Blame it on the Back: Thoughts on Exercise

September 15, 2011 § 2 Comments

  Dieting, or restricting foods, food groups or calories, is only half of the weight-loss battle.    Successful and long-lasting results come from a combination of altered nutritional choices and exercise. For most of my life, that little seven-letter word was enough to send shivers down my spine. I hated it. I avoided it. I dreaded it.

I have never been athletic. I have never been anything relatively close to athletic.  I think the root of my aversion to physical activity rests partially in my mind and partially in my body. It rests in my body because I have scoliosis. And not just the minor your-spine-is-slightly-off kind. I have the acute you-might-end-up-looking-like-Quasimodo kind. The back-brace-wearing, rod-in-my-back kind. I had spinal fusion surgery when I was 16 years old and have a titanium rod attached to my spine. I have a wicked scar running the length of my back to remember it by. My hips are still slightly skewed, I have problems with my knees (iliotibial band syndrome) and I have flat feet.

My earliest exercise-related memory is of special “gymnastics” classes I had to attend when I was probably in kindergarten or first grade. I don’t have very clear memories of the experiences but I clearly remember feeling singled out. Different. I also remember the setting was cold and clinical. Think early 1980s-facility behind the Iron Curtain. Literally.

And then came all the years of regular visits to the orthopedist (I’ve had so many x-rays that I ought to glow in the dark), the horrifying plastic back brace, and finally the surgery. I wore the brace around the time I started puberty. It was a white, stiff and uncomfortable shell. With velcro in the front. I wore it under my clothes, but when I leaned over, to write at my desk, for example, a sharp, plastic shard stuck out. It scared more than one classmate. And I remember feeling singled out. Different.

The root of my aversion to physical activity rests in my mind because I have scoliosis. Throughout my childhood I was bombarded with messages that I had to be careful of my back, which in my mind translated to “I am weak and fragile.” Those messages were meant with love, and I was encouraged to be active (I took swimming lessons and tennis lessons and I even played on my middle school soccer team for one season) but I felt singled out. Different.

And when I went through puberty, I gained weight. I was chubby and out of shape, and my back served as an excuse for why I couldn’t participate. I used my scoliosis as a crutch – freshman year in high school, when I struggled to run a 12 minute mile, it was easy to say I couldn’t run because my back hurt.

In the years since I have dabbled in exercise. I’ve been to my share of aerobics classes, from step to kickboxing. I’ve attempted to run, I’ve taken yoga classes, I have tried my hand at weight training. And just like with diet, I never managed to stick with it for a prolonged period of time and my workout regimens have been stop & go for years.

But now I am beginning to wonder if my inability to fully commit to lifestyle change maybe subconsciously connected to childhood feelings on insecurity and inadequacy. Maybe I can’t fully transform my body from pudgy and out of shape to lean and fit because I am holding on to a subconscious belief that I am not and will never be fit and strong?

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