THE PURSUIT OF HEALTH by Valeria Teles
I went for a run because I had eaten a small, organic dark chocolate cookie the day before and I felt that I had to punish myself. It was habitual for me to punish myself with strenuous, caloric compensation cardio whenever I felt guilt for enjoying life by eating tasty foods. My fitness goals had gone up a notch after I’d placed first in a fitness competition. Winning the competition was one thing, but it was being complimented all the time for my extra lean body that pressured me to stay that way. I couldn’t allow myself look “bigger” again, and “bigger” really meant not seeing my defined ab muscles.
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon just after midday when I went for that run. Cresting a hill in the park, I came across a family outing. The adults were talking and laughing, and the kids were playing with a ball. They had bagels, cakes, sodas, and fried foods set around an improvised table. The family members were all overweight; some were even obese.
Out of breath from the incline of the hill, my body slowed, but my thoughts sped up. Look at them! These people should be ashamed of themselves. All fat, and they come to the park just to eat more fatty foods. They should be exercising, restricting their diets. How irresponsible
These judgments were quickly succeeded by a stream of thoughts that sprang up in my mind one after another, like weeds.
I don’t like having to run, why did I eat that cookie?
I wish I had friends and family to be with right now.
My knee hurts, the brace isn’t really helping.
It’s too hot.
I don’t like sweating this way, it messes up my hair.
What am I going to eat for dinner? There’s nothing delicious to look forward to… I am sick of eating chicken and broccoli. But I have to I won’t be like these overweight people goofing off in the park. In this state of mind, I continued to run.
I worked endlessly to maintain the external appearance of health, but no one would have wanted to look like me if they knew the toxic mindset and true unhappiness that came with the abdominal six-pack. My lifestyle lacked life; my body was tired, my mind had no clue it was causing its own suffering, and my heart wasn’t there at all.
Had I died after that uphill run, my last wish would have been to trade places with those happy out-of-shape people in the park. They were closer to what life is all about—love and kindness, even in overweight bodies surrounded by cakes and burgers.
We focus so much on the pursuit of physical and mental health. We take our daily vitamins, eat healthily, exercise, sleep well, do our jobs to fulfill a sense of security and purpose, search for consensus in romantic love, and travel for fun. We strive for happiness (for the most part) by engaging in pleasurable activities—sex, food, friendships, and future plans. We cultivate these habits to keep ourselves on a “healthy” track. I did so for years, although deep in my heart I doubted it was truly the path to achieve a healthy life as a human being. It all seemed more like self-preservation and the perpetuation of established concepts and societal ideals than a real, authentic lifestyle.
After more than twenty years participating in the fitness lifestyle, I realized a truth the heart has already mastered: A fit and healthy body comes second to a serene and loving mind.
In working with clients, it became clear to me that they were engaging forcibly in exercise for reasons other than to supplement their already happy lives and “fit hearts.” They—and I—were using exercise as a form of escape from a reality mired in the fear of illness and death, in emotional pain, and in the struggle to find happiness and peace.
This was especially obvious to me when I worked with clients who had medical problems. Their lives were inauthentic and stressful, from their work to their personal relationships—again, not all that different from my own. The relationship they had with exercise and with me as a trainer was hardly healthy, either. We were causing each other more pain by implementing exercise in our lives out of fear. This turned a potentially enjoyable activity into a torturous experience for all of us.
In Fit for Joy, I share how my relationship with the body, exercise, and food changed following a period of major depression. I lost interest in life amidst the most successful moments of my career, and despite being in the best shape I had ever been in.
There was a strange inversion. The more I perfected my body, the sadder I became. I was working out well, found incredible success but nothing I lifted, lifted my spirit. When I won first prize in a bodybuilding competition, I became dangerously depressed. I had to touch bottom, to seek the wisdom and method to heal. I could not resolve this until I found answers within myself. I began to question the meaning of fitness and health, which led me to explore the depths of my own heart.
Written by Valeria Teles