As we age and our lives and bodies change, typically the physical activity we are involved in changes as well. In all kinds of ways. For all kinds of reasons. If you are over the age of 35 or 40, chances are, you can point to a time when you did this or that extraordinary (at least for you, now) thing with your body that you can no longer do or you no longer want to do or that maybe you could still do but no longer have the motivation to do. This change is probably not an emergency. It’s just how life goes.
I discovered sprint-distance triathlon (750m swim+20k bike+5k run) and 5k races in 2010, when I was already 37 years old. I had been a casual, slow-and-steady swimmer, runner, and leisure-cyclist for many years before that, always as part of a weight loss or weight management regimen. I began doing all of these activities really in my adolescence, sometimes for pure fun but almost always already in the mindset that my body was unacceptable and exercising could potentially make it better. I was never fast at any of them. And training for sprint-distance tris only made me slightly faster. I never “competed,” I only ever did Tri to “complete.”
In 2015, a year after my hysterectomy, I ran a half marathon and stepped up my Tri game to an Olympic-distance (1500m swim+40k bike+10k run). That was a pinnacle year in my training. It was also the year I was diagnosed with atypical anorexia.
With that diagnosis came a growing realization that I had become obsessive and compulsive about exercise. It took some time for me to detach myself from the many ways that triathlon training and exercise in general had become a pathological disruption for me. Eventually, I successfully stripped my life of all movement that did not feel joyful in the moment. It was a necessary (for me) but difficult stage on this journey of body liberation.
For the past few years, I have a deep desire to get back to consistent, intentional movement but every time I start something, it only lasts — at most — a few weeks. Mostly, this is because eventually diet culture will rear its head and/or my ED will jump in the driver’s seat and kill the joy. Even with ALL the work I have done toward body liberation, the ubiquitousness of diet culture and depth of the pathology around my ED can become so disruptive, so quickly.
Additionally — and embarrassingly — another reason I have a hard time sticking to a movement routine is that as a personal trainer, group fitness instructor and yoga teacher who enjoys pretty much EVERY/ ANY type of movement, I feel paralyzing choice overwhelm whenever I am trying to decide what to do. I love the thought of doing almost any type of physical activity so I will just spiral to the point where I’m just like, “fuck it! I’m doing none of it!” This is embarrassing because it seems so genuinely nonsensical to me but it is exactly my experience. And, as I’m writing this, I am realizing that this is how I can be with my writing as well: so many ideas, so many directions that I’ll just not write anything at all in the end. Choice overwhelm. Maybe this is a sign of my undiagnosed/ self-diagnosed ADHD?
I’ve recently given myself permission to just stop working out completely while I shake myself free of the diet culture and ED hooks again. This is freeing me up to do what seems like the next phase of my body liberation work which will include a reclaiming of consistent movement in my life. I’m going to take my time with this. I’m going to try to explore all of the things methodically, taking notes and noticing all of the triggers toward the things I don’t want and all of the pleasures toward the things I do want out of my physical activity choices.
I’ve started semi-casually meeting with a friend to lift weights or walk outside. I’m considering signing up for a supersprint tri just to see how that feels. I bought a tri wetsuit that fits my body now so I can try open-water swimming again. And I’m starting to remember how much I love to dance. I’m very casually experimenting with morning, afternoon and evening movement. Which works best for my life now? Which do I enjoy most? Do I like certain activities at certain times? And where do I like to workout best? Home? A certain gym? Outdoors? And who do I like to be with or do I prefer to be alone?
I’m realizing, it might be helpful to get pretty seriously methodical about this exploration so I leave no stone unturned and so I take a careful look at each stone as I turn them over. For this purpose, I've started keeping a "Rediscovering Joyful Movement" journal on my computer where I type notes after each experience so that I will be able to go back and see, from a logical perspective, what worked and what did not. My nerdy researcher-self loves this!
My lack of a plan for exercise feels like an emergency to my ED. In diet culture, we have to be constantly trying to make ourselves smaller through diet and exercise in order to be worthy of living. So, my ED is running around my head right now telling me that annihilation is right around the corner unless I get back to consistent exercise TODAY, RIGHT NOW! But my ED is an ignorant little chicken-little-type bitch (more on that later) who refuses to acknowledge that my changing body, my changing life, and my evolved understanding of how diet culture has hijacked joyful movement from me requires a slow-and-steady approach if I’m ever going to get back to consistent movement again.
My clients will often lament the fact that they used to do this or that extraordinary thing with their body that they can no longer do or no longer find the motivation to do. When this comes up, I try to encourage them to do two things: 1) BE COMPASSIONATE toward their changed bodies, lives, and mindset and 2) GET CURIOUS about joyful movement and the ways in which diet culture might have its hooks in their experiences of physical activity. Sometimes it takes me a little while to realize that I can provide myself with the same care that I provide to my clients. It’s time. It’s time for me to give myself that same compassion and curious nature. And what strange and useful gifts these are!
About JodiAnn Stevenson
JodiAnn Stevenson lives in the U.S., in the Northwest Corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, on The Big Lake. Her writing has appeared in numerous venues since 1996. She is the author of three published chapbooks of poetry: The Procedure (March Street Press, 2006); Houses Don’t Float (Habernicht Press, 2010); and Diving Headlong Into A Cliff of Our Own Delusion (Saucebox, 2011). Her mixed-genre work Marina Abramovic Is My Mother is available in the form of a short-run podcast. She has also produced eight chapbooks of poetry for The Broken Nose Collective which she co-founded in 2013. JodiAnn was founder and co-managing editor of the feminist micro-press, Binge Press and its sister journal, 27 rue de fleures, from 2004 until 2017.
A (more or less) complete list of publications and appearances: