The post game speech of my soccer coach replayed countless times in my head after our final game of the season ended in a 2-2 tie. We ended up with a winning record; however, I thought that I could have done better. My inner athlete was still wanting to compete. The words “get better, get stronger, and come back next year believing that you are truly better than the other team” ignited a fire in me strong enough to last for the next couple months. I was going to get better, I was going to get stronger, and I wanted to be the best player out on the field that very next year. Stained from grass, blood, and mud from that previous game, I made a vow to myself that I was going to do everything I could in the off season to get better. My series of months-long self-torture and pain began the very next day.
The gym was the best solution I could think of. I would get stronger, faster, and have a better mindset with everything I did. Although this wasn’t my first time working out, I was still the new person. On that first day, the gym was almost empty; the people that were there–were the regulars. Weights slamming, desperate grunting, and testosterone flowing echoed from all around. They started to stare at the out-of-shape kid walking in. Their eyes were shouting at me to go back home and that I would never be like them. I was like a gangster going on another gang’s turf. The various machines laid out made no sense to me and might as well have been a foreign language. One hour felt like four as I hurried through my workout. I’m going to get better than them, I’m going to work harder than them, I said to myself.
Around this time as well, a girl that I was interested in stopped talking to me. I really liked her and the only thing that helped me get over her was exercise. This caused my already low confidence to plummet even lower, which drove my determination to be my best self higher than ever. That fire, started by my soccer coach, exploded into a wildfire which burned my self image. It made me hate the way I looked, the way certain areas of fat covered up muscle, and the way that certain areas of bones showed where there was no muscle.
On the first day of summer, my alarm rang at seven A.M. While most other kids were sleeping in on their first day off, I was already starting my workout. I finalized my schedule: Monday was chest, tricep, and shoulder, Tuesday was back and bicep, Wednesday was legs, it repeated after that to those same three with Sunday as a rest day. I finally had nothing else like school to worry about, so I could push myself harder than before. I now spent about two hours in the morning lifting weights. I could already feel a difference. I had more energy, I felt stronger, and going to the gym became a regular part of my life. I could also tell that I was faster with the soccer ball. The progress I was seeing should have been enough for me, but, for some reason, it wasn’t.
As time went by, I kept adding exercises to my schedule. At about my third week in, I was up to three hours of lifting weights each morning. I was always leaving the gym exhausted and with little energy to do anything else that day. So most summer days when I should have been out with friends or doing fun things, I was sitting at home too tired to do anything. To add on to that, lifting weights at the gym wasn’t enough; I started working out at my house as well. At home, body weight exercises like planks, pull ups, and push ups took away any energy I had left from the gym. I even stopped practicing soccer, which was one of the main reasons I started going to the gym anyway. I came up with a new eating system as well to stop me from eating junk food; whenever I thought about having something unhealthy, I wouldn’t eat at all. This worked too well. It got to the point where I was only eating about 1,200 calories a day.
By now, I had lost about ten pounds of fat and gained a couple pounds of muscle. My energy had started to drop drastically, but it was worth it when I looked in the mirror. Almost all of the fat was gone, muscle was everywhere, and I was actually confident in how I looked. So why didn’t I eat more? Why didn’t I say that this was enough and I had reached my goal? My only job now was to maintain it and work on the things I like. I didn’t stop because I was addicted. I wasn’t thinking about soccer. I wasn’t thinking about getting a girlfriend or being more confident. I had become addicted to working out like a smoker is addicted to cigarettes.
The gym was my lighter, and the way I looked in the mirror was my nicotine.
Curious to see my progress, I went to get my body tested. The machine I went to showed body fat percent, muscle percent, and the overall muscle balance throughout the body. The machine read that I was 6% body fat and 162 pounds. This was 13 pounds less than my already skinny body was before.
By now, everyday things were workouts in themselves. My feet grew heavy so walking was difficult, and muscle cramps were an hourly occurrence. I had become significantly weaker in the gym, and my diet consisted of protein shakes, eggs, and salads.
“Hey, are you ok?” Asked my mom, I could barely hear her over the sound of my alarm clock. It was now a dreaded noise that symbolized yet another day of pain.
“Yeah why” I lied.
“Your alarm clock has been going off for the last hour, I guess you were tired.”
I looked at the time, it was almost 8 o’clock. Everything hurt. My head was spinning, my joints were aching, and my muscles were cramping. I tried to get up, but I couldn’t. Even just sitting on my bed made my back ache. I returned to the warm embrace of my bed for an hour until I tried to get up again. This time I was successful. My knees were shaking, and my ankles were trying to pull me down to relieve them from the pain as I walked over toward my bathroom. My head throbbed with every heartbeat, and the carpet tore at the blisters on my feet. It was worse than any sickness I’ve ever had, except there was no virus or bug. The bright summer morning exploding through my window illuminated my bathroom mirror in my tunnel vision, exposing me to my now skeleton-like body. Now was when I had my first ever thought of having gone too far. Gathering my last bit of strength, I stepped on my scale and it read 155lbs. Today marked the end of my self inflicted torture. Never before would I have thought it to be possible to be unhealthy by being underweight. The dreaded realization of what I was doing to myself for the last couple of months hit me hard, really hard. All those months spent in the gym when I could have done things I liked with friends were gone. Summer was over halfway through and I was back to square one, no, worse than square one.
Over the next month, I gained 15 lbs. I’ve since learned that the importance of exercising is to stay healthy, but more importantly, being happy. It isn’t fun to work yourself everyday all day, and it isn’t fun to be scared of eating food. If you can’t accept who you are and how you look, your mind will push you to do horrible things. Physical health isn’t just how much you can bench or how many abs you have, it’s being able to get up everyday without the pain of yesterday dragging you down.