How Staying Active Helps Me Make Peace With My Body

I was a dancer from the time I was eight to seventeen years old. I danced several hours a week, taking ballet, tap, jazz, etc. As much as I enjoyed the artistic expression that came with dancing and the benefits of staying active, the dance community fostered an extremely toxic environment that allowed my eating disorder and negative body image to thrive. 

Since my anorexia diagnosis at 18, I’ve banned myself from exercising intensely as a method of warding off the obsessive thoughts around maintaining a thin body and burning calories. However, I am 21 now, and at a place in my recovery where I can slowly return to working out. My doctors have encouraged me to take on an activity that will get me moving and out of my head, but also won’t allow my disordered thoughts to resurface. I also have several chronic illnesses that have made it difficult to exercise with my weak heart and slippery, aching joints, making my journey to finding a workout plan difficult at first. 

With gyms being closed due to COVID-19, I was forced to find an activity I could do at home or outside. Running was out of the question due to my physical illnesses, so I turned to Youtube. After exploring several fitness Youtubers who not only provided workouts that were fun and enjoyable, but also promoted physical wellness instead of weight loss and physical appearance, I began seeing benefits in my day to day life from working out. I fell in love with cardio kickboxing and cardio dance classes. When I’m feeling up to it, I also do HIIT workouts that focus on strength and endurance. 

 

two women working out Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

Having a background in dance, I’ve always missed the thrill of learning new choreography and mastering a dance routine. I missed feeling both strong and graceful. Barre classes as well as cardio dance videos helped me ease back into the dance world, without the competitive nature of in-person classes and criticism from strict instructors. Staying active has helped me feel strong in a way that is usually difficult to feel in a chronically ill body. Most channels I frequent also offer a low-impact option or modifications to each workout, helping me feel strong and hardworking despite my weaknesses. I’ve noticed a difference in my physical strength, as well as my mental state. I feel less stressed, and being active is a way to relieve excess anxiety and anger. Whenever I’m anxious and I do a fun dance party workout, I always feel lighter and positively energetic afterwards. 

Working out from the comfort of my own home has also been beneficial. I don’t feel the pressure to compare myself to others, or criticize my skill. For example, as a former ballerina, I feel silly doing hip hop dances. But in the comfort of my own apartment, I don’t care because I’m doing it to have fun and relieve stress. It also helps me escape my mind for an hour or two. When I’m dancing or kickboxing, I’m only focused on the movements and following the instructors to perform the routines. 

 

Photo by Carl Barcelo on Unsplash I’m obviously no doctor, but I’ve noticed so many benefits to exercising that have helped my mental state, and would encourage everyone finding an activity to get your body moving, whether that’s simply taking a walk every evening or finding a workout online that you enjoy doing. I’ve learned that exercise doesn’t have to be an evil thing that you dislike doing, and feel pressured to do it solely to maintain a thinner body or burn excess calories. Exercise is a way to celebrate how strong your body is, and the amazing things it can do. Three years ago if I tried to complete a cardio kickboxing class, I definitely wouldn’t make it through without fainting. Now, my body is stronger and although my heart is still weak, it doesn’t matter. Now I work out not to hurt myself, but to help myself be better.