Fitness to me is so much more than just physical activity. It is an emotional and mental journey. It is about self-acceptance and overall well-being. When people ask me how I got started on my fitness journey or what keeps me motivated, I can’t really give them a straight, simple answer. Because there are so many layers to this fitness journey. There’s no one plan that fits all; motivation comes from different experiences in our lives. We come from different walks of life with different goals, we may have different underlying health issues or dietary restrictions, and we may have different resources at our disposal. So, don’t ever compare your journey to those around you. Remember, YOU are your only competition.
[Read Related: Fat-Shaming and the South Asian Community]
Fitness for me has evolved over the years. I’ll break it down for you into three phases of my life:
I was an overweight kid well into my late teens. I went through that teenage phase where I was still figuring myself out and comparing myself to others. We lived in Mumbai, India until I was 14 years old. Whenever my mom took me shopping for clothes, people at the store would mockingly say they don’t carry “my size.” I would hear them whisper about my weight or call me moti (fat).
I was fond of dancing from a very young age and learned different dance forms: Bharatnatyam, Bollywood, hip-hop, fusion, etc. But often during my dance performances, I would hear people say,
Oh! That fat kid can dance!
I didn’t understand it at the time. So, I began questioning if one must be skinny to be able to dance? Soon, I started associating happiness and the idea of beauty with “being skinny.” When we moved to the U.S., shopping became a little easier because you don’t have shopkeepers here showing you clothes like they usually do in India. But the internal comparison and struggle became even more pronounced as I didn’t quite look like the people around me; I was a brown girl in predominantly white surroundings. I was lost and just wanted to blend in and I turned into this young girl full of self-doubt, not at all comfortable in her body or skin.
In my late teens, I decided to make some changes. Doctors were concerned about my hormonal imbalances/thyroid issues along with my family medical history so I discussed it with my mom and decided to join a gym. I also made some changes to my diet. Initially, I had no idea what I was doing at the gym, but with the help of group classes and a little push from fitness instructors, I was hooked in no time! In about six months, I lost 30-35 lbs. The number on the scale motivated me further to continue my fitness journey.
A few years later my dad suffered a stroke, which he recovered from fairly well (I had lost my grandpa due to a stroke when I was just 2). I was very young when I lost my grandpa, but I was well aware of the impact it had on our family. So seeing my dad go through the same made me realize the value of health even more. It pushed me to work out even more and eat better. My love for fitness grew, but I also started focusing more on the inches I lost. I would compare my arms, legs, and abs to others that I considered “fit.” I obsessed over my calorie intake. This time, the comments centered around me being too skinny and not eating enough. Guess what? Those were probably justified. Skinny is not the key to happiness and skinny doesn’t mean you are healthy.
Before I dive into my current lifestyle approach, I want to point out that after getting married and starting a new job, it took me a while to figure out a routine again. I noticed the weight creeping back up and mentally I wasn’t in the right place. But by being in the healthcare field and coming across patients with many underlying health issues, I was able to find my path again. I see now, how the health of an individual impacts their loved ones, and it scares me. I want to be able to take care of my family in the future. I want to set myself up for a healthier future in whatever capacity I can. In an age where we are used to instant gratification, fitness is more of delayed gratification and we must learn to accept that.
This is me now. I have continued my fitness journey, but with a slightly different approach. I’m not here comparing my journey to others, because I know we all have different starting points and goals. But now, I understand the importance of a balanced healthy lifestyle over a restrictive one, which is important for my mental and physical health. I am learning to accept myself and embracing all the curves. It’s MY journey and I am proud of it! I am doing this for me, not others. We all have our own journey that makes us who we are. What we take away from it and how we evolve or grow is important. I am much happier now, not obsessing over everything I eat or worrying about what people think of me.
The path I took had many twists and turns, but it has molded me into the person I am today. I am in the process of getting a fitness and nutrition certification as I want to be able to help others find their own path towards a healthier lifestyle and develop their fitness journey. I truly believe that you are stronger than you think. Trust the process; trust yourself!