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The Power of Strong:How Kettlebell Training Ended My War with My Body

I have always hated my body. But unlike most women who struggle with body-image issues, I can not point to glossy magazines, Hollywood, or social media for making me feel like I needed to look a certain way to be accepted.

Instead, I was raised in an abusive household, where at times, food was scarce and always used as punishment or reward. I observed my mother struggling with her weight and going through cycles of losing and gaining. I observed, too, how she would tell herself how fat she was. And I observed how my stepfather would also critique her, even though he was the opposite of a fit and healthy man.

My stepfather would also make fun of me, calling me “the fat one,” even though I was never overweight when I grew up.

I was also bullied at school. Not for being too fat, though. But more general for “being ugly.”

When I left home at 17, my self-esteem was non-existent, and I had no sense of who I was or what I wanted to do with my life. When I looked in the mirror, three words echoed in my head: “loser” and “too fat.”

I wanted to lose weight, even though I didn't need to.

The year I left home was the first where I actively tried to lose weight. I figured cycling 9 kilometers to and from work each day was a good start. I started eating healthier and exchanged ready-to-eat meals with home-cooked options. I swapped my breakfast cereal for muesli. I stopped adding sugar and milk to my coffee. And I started to memorize the calorie content of various foods.

I didn’t manage to lose weight, though, because I couldn’t resist the overwhelming urge to binge on chocolate and breakfast cereals when I felt lonely at night.

So I stayed at a healthy weight, and I continued to hate my body.

When I started to study forestry, my quest to lose weight continued. Even though I did very well in my studies, I still tied my self-worth to my appearance.

I started to skip breakfast. Then, I swapped my balanced dinners for raw veggies. Soon I was eating only 1 proper meal per day – the lunch in the university canteen.

I lost weight.

And then I lost some more.

But I was never satisfied.

Looking in the mirror, I still saw the “too fat” me.

I still hated my body.

Starting my athletic career.

In 2005, I decided to go to South Africa for 6 months for my practical semester. After a couple of weeks, I gained 5 kilos.

I freaked out.

I started running.

Every morning before we were picked up for work, I ran through the plantations.

I lost weight.

I still hated my body.

I still didn’t wear shorts. I still didn’t own a bathing suit or bikini.

When I injured myself after returning to Germany, I starved myself more.

During a particularly challenging time, I subsisted on raw carrots and a few pieces of fruit. The picture below shows the state my body was in.

skinny girl in red shirt
skinny and frail

Over the next 5 years, I would gain weight only to freak out and then lose it again. I didn’t have a period for almost 10 years.

And while running played a big part in my emotional healing and triumph over social anxiety, it was not exactly helping with my body image issues.

Long-distance running is a sport where body weight matters. And when I started to set goals for running, I not only tried to optimize my training plan and sleep for better performance but also my weight.

Stumbling upon kettlebell training.

When I took another break from running in 2014, I stumbled over kettlebell training. I don’t remember how I first heard about them. Still, I remember ordering an 8kg and a 12kg bell along with Pavel Tsatsouline’s “Enter The Kettlebell.”

Little did I know that those cannonballs with a handle should change my relationship with my body forever.

I was weak at first. The 8 kg bell felt heavy.

However, I saw myself as an athlete due to the many years of running I had under my belt.

And I was eager to complete the “Rite of Passage” as outlined in the book. I wanted to pass the snatch test with a 16 kg bell. And I wanted to be able to military press 20 kg for reps, which was 1/4th of my body weight then.

So I got to work.

My journey was filled with back pain from sub-par swinging and blue forearms while learning to clean and ripped hands from adding too many snatch sessions too quickly.

But over time, I learned how to control the bell and stay focused throughout a set. I also learned how to program strength training for continuous progress.

However, what I learned most, was tuning in to my body and honoring her needs.

Learning to appreciate my body.

The more I used kettlebells to become stronger, the stronger I wanted to become. I didn’t notice it at first, but over time the desire to be strong replaced the desire to be skinny.

In fact, I started to care less and less about how my body looked. Instead, I developed an appreciation for what my body can do.

Like all strength training, Kettlebell training has huge carry-over effects on everyday life. I was proud that I could open glass jars for others, carry heavy bags and move around furniture. Kettlebell training left me feeling powerful and strong.

And when I started running again in 2021, after a 9-year-long break, I didn’t want to lose weight anymore.

I am more muscular than many female long-distance runners. Still, I am unwilling to sacrifice my muscle for better race times. I also understand now that fueling yourself is essential to running well for many years.

Thanks to kettlebell training, I also developed a healthier relationship with running. As a result, I can continuously progress and push my body to go farther and faster. I am not limited anymore by the desire to be as thin as possible.

And I don’t run or lift because I hate my body. I lift and run because the mental and emotional strength I gain from these activities helps me lead a purpose-driven, self-determined life full of adventure and fun.

Truth be told, I can not say if I love my body unconditionally.

But I can say that thanks to kettlebell training, I at least accept and appreciate her.

I do not hate her anymore.

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