Back in my 20s, there was one goal when it came to fitness: do the hardest workout with the highest likelihood of getting defined abs. Did this approach work well for me? Not particularly. Now that I’m in my mid-30s with so many other priorities ranking above “defined abs,” I can see that more clearly.
My approach to fitness and wellness has evolved across the decades. I look back at my younger self and wish I could tell her that working out is great, but an unattainable number on the scale doesn’t need to be the goal. While I can’t go back in time to say that, I have since drastically changed the way I incorporate fitness and wellness into my life, both for my current self and for my young daughter.
It’s certainly not perfect, and some days, I do dream of defined abs (or at the very least, a stomach with fewer stretch marks), but I have come a long way from where I was before. So how has my approach changed? Here are just a few of the ways I’ve refocused how fitness and wellness play a role in my life.
Working out is still important to me, but it’s not the most important thing to me
There is no debating that being physically active is an important part of a heathy lifestyle, but this is just one piece to the overall puzzle. In my 20s, I thought working out the most and eating the least would be the quickest way to reach my goals. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Being healthy is a much bigger picture, and while an intense daily workout may result in a smaller waist, it’s not going to result in a happier person.
Reaching aesthetic goals and reaching happiness goals rarely go hand-in-hand. While in my younger years I may have associated ultimate happiness with reaching the ideal body type, over time, I came to learn that this wasn’t the case. The closer I could get to a certain weight did not translate to increased happiness.
“Reaching aesthetic goals and reaching happiness goals rarely go hand in hand.”
I’ve learned this over the years as my weight has greatly fluctuated, especially after having kids, and my workout regime has become more sporadic (again, kids). Though I cannot work out as much as I may like to, I’ve realized that it’s not the most important thing in the world.
Comparison is hard to shake, but I’m working on it
My 20s felt like everything was about comparison. Living in a big city with a full social life and the way we looked were big focuses, and it felt very important to keep up a certain appearance. To amplify this further, I was a group fitness instructor throughout my 20s. This meant that multiple times a week, I’d be on a stage working out—everyone was looking at me, and, in my head, judging how fit I appeared.
The fitness industry may be judgmental (and sometimes the students assessing my fitness level were too), but that judgement likely didn’t carry over to my life outside the gym. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized we are all too worried about ourselves to worry or care about the weight of those around us. And if people do care about your weight, that probably says a lot about them.
I will admit that I still struggle with this one. I do still assume people care about my weight and perhaps wonder when I’ll lose the baby weight. And if people are judging, let them judge. The most important thing is how I feel about myself, not how others feel about me.
Wellness may ebb and flow
When I look back at my 20s, I’m not shocked that I had loads of time to devote to marathon training or group fitness classes. I loved doing those things and they were a major part of my social life. It was great in my 20s. Now in my 30s, married with a toddler and an infant, there’s no question as to why fitness isn’t such a major part of my life. It has always felt like a major part of who I am, and currently, that part of my identity is taking a little break.
One part of me misses the devotion I had to fitness, and the other part of me acknowledges that it just isn’t the time. I’d love to train for a marathon or meet up with girlfriends for a weekly barre class, and I sincerely hope and expect that will happen again in the future. But right now, it’s not my priority.
“One part of me misses the devotion I had to fitness, and the other part of me acknowledges that right now just isn’t the time.”
Yes, many women certainly fit in these activities, but I don’t. It doesn’t make me unhealthy, lazy, or unmotivated. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t do these things again in the future. I’ve learned that there are certain times when we are going to put more focus on certain aspects of our lives. For me, sometimes that will be fitness and wellness and other times it won’t be. And that’s OK. I can still love fitness and being healthy, even if I don’t have the energy to devote to it at the moment.
Good for her, not for me
When you’re comparing yourself to other people, it’s fine to see things that others are doing and be content about not doing them myself. I’m fairly competitive, so in my 20s, when I saw others signing up for races, waking up at 6 a.m. for a workout, or going on a juice cleanse, I jumped right on board. Not only was I competitive, but I also loved a challenge and doing them alongside my friends.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love an accountability buddy, but I’ve learned that I can make decisions for myself. Just because I see another mom taking on a fitness or wellness challenge doesn’t mean I need to as well. At times, I can be hard on myself and wonder how one mom has the time to train for a triathlon when I can barely find time to shower. I always remind myself that everyone’s situation is different, everyone’s priorities are different, and I need to focus on me.
Wellness is about so much more than appearances
If I tried to define wellness in my 20s, weight and a toned body likely would have been part of my answer. Now, I’d tell a much different story. Wellness is about feeling good both physically and mentally; it’s about pursing the things you truly care about, getting enough sleep (or at least trying to), staying hydrated, moving your body, and also enjoying an ice cream with your toddler—guilt-free. Health and wellness are not just about defined abs. It’s a much bigger picture.
As I’m in my 30s, I’m still uncovering that full picture; it’s still evolving. My approach in this decade feels more balanced and healthy—perhaps with a much softer stomach, but also with a lot more grace to meet myself where I am.