on fitness: loving my body + finding jesus in the journey
Hiking at the Four Lakes trail, BC. Photo: Seeto Photography

Hiking at the Four Lakes trail, BC. Photo: Seeto Photography

Hey guys! Soo I was planning to share this much earlier (aka April), but things got in the way and my work commitments were ramping up. But I’ve finally found some time to write this piece, and I hope it will be a meaningful one.

Being - and looking - fit is “in” right now. Thinness used to be the body shape that girls would strive for, but I’m glad that things have changed and there are big movements and voices all across the world that support body positivity and the fact that every body is a good body. I’m glad that I live in a world that celebrates curves and muscles and stretch marks and bodies of all shapes, colours and sizes.

In this post, I want to delve a little deeper into my personal fitness journey: what I thought being fit meant, my struggles with loving my body, how I met Jesus in the journey, and the workout routine I’ve established that works for me.

misconceptions i had about being fit

As a kid and all throughout my teenage years, I had always thought that being thin was ideal, and being fat was “bad”. I think this is something that society ingrains in us at a young age, to the point that I never questioned why I held such assumptions, how they had even been constructed, and how I could even begin to de-construct them.

I also had a love-hate relationship with working out. I wasn’t a fan of running and found exercising to be such a hassle. I signed up for memberships at my local gyms, only to barely utilise them because the thought of running on the treadmill already tired me out, and I felt intimidated by all that fancy gym equipment. But I did enjoy being active to some extent (I took up tennis in junior college and joined kickboxing classes in university). But I still never felt like I was “thin” or “fit” enough.

Hiking at Runyon Canyon, LA in 2017

Hiking at Runyon Canyon, LA in 2017

my body image struggles

I was pretty skinny in secondary school. But I remember a classmate saying to me once, “You seem to have put on weight” during the school holidays. I remember feeling embarrassed and brushing his comment off, but I suppose it must’ve had some impact since I can still remember it so clearly.

The thing is, I was at a healthy weight for my age at the time. Putting on a bit of weight did not mean I had become fat or even overweight. But yet, an innocent, casual comment like that made me feel like I had been judged, as if my body was now “ugly”.

In my first full-time job, I started counting my calories to ensure that I never went above my daily calorie limit. I would share a plate of food with my colleague so that I would not over-eat. Doing all this diligently did help me not to put on weight, but it was all so restrictive and it felt like I had to control my food consumption all the time (and believe me, I love eating).

In my second job, I worked as a writer for a lifestyle website. An opportunity came up to review a juice cleanse (a huge fad at the time) for a story . I volunteered because I saw no reason not to, and I wanted to see if it really did help in shedding some weight. Let’s just say that I discovered the power of hunger pangs through that experience - I constantly thought of all the food I could finally eat once the juice cleanse was over, and the food I was craving tended to be oily/fried stuff :p On the upside, I did develop a liking for drinking green juices after that.

After that, I moved to work as a writer in a magazine. It was a stressful environment, and I often sat at my desk all day and ate lunch in front of my computer screen frequently. I gained some weight during this period, and I did not like my body one bit.

The culmination of all these experiences led to this realisation: I had a toxic relationship with my body.

I would stare at myself in the mirror and feel repelled by what I saw. I couldn’t think of anything positive to say about my body. And I punished it by stuffing my face with fast food or unhealthy snacks.

Hiking at Whytecliff Park, BC in 2019

Hiking at Whytecliff Park, BC in 2019

finding jesus in the midst of it all

There is so much pressure on us to look a certain way, to appear “desirable”, and to look beautiful. A lot of the time, becoming fitter is tied to these concepts.

But I don’t see being fit as a way of becoming more attractive. Rather, being fit to me now means I am honouring and loving my body for what it is. Being fit is not about achieving a certain body shape, or being fitter than everyone else around me, or showing off my muscles or abs.

Because of this, it’s freed me to choose better foods to consume while indulging in ice cream or potato chips whenever I want to without feeling guilt or shame. It’s empowered me to wear a bikini even if my body isn’t in good enough shape. It’s allowed me to give myself permission to celebrate the times I can actually see my abs peeking out, and permission to continue loving and accepting myself when they disappear the next day.

This renewed perspective on fitness came about because I developed a right understanding of who I am in God, and who God says I am.

This Bible passage describes how intimately known we are and how every part of our bodies were so carefully stitched and created by God:

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
— Psalm 139: 13-16

Another verse in the Bible again declares that we are God’s masterpiece:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
— Ephesians 6:10

I think the biggest struggle I had with all these verses was actually believing them. But once I recognised who I was in God, and once I allowed myself to trust in these God-given words, a huge burden was lifted. I didn’t have to abide by cultural and societal standards of what a “good” body was. I didn’t need my body to look a certain way or be something “more” or “better”.

Nonetheless, my toxic relationship with my body has not fully disappeared. Even now, there are times I still think and speak negatively of my body.

But when those thoughts come, I choose to declare His truths over them. And because of Him, I can say:

My body is good, because a good God made it.

My body may be imperfect, but I am learning to love it.

I love my body for what it is, right now in this moment.

my workout routine

As mentioned previously, I had a love-hate relationship with fitness. But all that changed when I went for my first barre class in 2016. The workout was fun and challenging, and I enjoyed the music and the variety of exercises during the one-hour class. I went for a 10-day trial, then took the plunge and bought a 50-class pack. Yup, that’s how much I loved it!

Since moving to Vancouver in 2017, I’ve been to most of the barre studios here (read my review of Pure Barre, Barre Fitness and more). In late 2018, I signed up with a studio that offered barre, HIIT and stretch classes so I could get a total body workout and pick up good stretching techniques too. I found my body getting stronger and fitter through this experience, and also had a newfound appreciation for how amazing my body was after every killer workout I put it through.

These days, I try to work out at least three times a week with a high-impact workout, a low-impact workout, and stretching or yoga. I fully consider going for a hike exercise too, so it’s always fun to plan for one and enjoy fresh air, sunshine and good company.

Hiking with friends (and cute doggos) is such a great way to keep active!

Hiking with friends (and cute doggos) is such a great way to keep active!

re-defining fitness

I hope my story will encourage you to develop a different perspective about getting fit, and help you to introduce new thought patterns about your body too.

My prayer is that we learn to love our bodies instead of punishing or demeaning them; that we see fitness in a more positive and less comparative light; and that we allow God to continue renewing our minds so that we can let go of toxic thoughts about our bodies.

I leave you with these powerful words by BC-based therapist/researcher Hillary McBride:

I know that so many of us struggle to believe- and know in a visceral kind of way- that our bodies are good. It says something that this is a challenge for so many of us. It says that maybe you or I or your sister or friend aren’t broken, but we are in a system which says some bodies matter while some don’t. We are in a system of hierarchy, and in this made up hierarchy some bodies are on the top and others aren’t. The tragedy is the we attack ourselves, we criticize our bodies instead turning the finger on a way of thinking that makes us objectify ourselves and others. You are not bad. Your body is not bad. Even your frustration or shame or disgust with your body is not bad: it is the most obedient thing imaginable. (Shaming shame only creates more shame, it doesn’t make it go away: Now is the time for compassion). You feel exactly about your body like you were told to feel about your body, and others’ bodies. But now is time to be critical of a way of thinking that made us critical of ourselves. And you are absolutely allowed to be angry or sad at how long you were under its thumb. Now is the time for us to write the new story. In this story bodies are good: all bodies. No white body over a body of colour, no male body over a female body, no straight body over a queer body, no able body over a body with different abilities, no thin body over a fat body, no healthy body over a sick body, and all of the countless other versions of this. The hierarchy has to go. And we wipe it clean by saying the body is good. All bodies are good. No exceptions. No conditions. This will be our resistance.

What are your thoughts on how faith influences fitness? How have you struggled in loving and accepting your body?


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