5 Reasons Physical Fitness Can Bring Spiritual Breakthrough
It started because, like so many, my naturally high metabolism began to slow down after college. Over the next 3-4 years I gained 40 lbs.
Some of it muscle, but at least half of it fat – if not more.
So, I began going to the gym. I tried this workout. I tried that workout.
Then, about 2 years ago, I changed my diet. And I started to see even better results. I lost 20 lbs, trimmed up, and felt better (probably because I was eating better).
And in the last 2 months, it has really kicked into high gear.
And over this journey I have discovered one powerful truth: My physical fitness is integrally linked to my emotional health.
1. Physical Health Is A Reflection Of Emotional Health
I can say without a shadow of a doubt that (in my body) there is a direct link between self-esteem and physical fitness.
When I condemn myself, I want comfort. There is a pain I am experiencing and I want to medicate it. And, like many people, my number one medicine is food.
Studies have found that when you eat, especially sugar heavy and fat heavy foods (the good ones…), your brain releases a dopamine, the feel good brain chemical. For reference, sexual activity releases a lot of dopamine. And drugs like meth or cocaine release a massive amount of dopamine.
Dopamine is good. You need it to function.
But this also explains why food is such a crutch for people. When we feel bad, we eat. Why? Because it physically makes us feel better.
But most people don’t even know that such a link exists. Most people don’t realize that they eat because they feel bad.
Fewer still realize that their emotional pain comes from self-condemnation; a breached sense of self-worth.
2. Stress, Frustration, And Anger Are Signs Of Self-Condemnation
If you ask most people, “Are you judging yourself?” Or “Do you feel like you have low self-esteem?” they will say, “No, I’m fine.”
It is hard for us to see it. Especially if we have lived our entire lives this way.
But when you learn to see the telltale signs, it becomes obvious. Here are a few of them:
• A Mellow demeanor
• Lack of drive or enthusiasm
For me, these are clues that I have taken on some self-condemnation. When I’m angry, frustrated or irritable, I can almost always link it back to self-judgment.
Recently, I was working on a webpage for work. I needed to change the HTML and CSS code for various reasons. But after 2 hours of trying with no success, I took a break.
I decided to practice my guitar. But I couldn’t get this one lead line down I had been practicing. I worked at it for about an hour with little success.
At this point I was irritable. When people tried to talk to me, I had to stop myself from biting their heads’ off.
This was a red flag for me. I knew that irritability was a “check engine” light for my soul. So, I took a moment and backtracked. I realized that I had condemned myself for not being able to figure out the webpage. I felt like I should have been able to do it. And my inability to do so was a sign of failure and stupidity.
Then I tried to practice my guitar, but having already fallen under self-condemnation, that didn’t go well. After an hour, I had decided that I was a terrible guitar player. Considering how long I’d been playing, I should have been able to play this particular line. And since I couldn’t, I was a failure.
My irritability towards others was really the fruit of my anger at myself.
I took a few moments to correct my thinking, prayed a bit, renounced some lies and declared the truth, and I was in a much better place.
Why do I tell you this in a post about fitness?
Because it is crucial that we become more self-aware. We need to be better attuned to our inner reality.
3. Your Emotions Are Your Personal “Check Engine” Light
Emotions come from somewhere. They don’t just pop out of nothing. They are a direct response to either a conscious or subconscious conclusion. Our conscious or subconscious minds have made a determination about reality, and our emotions are the fruit of that conclusion.
The lesson? Many people are living under a mountain of self-condemnation and don’t even know it.
All they know is that they are frustrated. Or they are irritable. Or they are stressed. All these things can be linked back to self-judgment.
If you believed you were 100% capable of overcoming any obstacle in your path, why would we ever feel stressed? Or angry? Wouldn’t your response always be, “Oh well, I can find a way to do this.”
But that isn’t our composure much of the time. And that should be a warning sign – a red flag – that something is amiss.
And as the GI Joe’s tell us, “Knowing is half the battle.”
When many people are under condemnation, they eat. They need the comfort delicious food offers in order to make them feel better.
But when you see why you’re feeling pain, it becomes painfully obvious that ice cream, or French fries, or fried chicken isn’t going to fix that problem!
And when we understand this, we can respond to the real problem with a real solution.
This one truth alone could change your life. I know it continues to do so in mine.
4. The Fear Of Failure Keeps Many Out Of Shape
I like the show The Biggest Loser. It is about transformation and hope.
If you’ve never seen the show, it focuses on the transformation of 15-20 people each season. They are severely over weight, and they compete to lose the most weight (i.e., The Biggest Loser).
This season they have 2 new trainers: Jesse and Jen. Jen has a saying that I like: “All action is rooted in fear or love.” She uses this to help frame why the participants are doing what they are doing.
Fear is the fruit of self-condemnation. When we’re afraid, we are saying, “I don’t know if I can do this.” Or “I could fail.” Or “I could embarrass myself.” Or “If I try, then I will have to face (and probably confirm) my worst fear about myself: That I am a failure.”
Do you see how all fear is based in self-doubt? People eat because they are in pain. They are in pain because they hate themselves.
They don’t take charge of their lives because they are afraid of failure.
And they don’t want to face their worst fears about themselves… because what if they are true? What if they are failures?
Most people don’t want to know the answer to that question… so they avoid it altogether.
If they never go to the gym…
If they never try to lose weight…
If they never try to climb that mountain…
Then they never have to face the possibility of failure.
And as Ayn Rand says, “To fear to face an issue is to believe the worst is true.”
People who love themselves act differently.
I recently heard an inspiring story about transformation.
Tony was a super fit, ripped guy when he told this story. He said he used to weigh around 380 lbs, which was hard to believe by looking at him.
He realized he had a problem when he went hunting one day, and couldn’t make it 100 yards from his truck. He was so winded that he had to drag his rifle back to the truck.
He went home and looked at himself in the mirror, and felt disgusted. But it wasn’t self-condemnation. He was disgusted at what he had allowed himself to become. He knew he was better than this, and he was upset that he chose to be something less than.
You see, we can go into the darkest places in our hearts – the places we don’t let anyone go, not even ourselves – and not feel any pain. We can look in the mirror and say, “Yes, I did this to myself,” without judging ourselves. How? By realizing one fact: What we see in the mirror is not who we were meant to be.
You were made to reflect the image of God. The ability to succeed was written into your DNA from the moment of conception. Your nature is to overcome. And not just to survive, but to thrive. That is the truth about every human being on the planet.
When we realize this about ourselves, we can accept responsibility for our actions without self-judgment. We can say, “I have made decisions that are incongruent with who I really am.” And then we can change. But we can’t achieve real change until we have that kind of breakthrough.
Tony had one of these moments. So, he put himself on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich diet (that’s all he knew to do). And his exercise was to walk to the mailbox and back. It wasn’t much, and his diet plan wasn’t the greatest, but it worked. He used what He had and didn’t make excuses.
He acted out of love for himself. He knew he was better than what he had allowed himself to become. And he decided to change.
That is what self-love does. It looks in the mirror and says, “I am more awesome than this. And I need to start acting like it.”
From that place, we can see transformation, even if it is from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich diet.
5. Physical Fitness Is A Physical, Mental, And Spiritual Journey
Long story short, Tony went on to shed the fat, build muscle, and become the man he was meant to be. He even studied nutrition and health sciences, and became a personal trainer.
He got it. He realized that your physical body is a reflection of your emotional state of mind. He saw that getting into shape wasn’t just a physical battle… it was an emotional one as well.
And that is one reason why I have fallen in love with fitness. I love pushing my body because it also pushes my mind.
When I’m covered in sweat and want to quit, it is in that moment that I discover what I’m made of. And I’m not afraid to find out. I want to know. Because if I don’t like it, I know I can change it. I can grow. I can get stronger. I can get better. I am not defined by my failure.
That is the amazing thing about these bodies God has given us.
And, when I hit a wall, be it in weight loss or overall fitness, it also means there is probably an emotional wall as well. It’s a great gauge for personal growth.
I start asking myself, am I carrying around some self-condemnation? If so, when did I pick it up?
It is a mental, physical, and emotional experience.
You need to be emotionally healthy to have the discipline to become who you were meant to be.
I realize the converse is not necessarily true. Meaning, being physically healthy does not mean your emotionally healthy.
Some people beat themselves up at the gym… in a bad way. They are trying to become something they feel they are not. They hate themselves and want to become something different. That isn’t healthy.
Nor am I judging people for being out of shape. And I realize that some people have diagnosable conditions that inhibit weight loss or physical activity. Not everyone fits into the same mold.
I am just sharing my experience and what I have learned from it.
I also know that I am not currently the shining example of physical fitness. I know I have progress to make. But it is an exciting journey of self-discovery and growth.
And I believe it is key to being a healthy member of the body of Christ. So often our physical health is overlooked in our journey for spiritual growth. But it is crucial that we see they are linked.
I hope you found this article helpful.
Please leave your comments below. I would love to hear if anything I said impacted you. And I would also love to hear about your journey as well.
Thank you for reading.
About Sean Edwards
Sean Edwards is an author and a communication strategist. He graduated from the Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in history. Sean has a passion for discussing philosophy and American politics.