My Relationship With Fitness: It’s Complicated

Last night, I dragged myself to my first workout of 2020. Dragged is the most accurate word I can think of to describe it—I dreaded it for several hours leading up to it. 

Once I forced myself onto the spinning bike in the dark studio, I began to feel the endorphin high that used to be so familiar. I realized I maybe even missed it! As I pedaled away, tapped it back and dropped my elbows, I started to think about my relationship with fitness.

And boy, has it been a complicated one.

When I moved to New York a little over a year ago, I became obsessed with working out. I don’t know if it was the need to establish a new life, an early New Year’s resolution, a way to explore my new city…probably a bit of all three. But regardless of the reason, I started to work out every day. While that sounds great (and it can be!) I started to develop an unhealthy attachment to fitness. If I missed a single day, I would beat myself up about it for hours. I started saying no to social events because I felt that I couldn’t miss a workout. Exercising had essentially become a punishment that I inflicted upon myself. I didn’t realize how truly attached I was until I started seeing a therapist. My guilt about not working out became a topic we discussed frequently, and she challenged me to let it go.

It was when I headed to Florida to visit my parents that I started to chill out. At first, I spent hours looking up studios near their condo, trying to figure out how I could get there when we only had one car. But once I arrived, a daily walk around the neighborhood followed by a trip to the pool felt so right.

I continued to work out at a healthy frequency through the remainder of winter, the summer and the start of the fall. But then I completely fell off the wagon.

I started venturing to the gym closer to once a week or every other week. I felt some guilt, but it was nothing compared to what I had felt months prior. I started allowing myself to make excuses: it’s too cold out, the holidays are coming anyway, my body needs rest. I had done a complete 180.

Yesterday, as I jumped and sprinted on the bike, I decided that this year, one of my goals is to find a happy medium in my relationship with fitness. But I know it won’t be as easy as it sounds.

Especially because there’s another factor in this complicated relationship: diabetes. As usual, everything in my life comes back to it! In this case, I’m talking about workout anxiety.

As a T1D, I have to plan my day around each workout. What and when I eat throughout the day as well as how much insulin I give all must be calculated before I can exercise. That’s because exercise wildly affects my blood sugar, often in unpredictable ways. Usually when I do cardio, like spinning, I need lots more food and a lot less insulin to keep myself from crashing. But if I’m doing strength training or something like barre, my sugar will likely spike from glycogen in the muscles. Then there’s yoga, where it can go either way—my levels depend on both the poses and the heat of the room. 

Sometimes, the exertion from exercise itself mimics the feeling of low blood sugar, even if it’s not low. I often have to question, “Am I low or am I just tired because this is difficult? Am I low or are my muscles shaking from the moves? Am I low or is this a normal amount of sweat?” I’ve stepped out of classes to treat a low, only to find out my blood sugar was normal or even high. It’s hard to be fully present in a class when you’re worried about surviving it.

Nowadays, it’s a bit easier to regulate workouts because of my pump. I can set a temporary insulin rate during my workout. But it’s far from a perfect system, and I still carry a juice box into every class. And I still tend to get what I refer to as “mini panic attacks” during workouts, where I feel like I can’t breathe—and it has nothing to do with my lungs.

Despite all of this, the pros obviously outweigh the cons both physically and mentally. Especially as a chronically ill person who wants to try to have a normal lifespan. When I exercise, I feel clearer, happier and kinder. And that’s worth the challenge.

Do you have any wellness goals for 2020? What do you struggle with when it comes to working out? I’d love to hear!

Colorfully Yours,

Haley

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