Lessons from Crossfit: What Exercise Taught Me About My ADHD and Myself

I exercised to lose weight, but what I gained was a healthy sense of self-esteem and acceptance.
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How I Found My Self-Esteem with Crossfit

Hannah D’Angelo, today’s guest blogger, is a student at Nicholls State University working toward a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She has worked as a lifeguard, swim instructor, and a dietitian’s assistant at Terrebonne General Hospital.

As high school graduation quickly approached, my biggest worry had nothing to do with where I would work during the summer or college studies that would soon begin.

It was, “How will I avoid the dreaded freshman 15?”

As a teenager with ADHD, my weight is a complicated issue. Like other parts of my life, it is related to the Vyvanse medication I’m taking. A normal dose that makes it much easier to concentrate on my studies does a number on my appetite. As long as I take it, keeping weight off is not a big problem.

But another side effect is irritability, even at the smallest of things. And it made me want to be alone, which is very tough on the social life of a student.

So I cut the dosage and began searching for a way to keep my weight down, and to find the discipline I would need to focus on my schoolwork.

As I feared, my weight crept up. I began to feel as if I had too much energy and it became increasingly difficult to focus and sit still. I stepped up my search for a way to get healthy and improve my focus.

Because there are hundreds of diets to choose from and none has a track record of keeping weight off in the long term, I decided that a more sensible approach would be to make exercise the core of my weight-loss program while eating a common-sense diet.

I began my Internet search with the word “Crossfit,” knowing only that it was a tough, unconventional workout approach that was catching on across the country. Let me tell you, after reading what I found on the Internet, I closed the tab and went about my day. That’s not for me, I thought.

A few days later, with no real prospects for tackling my problem, I looked in the mirror and wondered if the weight gain was the thing I was really most afraid of. Or was there something else? I was never extremely overweight. I had struggled with ADHD since elementary school, and as I grew older, I thought less about how my life would look when school ended and more about planning my weekends.

The problem was, I was drifting. I needed direction in my life, and that is much heavier than the “freshman 15.”

I needed the structure of a routine that would challenge me, keep me on track, give me goals, and build confidence. Keeping weight off would be a bonus.

My mind wandered back to Crossfit, and this time I couldn’t push it aside.

There were plenty of excuses for not walking into a Crossfit gym. I wouldn’t know anybody, and, from what I understood, there wouldn’t be a team that I could count on for support or interaction.

It’s just a gym, I thought. If I suck, I quit. Easy as that, right? I took a deep breath and dragged myself to Power Crossfit.

The first thing I saw when I walked in was a man with about 5 percent body fat. I immediately tried to leave. “Stay and try it,” he said, sealing the deal when he told me the first three attempts would be free. That was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I was part of a group told to run 400 meters, which felt like a marathon. We did sit-ups, push-ups, and air squats. “Thank God that workout is over,” I mumbled when the last squat was done.

But that was just the warm-up. I barely finished the rest of the workout. Enough. I quit.

Graduation came and summer was busy. I taught swim lessons and lifeguarding. But my internal struggle with how to make meaningful changes in my life continued and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to give Crossfit another try. When summer ended, I returned to the gym.

What I found, by not giving up and pushing through the temptation to quit a second time, was exactly what I had been looking for all along. It changed my life in ways I would never have realized if I hadn’t walked back through those doors.

Here is what I learned:

Friendship

When I returned to Crossfit, I realized the people I thought weren’t going to notice me were secretly keeping up with my progress. I realized they weren’t trying to be better than me, they wanted to see me get better. I found out the people I thought wouldn’t notice me would become my best friends. I also figured out that they were successful and hard workers in their personal lives. I understood that the qualities required to physically train your body will serve you well in the real world. I fell in love with the people I was sweating, crying, and bleeding with. We all wanted the same thing: to be better.

Consistency

One of the most important things I learned is that if you want to get better at anything, you have to be consistent. I realized that once I followed the routine, I didn’t want to miss a workout.

Dedication

College is stressful for me. Taking 18 hours of classes and working a part-time job makes it easy to find excuses not to exercise. Working out gave me much more energy than sleeping, a big deal because my ADHD means I have to study longer than an average student. Even on days I felt exhausted, I showed up. I’m not going to lie—I quit workouts, but I always went back.

Hard Work

The gym and my job taught me that you get what you work for. If you quit for no good reason, you feel like a quitter. I can’t describe the feeling of satisfaction that comes from lying on the floor after a workout or the feeling of accomplishment after reaching a personal record. Callouses on my hands are trophies from finally getting those pull-ups done. I realized how accomplishment feels. I want to feel it the rest of my life.

Self-Acceptance

If Crossfit has taught me anything, it’s self-acceptance. I realize that how I look has nothing to do with my progress. I realized “strong” is the new sexy. Having muscles shows hard work and callouses reflect improvement. I realized that my weird obsession with Crossfit is an obsession with self-improvement. I’ve come to terms with not being the best, but being the best version of myself.

 
 
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