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Why Exercise is Better than Sex

Ever since I can remember I have had major issues with food.  This was not a problem till I was ten and my mother told me I was going on a diet.  I promptly went to the shops and bought a bag of lollies.

By the time I was fifteen I was medically obese, then I discovered bulimia for a short while.  At 22 I revisited bulimia with its partner in crime laxatives, lost and regained half my body weight within two years.  I went up and down for the next twelve years and developed type 2 diabetes.  Then the lap band was invented and over the next ten years had two lap bands installed, followed by numerous cosmetic surgeries, and two lap bands removed due to slippage and erosion.

This was followed by several hospital stays for abdominal pain resulting in a small bowel obstruction operation.  My pancreas died completely and I was now insulin dependent and whenever I moved my insides swirled around like a sack of goldfish and I regained back half my body weight.

When something is my enemy I try to make a friend out of it.  Over the years while my weight had doubled and halved several times, my therapist has remained at the same weight.  She doesn’t eat between meals, nor does she eat fatty, sugary foods and although she thinks she drinks too much, I know her drinking skills are not nearly as impressive as my ability to finish off three quarters of a bottle of spirits at one sitting.  This is why I have major health issues and she doesn’t.

Seven years ago and between lap bands, we used to send each other our food and exercise diary daily for two weeks.  This was not good for me and I was continually triggered by her annoying capacity and competence to live on three small meals a day, doing twenty morning sit-ups, and ten kilometer beach walks fueled only by three pieces of fruit and yogurt.  But I didn’t give up, my therapist is my role-model and I had much success in other areas of my life with her.

Eighteen months ago I started walking, gardening and swimming at the beach.  I did not consider this exercise as such and perhaps this is where the success lies.  I enjoyed taking my little dog for a walk, taking photos of everything and feeling that slight endorphin high I got after doing something with my muscles other than turning a page, picking up a drink or using the remote to change TV channels.

I found I was walking three times a week very early in the morning and felt sad if I was not able to achieve that.  Again my therapist and I exchanged walking and food photos and thoughts and feelings about both.  Only this time I was not triggered, rather I was learning from her.

After remaining the same weight for this period I decided to up the ante.  I dusted off my pushbike and finally succumbed to the pressure my teenagers were putting me under to join the local gym with them.  That I did – three weeks ago.  Now I was biking furiously around my lakes instead of a slow, gentle stroll with my elderly dog.  I expected to go to the gym twice and then selectively forget about it.  That has happened in the past and as we all know the past dictates the future.

Not this time.  The minute I entered the gym I entered “The Zone” that mythical, magical Zen headspace that I used to think only existed only in the minds of Buddhist monks, extreme athletes, cocaine addicts and Keanu Reeves.

I entered “The Zone” on Saturday.  I was completely pissed off because the scales told me I had gained a kilo.  Usually this would be a good enough reason to self-sabotage, go to the shops and buy some fatty food, alcohol and cigarettes and indulge in an apocalyptic bender which would last for the next three months.  But this time, I ignored the scales (I’m thinking of throwing them in the bin) went to the gym, jumped on the treadmill and the cross trainer, did an hour of yoga and jumped back on the treadmill and the cross trainer.  I exercised for two hours.

By the time I got to the second round on the cross trainer, it was easy and I was immediately suspicious.  It reminded me of when I would dream I was running cross-country effortlessly and it was the freedom from gravity I loved in those dreams that I never thought would happen in real life.

But at the gym my legs were energized, my head was clear, focused internally and those endorphins were flowing smoothly through my body and had enveloped me in an aura of warmth and sunshine.  Driving home it felt like I was basking on the beach in a post-orgasmic-bliss state.  Never before in my entire life have I had that feeling after exercise.  After sex, yes – but not after spending it surrounded by thirty five other sweating, heaving, grunting gym monkeys all pounding it out in the heat determined to get fit or bust.

But it’s not just the cross trainer that was responsible for floating my boat, I have given up fatty foods because of my liver and gall bladder, alcohol and sugar because of my diabetes which leaves me with vegetables, legumes, low fat dairy products, fish and water.  I’ve changed my food.

I feel empty and clean.  I eat lots of vegetarian meals now (note to self:  It’s not wise to eat chick pea curry the night before yoga class) and have stocked up the pantry with so many spices I feel like I’ve moved to the markets of Morocco.  My kids bought me a tagine and a Food Safari cookbook for Christmas and my husband emails me from work telling me how much he loves the new, enthusiastic me.

I feel as though I am now experiencing a second life.  All this change is no longer difficult to incorporate into my lifestyle because it is now my life.  I am older, wiser, saner, more logical, more rational and slower – much, much slower.  Not only that but my husband, Dave has been with me on this journey because it’s his journey as well.  We are traveling together.

I’m going with the flow, listening to my body, tuning in my mind and living my life in a way I never thought was possible.  I avoid vexatious people, I surround myself with good things and think only those thoughts that will further me in my journey of life.  I am now much more resilient to existential flotsam and jetsam, the vagaries of mental illness and rarely decompensate for too long.  It’s strange having control over my body and mind and this is an achievement I never thought possible.

Finally I’m looking forward to the rest of my life.


Why Exercise is Better than Sex

Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field.

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2011). Why Exercise is Better than Sex. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Feb 2011
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