Why I Quit the Gym

“Come with me! We’re going for a walk.”

She shrugged her indifference, then slid on her pink sneakers. It’s not always sunny and 75 degrees in February.

We maintained a leisurely pace for a few minutes before she took off running.

“Can’t catch me!” She taunted from ahead.

I had no other choice but to run too. It took a full-blown, fifty-meter sprint to catch those seven-year-old legs, but I did it. (Then I came to a complete stop, doubled over, and sucked air for at least two minutes).

quit the gym compared to whoI exercised that day.

But, it wasn’t “real” exercise. No, not to me. I should have been at the gym. Running that happened outside the confines of a dark, smelly building filled with fitness equipment and silent televisions did not count.

It started decades ago–my complicated, borderline abusive, relationship with the gym. Barely old enough to drive, I claimed my first gym membership card. I remember proudly putting it on my key chain and mentioning in conversation (casually, of course) how I’d just spent time there.

Being a “gym member” quickly became part of my identity. I thought of myself as a gym girl. (Or, at least, that’s who I wanted to be.) Gym girls were cute and fit. Seemed all the beautiful people belonged to gyms. Thus, if I wanted to be this kind of beautiful, I should too.

Wherever I moved through my twenties, I sought out a new gym before ever investigating new church possibilities. Though I claimed to be a believer, the gym was my real temple. Regardless of how frequently I went, just the security of knowing I had a place to go exercise helped me feel thinner.

Decades of gym memberships did bring some benefit. I spent so much time at the gym that I eventually got certified to teach group fitness classes. The gym would pay me to workout. It seemed like a no brainer. I was going to be there anyway . . .sure, you can pay me. 

Plus, in my economy, people who went to the gym were good but people who worked at the gym were even better. I had always admired those fitness instructors like gods and goddesses. Surely someone wearing a microphone or the word “staff” on their shirt never struggled with their body image like I did. Becoming one of them would be a path to freedom.

Only it wasn’t.
Golds sign

Now don’t get me wrong. There’s a part of me that has always loved exercise. The “runner’s high” rush of endorphins that come after an hour of kickboxing or forty-five minutes on a spin bike is as addictive as Starbucks.

But, sometime during my decades of gym-visits, working out stopped being fun. I ceased going to feel good and instead visited the gym because I “had to.” Subtly, the gym became my prison. I served hard time there for a few hours every week. I did community service on the treadmill and paid for my caloric crimes in pump class.

Unlike taking a walk with my daughter, exercising at the gym counted towards my penance. It remained the only suitable place to “earn back” the beauty that over-eating tried to steal. I couldn’t be trusted to exercise alone. I wouldn’t work hard or long enough. I needed accountability, a place to go (with others watching) and focus on paying my dues. My poor body image depended on it.monkey bars Compared to Who

So, when God asked me to quit the gym at the end of last year, I was frustrated.

At first I blatantly refused. “I’m pretending I didn’t hear that God.”

Later I begged, “God, don’t you know I need the gym?”

“God, don’t you understand that the gym is the only time, place, avenue for me to not gain more weight?”

Would you like to know how God responded?

He said to do it anyway. 

Reluctant and afraid, I obeyed.

I’ve been gym-free for two months now. I’ll admit, it feels better than I thought it would. I envisioned myself gaining ten pounds a week and sinking into depression. But, in truth,  my health has been better since I stopped working out so hard. I’ve wrestled my thyroid for a few years (I have Hashimoto’s) and, until now, ignored the doctor’s recommendation that I only do light exercise. Physically, I needed a break. Years of over-exercising take their toll.

What I didn’t expect though was to deal with lingering body image issues that gym separation brought to light. Right before I made my decision, my friend Amy asked me why I told people I was a “fitness instructor” anyway when that only accounted for a few hours of my week. Her probing revealed that part of my identity connected to the gym. I still relied on the gym (and my regular attendance there) to validate my worth. As long as I remained a “gym girl” I felt fit. I felt acceptable. I had turned gym membership and gym employment into idolatry.

Is that what God really wanted me to give up? (Not exercise.)

Probably.

Will I never darken the doors of a gym again? Hardly. Truth is I have to teach for someone next week and I’m slated to return to my Spinning job in late April. But when I go back I hope to enter that place with a different perspective. During my break I’ve been reminded that exercise can (and should be) fun. Everything I do should be done joyfully as unto the Lord–and working out doesn’t have to be the exception. I have to stop using exercise as a way to earn acceptance, and instead of desperately trying to cover for my food-related sins, I need to seek health in all areas.

I also pray that I’ll no longer look to the gym for my identity–that I’ll give up the label of “gym girl” and instead wear one label, and one label alone, that of “Jesus girl.”

5 Comments
  • Stacie
    February 25, 2016

    I love this post! Although I never considered the gym as part of my identity, I did go through a season where I got so wrapped up in exercise it was unhealthy for me and was an idol. It took several injuries for God to get my attention and see what I was doing.

    As I was reading the post, it got me to thinking how God may use your fitness experience to help others find freedom. Check out Revelation Wellness if that interests you! God really used their instructor training to show me freedom in a way I had not experienced it.

    • Heather Creekmore
      February 25, 2016

      Thanks Stacie! Yes, I know all about Revelation Wellness and I love, love, love the program! I’m not sure I’m up for that right now…my focus is becoming more on writing and speaking but the training did sound super interesting!

  • talfonso
    February 26, 2016

    What a great testimonial on how you found joyful movement. Although a Catholic, I found the site very inspiring and this post is only one of my many favorites.

    Being a proponent of BOTH body positivity and neutrality, it ticks me off to see many women and girls have several false idols. Besides the gym and negative body image, they come in forms of fitspiration. I bet you have done a search on that term, especially in Google Images or Pinterest. With today being BOTH the second-to-last day of NEDA Week and being smack-dab in the middle of Lent, I’m very happy to have abstained from that stuff!

    There’s an article from Beauty Redefined, founded by two BRILLIANT Mormon sisters about the said false idols of social media BOTH boys and girls follow (http://www.beautyredefined.net/why-fitspiration-isnt-so-inspirational/). I agree with them on all levels while reading this!

    “If they motivate you to worry about being looked at or to improve parts of your body to meet a beauty ideal you see in media,” the author states, “you must be aware of this. Being self-conscious of your looks, in a state of self-objectification, stunts your health and well-being in physical and mental ways.”

    And self-objectification detracts you from finding joy in movement, which in turn praises God.

    But that doesn’t mean I laze around and eat unhealthily. There are people who are even plumper than I am who eat 5-9 fruits and veggies, exercise an hour a day, and sleep 7-9 hours a night just as much as there are thinner people who do the same things. Don’t get me wrong.

    But reading things like your post on exercising away from the gym makes me realize that

    • talfonso
      February 26, 2016

      (con’t) God is no pastry chef with a cookie cutter. Knowing about BOTH body positivity and neutrality makes me realize that we are created IN HIS OWN IMAGE, regardless of size, shape, or appearance.

      • Heather Creekmore
        February 26, 2016

        I love that line! “God is no pastry chef!” Brilliant. 🙂 Thanks for your kind words.

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