The first time I recall being self-conscious about my weight, I was in fifth grade. After a routine check-up with the school nurse. Everyone was asking me how much I weighed. I was so embarrassed that I lied to cut a few pounds off the real number, 145. The insecurity of being a little heavier, led me to put on more and more weight over the next few years. In high school, I wore two shirts because I thought it hid my belly. I was already struggling a great deal with my weight—then I was hit by a “cosmic two by four”.
When I was sixteen, my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died slowly over the next four years. The experience traumatized me, and I turned to compulsive eating to numb the pain. When I was a nineteen-year-old freshman in college, as my dad was beginning his final decline, I weighed 300 lbs. There were days when I would not leave my room because I was so ashamed about my body and the degree to which I was suffering.
The unhappiness became more than I could handle and I packed up all of my things in the middle of the night, and drove home. There, I continued to abuse drugs and alcohol and maintain an unhealthy, high-calorie diet. I was in an incredible amount of pain. “What the hell is wrong with me?”, I thought over and over again. I was angry. I was furious! One day I went out into my garage and attacked an old punching back until I was gasping for breath. I sat on a box in the dark garage with the dust still settling on the floor, and enjoyed a momentary glimmer of awareness.
I had been desperately trying to avoid pain at all cost, perpetually searching for new stimuli to prevent me from sitting alone with my thoughts. In that moment in my garage, as I sat there fatigued, I realized that it was powerful to embrace the pain. The calm exhilaration that I felt was an effect of the physical exertion. Though I was still far from welcoming the strenuous challenge of regular exercise, I knew that I had discovered something important. Two days later, I was back in the garage hitting the punching bag again.
That was how my journey began. Over the course of the next year, I lost 100 lbs. Exercise and the community of people that I built around it were vital. My desire to challenge myself, and the support I received from a community that held me accountable, began to have drastic positive effects. My body was changing, but more importantly, my mind was changing. My chronic hunched posture gave way to a confident stride with my shoulders pulled back. I slowly began to understand the benefits of caring for myself, and how it affected all of my interactions as well as my beliefs about myself and my value.
Thrilled by the remarkable benefits, I wanted to share what I had discovered with other people that might be struggling with similar issues. As a personal trainer, my goal was to condition my clients comprehensively, focusing on the aspects that are often neglected by conventional fitness. This led me to yoga and meditation. I was lucky enough to be accepted to an amazing yoga teacher training program and I packed my bag at once.
The mindful approach brought me to an even closer community, and reaffirmed what I had already learned about the importance of self-care and constructive emotional release. I cultivated a meditation practice and integrated a stronger connection between mind and body into my own workouts, and the services I delivered to clients. I was learning that the mind and the body are inextricably linked, and I remembered the momentary spark I felt in my garage that afternoon, when I was nineteen.
All of the cells in our bodies are recycled every seven years, and I barely recognize the overweight, hunched, suffering person that first went out into the garage to hit that punching bag. The Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience reports that a study of the relationship between exercise and mood found the antidepressant effects of exercise have been “clearly demonstrated”. As human, we need constructive channels to release the fundamental anger and pain of our existence, and exercise is a wonderful place to start.
Today, directing the energy of anger and frustration is an essential part of my routine. There are a number of techniques that can be used for healthy energy release. I have found three to be particularly helpful:
- Physical Exercise: Strength training is an incredibly effective exercise modality. I exercise 3-5 times per week and the resulting calm provides me ample opportunity for mindful introspection.
- Breathing: Forceful exhales can bring awareness to shallow breathing, or the lack of breathing that accompanies stress. I like to do this daily, in the morning couple, with some stretches to loosen the muscles in my chest.
- Writing: Journaling can free thoughts and feelings. For me, 5 minutes a day helps me to process what I cannot vocalize or recognize.
Experiment, and find what works for you. My transformation began with exercise. The benefits I experienced and communities I found helped me to form new habits. I had been obese, shoulders slumped forward, so ashamed and depressed that I could barely leave the house. My life did not change in a day, but when I decided to move my body, the joy and the discipline that exercise provided initiated a transformation that has opened the world before me.
A small decision can have unimaginable implications. Whatever it is, you can start now!
About Soren Rubin
In addition to my work as a wellness coach, I am the founder of The Modern Man, a community dedicated to helping men find a safe place to share individual stories and inspire personal growth. Following my personal transformation, I want to share the habits that I have learned to develop confidence, discipline and compassion. I live in San Francisco, and I also enjoy hiking, biking, eating, traveling, and general adventuring.