Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.

Finding the right workout routine is difficult for anybody. When you throw in a history of eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and exercise addiction, it can feel impossible.

I was 14 when I realized my relationship with food and exercise was unhealthy. I had become increasingly afraid of — and anxious around — food. I was also becoming obsessed with how often and how intensely I worked out. Food and exercise began to take over other aspects of my life, including family dynamics and friendships.

After seven years of therapy and two years of feeling like I’m in a good stage of recovery, I’ve finally developed a healthy, fulfilling, nonobsessive relationship with food and exercise.

Getting here wasn’t easy and I take careful steps to ensure that my relationship with working out stays healthy.

I call the list below “The Essentials.” They’re all the components that contribute to the choices I make when it comes to fitness and staying active.

1. The type of machine matters

Aerobic machines such as treadmills and ellipticals are triggering for me. They remind me of the time I would spend hours on them, working my body to the point of exhaustion or literally falling off.

When I find myself in a gym, I stay away from cardio machines and focus on free weights or strengthening machines. These help me focus on breathing and controlling my motions, rather than reaching a number of calories burnt or time spent. I don’t like numbers in any form — that includes math.

I also have asthma, which makes most cardio difficult. But since it’s an important component of exercise, I like to go on long walks, up to 6 miles. Walking at a fast speed and doing some hill repeats gets my heart rate up while also feeling therapeutic. Plus, I get to listen to my favorite music while spending time outdoors — what’s not to love?

2. Workouts should have specific intentions

I work out to feel better, to combat my depression and anxiety, and to do something good for my body. I do not work out to lose weight. I work out because it feels good, not because I have to.

Reminding myself of this intention helps me set boundaries and re-establish my relationship with exercise if I’m feeling anxious about it.

3. Frequency should be moderate

At most, I work out five times per week. That happens rarely. I do try and make sure to move my body every day — walking to and from work, stretching, and so on — but only regularly set aside time to work out three to four times per week.

This fluctuates. There are some weeks, or even months, when I’m too busy with other aspects of my life to work out. And that’s OK. I always remind myself I’ll jump back into it slowly, and that I’m nourishing other areas of my life, just as I like to nourish my body with exercise and food. I remind myself: It’s all about balance, right? Right.

4. Environment is essential

Competitive spaces don’t feel good for me. They generally make me start comparing my body to others, which leads me down a spiral of body shame and dysmorphia. Spaces with a wide variety of people, body types, and ages feel healing and communal, rather than stressful.

5. Clothing is also important

If I feel uncomfortable in what I’m wearing, I’ll ultimately feel uncomfortable during the whole workout. I have a few favorite pairs of leggings — they’re soft, flexible, and make me feel good. Setting yourself up for the workout is just as important as the workout itself.

6. Time your workout carefully

For those who have a habit of using exercise to “make up” for meals or help them restrict, this is especially important. Your workout should fit into your schedule — rather than you forming your schedule around your workout.

My favorite time to work out is in the afternoon. It helps me get away from my desk for a little bit and clear my mind, setting me up for success for the rest of the day.

The takeaway

Everyone’s fitness routine looks different, and everyone has different ways they love to move. Regardless, working out is supposed to be good for you and these “essentials” have helped me shape a healthy and nurturing relationship with exercise after years of using it to harm my body.

If you’re in recovery, lean on your intuition and support team of doctors, therapists, and nutritionists to find the right routine for you.


Brittany is a freelance writer, media maker, and sound lover located in San Francisco. Her work focuses on personal experiences, specifically regarding local arts and culture happenings. More of her work can be found at brittanyladin.com.