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Lessons from Crossfit: What Exercise Taught Me About My ADHD

I exercised to lose weight, but what I gained was a healthy sense of self-esteem and acceptance.

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.

[Build Your Muscles, Build Your Brain]

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.

[The Neuroscience of Movement]

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.

[Exercise Tips that Are Actually ADHD-Friendly]

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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