I’ve always been an perfectionist. For seven years through my late teens and early twenties, this trait manifested as a roller coaster of yo-yo diets, disordered eating behaviour and punishing workouts, in an endless pursuit of my own concept of the perfect body. Four years ago, on the verge of starting yet another diet cycle, I discovered an online community of people who believe in size acceptance and Health at Every Size (HAES), drastically shifting my goals and my frame of mind.
HAES posits that pursuing improved health outcomes can occur independent of deliberate changes in body size. In other words, healthy behaviours like eating well and exercising have value whether or not you become thinner as a result of these behaviours. From its website (http://www.haescommunity.org/), HAES encourages:
● Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
● Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honours internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
● Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital.
For me, all three are inextricably tied to my physical and emotional well-being. As a former competitive swimmer and someone who needs a constant challenge to stay interested, finding ways to incorporate joyful physical movement into my life has been a moving target. I’m not a natural athlete. I get bored at the gym alone on a treadmill or elliptical. I’m not interested in classes strongly marketed as weight-loss solutions, like fitness “bootcamps.” I need variety, motivation, and a supportive and compassionate environment to keep me coming back. (I’m sure you see where this is going.)
I admit it. I was terrified to try spinning. I live thirty seconds (I’m not kidding) from the studio, but it was only after I saw a FabFind coupon for five classes at Spynga that I decided to give it a try. My first class was a one-hour ride and pump on a Saturday in November 2010 – probably not the best class for a first-timer. I spent the hour fighting not to slip forward off my saddle and praying for the class to end. I could barely walk the next day. But I had four more classes on my account, and I do have my pride, so I came back a week later for a Spynga flow, thinking I could handle 30 minutes of spinning and would just grit my teeth through the yoga. It went well enough to have me come back again, and then again … and it was in that fourth class that something clicked. The rest, as they say, is history.
In my first year as a Spyngaee (Sari’s term), I’ve learned to jump, sprint, climb, and, yes – downward dog. I’d thought my size and my lack of flexibility meant yoga wasn’t for me. Of course, I was wrong. There are modifications and adjustments for all kinds of bodies, and everyone has unique challenges when it comes to physical activity. Sure, I can’t do a shoulder stand (these 38DDDs would choke the life out of me!), but I’ve got a super-solid crescent lunge these days. On the bike, I’m not the fastest sprinter, but I can climb in third forever. Spinning and yoga both have the perfect blend of individual and group mentality for me; there’s no competition, but there’s mutual encouragement. There’s a “we’re all in this together” factor that pushes me to my edge without pressure to compare myself to others.
Everyone has their reasons for engaging in physical activity. I understand and respect that for some people, weight loss or weight maintenance is a priority. I deeply appreciate that at Spynga, there is no assumption that this is everyone’s reason for being there. The more I move and challenge myself, the better I feel. In turn, I feel more motivated to nourish my body properly and to respect my shape as acceptable and beautiful. It’s so empowering to see your body as strong and capable rather than something to be molded and fit into a template.
It might seem a little unconventional, but I feel healthier and happier in my size 16 body than I ever did in the years when I struggled to maintain a size 8, and I feel respected and supported without judgement at Spynga. I’m hooked – and I can’t wait to see what heights I can reach in the next year.