on how it feels.
2. THE WORKOUTS
Now, I get up at 5 a.m. to exercise before work, which is hard, but it’s so nice being able to come home and just relax after a long day. I usually work out three to six times a week, depending on my energy levels. I stuck to CrossFit for a while, but because of my history with fitness, I try to change things up a lot to make sure I’m still enjoying my workouts. Now, I do cycling, HIIT, Flow (a dance-yoga type class), and Pilates on a reformer machine.
3. THE FOOD
I used to have my “dream body” but my mind and soul were miserable. I was probably 9 kilograms lighter, but I didn’t feel good in my skin and I wasn’t enjoying life. Now, I love working out because I love my body! I’ve learned that a healthy life means that you actually enjoy it. What’s the point of a “perfect” body if you’re miserable? Fitness and food are a part of my life, but they don't rule it anymore.
Now, my wellness is about my mind, body, and soul. It took me a long time to find balance in my routine. Anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder knows there’s a balance between using fitness in a healthy way and falling back into unhealthy habits. But I constantly keep an eye out for old markers—like feeling guilty if I miss a workout or losing joy in fitness—and make sure that I’m really enjoying what I’m doing. I still push myself, but it’s not a punishment for how my body looks. I don’t focus on weight-loss goals, but rather focus on using fitness in a healthy way.
5. JULIA’S NUMBER-ONE TIP
Make sure you’re working out for you and you alone, and that you’re loving your body throughout the process. You can’t hate your way to a body you’ll love. Your body is always going to be changing, that’s just the reality. But loving yourself should be the top priority.
Follow Julia’s fitness journey @fitfatandallthat
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This article originally appeared on Women's Health US