How Working Out Through Weight Gain Puts Me At Peace With My Body

I’ve been exercising for about a decade—during which, my weight has gone up and down plenty of times. I’ve been to the gym as a size 12 and I’ve gone as a size 18. I’ve lost 50 pounds and I’ve regained 70. Still, I worked out. Even when I was pregnant. No matter what—weight gain, weight loss, a bun in the oven—the feeling of pride in my body and its strength kept me motivated.

When I first started exercising in college, I admit that I was motivated by weight loss. I had always been over 200 pounds, so when I lost 20 pounds, it felt like a victory. It was when I learned for the first time to appreciate the exhaustion after a great workout and the sweet ache of my muscles. It served as a reminder of how strong my body really was.

I’ve been to the gym as a size 12 and I’ve gone as a size 18. I’ve lost 50 pounds and I’ve regained 70. Still, I worked out.

When I moved to Australia after graduation, I discovered boxing. So I joined an outdoor club that met on the riverbank. Here was a sport where my size was actually a benefit. With each smack of my glove hitting the coach’s training pad, I felt more and more powerful.

Later, while I was at my lightest (200 pounds), I decided to sign up for boot-camp workouts. Army-crawling through mud, sprinting across a field, and doing more burpees than I cared to count was a new, invigorating challenge. The bodyweight exercises pitted my weight against itself, and forced me to become even more attuned to my body.

I dropped another 25 pounds, which was great. But I also gained body confidence. I wore a string bikini beside all the bronzed Aussies, and I didn’t care that my body was still round and soft. Because I knew what my body was capable of.

Related: My Size 18 Body Doesn’t Mean I’m Unhealthy

When I returned to the United States I was committed to staying on track with my fitness. But as soon as I set foot on American soil, I gained weight again. I’m sure that portion sizes and certain ingredients had an impact, and so did lifestyle changes. I was working more (which left less time for the gym), and I no longer lived in a city (which meant less walking).

By the time I got pregnant 18 months later I had regained about 35 pounds. Today, nearly three years later, my body is holding tight to that weight, and I’m about 65 pounds and three sizes away from my smallest size. But sure enough, in those weeks after my daughter was born, I returned to the gym, grunting in the hot July air.

As I did walking squats down a stretch of artificial, impossibly long turf, my legs started burning—badly. But I was smiling nonetheless. I never, ever thought I’d be the person eager to hit the gym just weeks after having a baby, but there I was, feeling comfortable in my postpartum body. I’d always loved the feeling of the burn.

In those weeks after my daughter was born, I returned to the gym, grunting in the hot July air.

That day, as I took my first (and probably only) #sweatyselfie, I realized just how seriously exercise affects my view of my body. I didn’t know then that—despite working out—I wouldn’t lose the baby weight, but I did realize that exercising was a portal to body appreciation for me.

Working out was and is the one thing that kept me feeling in control of my changing body. If I’m being honest, I’ll admit fear also played a role in my commitment to exercise: I was struggling to control my weight even when I was working out consistently, so I was terrified to find out what would happen to my health if I stopped.

Related: 3 People Share How They Dropped Over 60 Pounds—And Kept It Off

Gaining weight can be incredibly frustrating, especially when you feel like you’re doing everything right. However, strapping my baby to my back and hiking to the summit of a mountain, or holding a plank while my toddler crawls over me, soothes the pain of weight gain. Exercising has become proof of my strength and resilience. Challenging my body physically is a continuous reminder that health is about so much more than the number on the scale.

Challenging my body physically is a continuous reminder that health is about so much more than the number on the scale.

I remind myself that even small amounts of exercise can reduce the risk of fatal disease. Not to mention, it keeps my back and hip pain at bay. I also love that exercising gives me an hour to myself, away from the demands of family and work.

At the end of last summer I completed an obstacle course race where I placed third in my age group. While I was hauling myself over the obstacles, I wasn’t thinking about my size. Nope—I was laser-focused on my strength. Knowing that I can control my fitness and strength, even when my weight goes up or down, has made me feel at peace with my body, and it’s helped me banish frustrations about the scale.

Although I’ve packed away the string bikinis, I proudly wear a plus-sized two-piece to the pool. And I bring my daughter with me to the gym to show her—and anyone else who is looking—that fitness comes in all shapes and sizes.

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