When exercise was taking over my life, this is how I forged a new perspective

Beyond The Page essay contest, the FAQ, www.kidshelpphone.ca

This First Person article is by Jacqueline Chen, a Grade 11 student in the TOPS Program at Toronto's Bloor Collegiate Institute. It won the Beyond The Page essay contest organized by the Federation of Canadian Secondary Students and judged by a panel from that group and CBC News. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

A couple of months into the pandemic, I started experiencing frequent panic attacks. They could happen anywhere, anytime, but the feelings were always the same: I had a sudden urge to exercise and to do it right there and then. My mind's perception of my body suddenly changed drastically. I am huge. I am ugly. I need to exercise.

My diet did not change. But just a few minutes after I finished eating, the guilt of having just one serving too many would slowly creep up on me. You should not have eaten that. Why did you eat that? Look at yourself.

Suddenly, my jeans felt too tight, my sweater too constricting and my stomach bloated. I would quickly excuse myself from the dinner table to rush upstairs to examine myself in my bathroom mirror. You have no self-control.

I would drop into a crouch or lie on the floor. I squatted, lunged and stayed in a plank position until my muscles were sore, my body burned and the little voice inside my head was satisfied.

Before long, these unpredictable episodes started to interfere with my schedule. Oftentimes during an online class break, I would quickly disappear to the bathroom to do as many squats, sit-ups or pushups as I could fit in that short window of time. Before long, I started to plan my study and leisure schedules around it.

Yet, the voice never remained satisfied, burrowing deeper into my mind, growing louder and more demanding.

When my older sister came back from Montreal during winter break and after much persuasion, she convinced me to learn Chung Ha's “Snapping” dance routine with her. To me, dancing was an expression of body confidence — a concept so alien I had started to question its existence, assuming it was a luxury only a handful could indulge in.

Yet, my sister held my hand through it all, starting with the chorus, then the first verse — even the dance break. By the time we finished, she and I were both exhausted, proud and best of all, happy.

Those two weeks with my sister provided me with an entirely new perspective on exercise. It was no longer something that I associated with panic, negative body image or even as a weight loss practice.

In fact, the more I learned at school about the different biological processes involved, the more I started to appreciate how intricate my body was. I started to learn more dance routines on my own, practising in front of the very mirror which I had previously used to critically judge my body.

Before the pandemic, my relationship with exercise was superficial. While physical activity was something that I enjoyed, I always viewed it as a necessary chore for keeping oneself in shape.

Now, I've begun to view exercise as something meant for strengthening the mind and body rather than just for maintaining a figure — for increasing confidence rather than just regulating panic. Logically, my half-hour intense dance sessions were much more beneficial than tiny, rushed bursts of 20 squats or 10 burpees, and far more enjoyable.

  • Teens feeling disconnected, hopeless due to COVID-19 raises alarm for parents, experts

  • First Person

    My eating disorder is a terrible quarantine companion

Today's culture of “all or nothing” has soured our relationship with exercise. Social media platforms are flooded with pop-ups about the newest workout trend guaranteed to give someone great abs or a thigh gap within a week. The very idea brings up painful memories of being teased in gym class or incompetence at a particular sport. But where are the memories of playing tag with our friends, the epic snowball fights between classes?

Our understanding about exercise needs to shift from seeing it as a chisel for shaping the parts of ourselves we do not necessarily like, to a tool for building confidence. Only then can people be saved from detesting the reflection they see in the mirror and come to embrace it.

Remember: exercise is about building confidence more than anything else — and you should give your body confidence, not the other way around.

If you are having a hard time coping or know someone who is, contact Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.

News Related


How to sleep better: eight sleep aids to get your 7 or 8 hours a night, including a weighted blanket and lavender mist

Necessity is the mother of invention. Iva Bravic Millereau was an exhausted mum and employee who had no idea what sleep hygiene was. Tired of always feeling depleted, she decided ... Read more »

Anxiety, depression, poor mental health – our brains broke during Covid-19, so how do we fix them once the coronavirus pandemic is over?

Orgies are back – or at least that’s what advertisers want you to believe. One advertisement for chewing gum – whose sales plummeted during 2020, because who cares what your ... Read more »

How the mosquito got its name, and why Samuel Johnson's English dictionary stuck to calling the bloodsucking insect a gnat

On August 20, 1897, Anopheles mosquitoes were shown, by British doctor Sir Ronald Ross, to be responsible for the transmission of the malaria parasite – a breakthrough in vector-borne diseases. ... Read more »

Fivelements to shut Times Square spa amid quibbles over rent, as uncertainties of Hong Kong's recovery stymies businesses

Fivelements Habitat, which provides yoga sessions, spa treatments and plant-based cuisine, is shutting its Times Square wellness centre in Causeway Bay after two years of operation, as it failed to ... Read more »

Facts about the elbow: how to avoid tennis elbow, why it's called the funny bone and where ‘elbows off the table' came from

You might not give it a second thought – unless you’ve hurt it – but the elbow is one of our body’s major joints. It allows us to carry out ... Read more »

Taking collagen is like the old Chinese belief that eating pigs' brains improves brain power

I recently read a story in The Guardian that questioned the efficacy of taking collagen orally. It should be required reading for those who take collagen in the hope of ... Read more »

Couples forced into long-distance relationships by coronavirus pandemic describe how they stay involved in each other's daily lives and keep the fires burning

Celine Suiter, a Singapore-based photographer and long-term expat, has not seen her husband since September 23, 2020, when he left to take up a new position in France. Closed borders ... Read more »

Ig Nobel Prizes 2021: men may grow beards to protect their faces, and discarded chewing gum really is disgusting, scientists reveal

Beards aren’t just cool and trendy – they might also be an evolutionary development to help protect a man’s delicate facial bones from a punch to the face. That’s the ... Read more »

We need seven to eight hours sleep a night, says study. From a weighted blanket to lavender mist, these eight products will help send you off

Necessity is the mother of invention. Iva Bravic Millereau was an exhausted mum and employee who had no idea what sleep hygiene was. Tired of always feeling depleted, she decided ... Read more »

World Menopause and Work Day: how women can ease transition into non-fertile years and – with employers' support – stay a vital part of the workforce

Zoe Von Hess started experiencing major changes to her mind and body about six years ago. “I was always tired and would lose my temper and get upset over small ... Read more »

When was the last time you were checked for high blood pressure? Cases have more than doubled in the past 30 years and half go untreated, study shows

The number of people living with high blood pressure – about 1.3 billion globally – has more than doubled since 1990, according to a major study published this week. About ... Read more »

Weight training keeps you lean and boosts brain and heart health, studies find. This Hong Kong banker doesn't need convincing

Anand Singh began lifting weights seven years ago, when he was 25. His new job in the banking and financial services industry had left him with little time to play ... Read more »

Yoga's healing power revealed to cancer survivors, former drug abuser – improving their mobility, strength and energy and reducing their anxiety

Anyone who has been given a cancer diagnosis will likely experience extreme anxiety. Heightened stress levels weaken the body’s immune response and lower the pain threshold, impeding its response to ... Read more »

New Hong Kong yoga studio has no mirrors, small classes and offers ‘immersive sounds' sessions, but what's with the Japanese name?

There’s a gentle hum about the recently opened Ikigai wellness studio in the heart of Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. The peaceful, mindful sanctuary provides diverse classes in yoga, meditation ... Read more »

How a power nap beats caffeine heads down: tips on where, when and how to recharge with a snooze

Children aren’t the only ones who can benefit from naps. After hours of working, many adults experience a mid-day slump of drowsiness and find themselves in desperate need of a ... Read more »

Instagram artist addresses stigma of talking about mental health by making art with ‘honest messages' that draws on her own experience of suffering a breakdown

As Covid-19 lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing contribute to the worsening state of mental health in Hong Kong and many other parts of the world, Sravya Attaluri’s work has become ... Read more »

Emetophobia – why the fear of vomiting is getting so much attention on TikTok and other social media sites

It all started when Alicia Mitas was seven years old and got sick on Easter. “Ever since then, I started worrying about it every single day to my parents,” she ... Read more »

Brain boosting can improve your memory, reflexes, learning and more – but is it ethical?

Can healthy brains benefit from brain boosting? Although life as a cyborg is some way off, we are gradually integrating technology with our bodies to improve our health. Brain boosting, ... Read more »

Suicide Prevention Week: experts' tips on how to recognise someone is at risk, and how you can help – listen, stay calm and never dismiss their feelings

This week is Suicide Prevention Week, to raise awareness about suicide prevention and teach people to recognise the warning signs. Simply put, the better informed we are about suicide, the ... Read more »

How to stop worrying: metacognitive therapy helps this writer learn to leave her anxious thoughts on the ‘sushi conveyor belt'

Overthinking has been part of my life for the last year and a half, since the world started feeling the impact of the coronavirus. I have tried to find answers ... Read more »

My tactic for feeling better instantly

It’s been another long, difficult week of sad news around the world and growing worries about the pandemic. In last weekend’s newsletter, I talked about the power of focusing on ... Read more »

What is emetophobia and why is it getting so much attention on TikTok?

It all started when Alicia Mitas was 7 years old and got sick on Easter. “Ever since then, I started worrying about it every single day to my parents,” she ... Read more »

What you should (and shouldn't) say to Afghanistan war veterans right now

This week, the world watched as the Taliban ruthlessly seized back control of Afghanistan’s capital. Many people are experiencing a whirlwind of emotions, ranging from anger to disappointment, in response ... Read more »

Is it time to get rid of homework? Mental health experts weigh in.

It’s no secret that kids hate homework. And as students grapple with an ongoing pandemic that has had a wide-range of mental health impacts, is it time schools start listening ... Read more »

How EMDR therapy helped a traumatised mother in mourning get past her loss, and five ways you can help a grieving friend

Unless you have experienced it yourself, you may believe that grief is straightforward – a staged thing that ends textbook with closure. But the response to losing a loved one ... Read more »

Everything feels bad this week. Here's a trick to make it better.

COVID numbers are rising at alarming rates, sexual harassment is back in the headlines and the latest UN report on climate change warned of a “code red for humanity.” For ... Read more »

Sex after 60: why it's good for you – your sleep is better, your heart is healthier and you feel better about yourself, experts tell us

In popular culture – from advertising to movies and television – the message is clear: the elderly are not sexually active or intimate, says Hong Kong sex therapist and relationship ... Read more »

China's coronavirus success could see Hong Kong-style subsidised medical care in mainland, health expert says

Mainland China’s success in combating the coronavirus pandemic increases the likelihood that free public health care, similar to Hong Kong, will be provided for the nation’s 1.4 billion-strong population, says ... Read more »

How magic mushroom ingredient psilocybin helps patients with depression or PTSD change how they feel, by rewiring the brain with more connections

The use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin was a legitimate field of medical research in the 1940s and 1950s, and LSD was even employed as a psychiatric ... Read more »

Why you need a good night's sleep every day: not getting any quickly triggers physical and mental problems, study finds

Beth Dorrough thought she had her mental health in check when she moved to Hong Kong in 2014. Ten years earlier, while living in Sydney, Australia, she suffered an injury ... Read more »

Some parents are slipping young kids in for the COVID-19 vaccine, but doctors discourage the move as 'risky'

Mimi Allen has two daughters, 14 and 10. She is raising them alone. They are her world. So while the Phoenix financial advisor doesn’t normally go for rule-breaking, she recently ... Read more »

Alibaba rape allegation exposes China's alcohol problem: workers pressured to binge drink, high rates of assault, accidents and cancer

This week a female employee of Chinese tech giant Alibaba accused a manager of raping her while she was inebriated after a night of forced drinking while entertaining clients earlier ... Read more »

Larry Brilliant, eradicator of smallpox, proposes ‘ring vaccination' to combat coronavirus, says herd immunity is not achievable

One of the world’s best known epidemiologists has a stark warning: mass vaccination will not stop a virus, and achieving herd immunity by giving jabs to billions of people is ... Read more »

Tokyo Olympics: that sports tape divers, gymnasts and other athletes cover their bodies with – could it benefit you?

The Tokyo Olympics in Japan were largely held together by Covid-19 face masks and tape. The first was required, the second optional. But it’s an option many athletes chose, because ... Read more »

I am angry all the time. Here's what I am doing about it.

I find myself with a lot of anger these days. Part of it is the world. I’m angry and depressed that the pandemic is still going on, that the Delta ... Read more »

Many parents are saying no to sleepovers. At what cost?

“The Great Sleepover Debate” has raged among parents for years, and now the controversy has found a new home on TikTok. Parents are dueling over whether sleepovers are healthy or ... Read more »

Headphone wearing makes the loneliness epidemic worse, expert warns, after study finds more than a third of UK users wear them to avoid having to talk to others

People can go more than a month without having a meaningful conversation with someone new because of how long they spend wearing headphones, research suggests. A study by audio firm ... Read more »

Your skin barrier explained: how it protects you from the outside world, and how to keep it healthy and strong

It can be frustrating to try new products on your skin and see no changes. We tend to think they were not right for us and try something else. But ... Read more »

TikTok may love the #frozenhoney challenge, but health experts warn it can cause diarrhea

Viral trends pop up on social media almost every day, but a new one has raised some red flags among health experts — the #frozenhoney challenge. TikTokers have swarmed their ... Read more »