Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2024

Exercising toward a healthy mind

By MICHELLE LIMPE | August 27, 2020



Limpe reflects on her fitness journey in quarantine.

Even before the pandemic hit, staying at home everyday always left me feeling restless. I am the type of person who needs to be out and about doing something productive, whether it’s finishing errands, meeting with friends or simply walking in the park. So, aware that I would be spending countless monotonous days at home in this new normal, I knew I had to redirect my energy somewhere else. That’s why I turned to working out and learning yoga. 

Aside from some research, nonprofit and internship work, I have spent the majority of my time in quarantine exercising, usually seven times a week if my body can handle it. It isn’t as if I haven’t exercised before. In fact, I would say that I exercised pretty consistently even before quarantine; however, I didn't have a regimen in place, and studies and extracurriculars would often get in the way of making substantial fitness progress. 

Always known as the short girl with the fast metabolism, l was never really conscious about my appearance until I saw the effects of the dreaded Freshman 15 after my first semester at Hopkins. Realistically, I know it did not affect me as terribly as I envisioned it in my head, but it still made me more conscious about what I ate and how I was working out. 

With extra time on my hands and still reeling from the effects of the Freshman 15, I began my fitness journey in quarantine strong. I was exercising everyday and even completed an isolated 10k with my cousins for coronavirus patients. However, with extra time at home in quarantine, my mind would unwittingly wander into the dreaded area of insecurities. Knowing the amount of effort I was putting into staying fit, and seeing photos of the body I aspired to have, soon became very damaging. On many occasions, I had to stop myself from obsessing over the most effective workouts and falling into the dangerous mindset that I needed to eat less or skip meals in order to tone my body. 

Deep down, I knew that I had made my core and arms stronger, and I just needed to focus on what I had already accomplished instead of what I was still lacking. Maybe I would never be able to return to my pre-college weight, but did I really want to give up my current healthier lifestyle to backtrack into my malnourished self?

Alongside the physical effort of completing various workout programs, it took a lot of mental effort to start focusing on developing a healthy mindset alongside a healthy body. I attribute part of the process to the materials I learned in my Abnormal Psychology class. Because I was aware of some of the bad habits of a potential eating disorder, I was able to recognize them in my own life and during discussions with friends about shared health issues. From there, I used this knowledge to turn my negative thoughts into positive fuel to make me more conscious about reforming my life for the better. I began by reading countless blogs and watching YouTube videos by verified nutritionists to learn how to eat and work out right. 

Of course, it was not a straightforward path. There were still times when my mind would unconsciously drift back to my negative thoughts even after I began making changes to my lifestyle. To counter this, I found foods and exercises that I genuinely enjoyed, so that I would look forward to the changes I was making to my diet and exercise rather than be left dreaming of the desserts I was missing. Transforming my attitude was definitely not an easy thing to do, and I especially do not want to minimize any of the challenges and distress that those diagnosed with an eating disorder go through. I acknowledge that I am lucky enough to have access to resources to educate myself on these topics. 

The first step I had to do was determine my own personal goals, which were to tone, get stronger and to plan the right course of action. Rather than obsessing over how much I was eating, I instead redirected my attention toward the kinds of food I was eating. Of course, if your goal is to lose weight, the amount of food you eat does matter. But, in my case, I incorporated more protein and vegetables in my diet to proportionate these food groups with the amount of carbs I ate. 

I also had to stop the nasty habit of hating on myself whenever I ate a lot of sweets or carbs (my weakness!), especially during the weekly lunches with my extended family on Sundays, designated as my “cheat day.” I learned that prohibiting myself from satisfying my cravings only made me want them more. Learning about achieving food freedom not only made me happier but also taught me to listen to my body to control food rather than let food control me. 

Most importantly, I learned to focus on myself. The path to fitness is different for everybody, and there are various factors that you need to take into account — including genetics, current lifestyle and body type — that will affect how quickly or slowly you are able to reach your goals. Chloe Ting and Pamela Reif have seemed to become household names over quarantine, but maybe their workout plans just aren’t for you. 

Dancing, high-intensity interval training workouts, yoga, weight training — there are so many options worth exploring! You may draw inspiration from all the fitness queens out there but constantly comparing yourself to others is a fruitless pursuit that may only lead to more self-doubt and negativity. In fact, you can take everything I have said here with a grain of salt if you think that it isn’t applicable to your lifestyle. And that is completely okay, as long as you are able to decide on the path that will be most beneficial to you and your goals.

Eat right, listen to your body and focus on your OWN development. These are the three big lessons I have learned while working on my fitness in quarantine. I am still, by no means, the strongest or fittest person out there, but I know that I have definitely improved personally. I am now able to eat healthier and live happier, mindful of how much stronger — mentally and physically — I have become over the past few months. What used to be a chore has now become a stress reliever for me. I finish my daily workouts pumped with endorphins and filled with a much more positive outlook about a future beyond this pandemic.

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