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Beyond Reps and Sets: The Emotional Weight of the Fitness World

Brought to you by Lilianna Ruiz

Do you lift to live or live to lift? “Beyond Reps and Sets” isn’t just another fitness blog; it’s an exploration of how weightlifting can sculpt not only your physique but also your mental resilience.

Over the past two years, I’ve dedicated at least one hour of my time to the gym five days a week. My journey in weightlifting has been a rollercoaster of mindset shifts, with no straight path to follow.

At the age of 18, the weightlifting fad had begun. My social media feeds were flooded with fitness influencers, dieting tips, and PRs (personal records). Easily influenced, I embarked on my fitness journey.

How It Began:

They say comparison is the thief of joy, and they’re absolutely right. Starting any fitness endeavor by chasing the elusive “perfection” portrayed by the media can quickly lead anyone down a path of unhappiness. Jealousy-fueled lifting became my starting point.

Driven by the desire to be “beach body ready” year-round, this aspiration quickly spiraled into disordered eating. While this blog focuses on weightlifting, it’s impossible to overlook the intertwined relationship between fitness and food. The F&F combo.

Disordered Eating: According to National Eating Disorders Strategy is defined as “a spectrum between normal eating and an eating disorder and may include symptoms and behaviours of eating disorders, but at a lesser frequency or lower level of severity. Disordered eating may include restrictive eating, compulsive eating, or irregular or inflexible eating patterns.

I became fixated on the notion that any progress I made in the gym would crumble if I consumed even a single calorie beyond 1,200. The scale had become a great danger. I wasn’t attuned to my body’s needs, and I denied it the necessary recovery. After what felt like an eternity of feeling physically weak, emotionally drained, and utterly unmotivated, I reached a critical turning point.

How It Was:

Soon enough I was determined to up the number on the scale. It was a relentless battle against myself, a continuous tug of war between my aspirations and reality. I found myself loading up on carbs and pushing my body to increasingly heavy weights, all in pursuit of a seemingly unattainable goal- to become, well, superhuman?

I shifted my comparison from what I saw in the media to a new battleground: me versus me. No amount of growth felt sufficient. I was never satisfied. This is where the body dysmorphia truly settled.

Body Dysmorphia: “a mental health condition in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance – a flaw that appears minor or can’t be seen by others,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Those struggling with body dysmorphia often find themselves repeatedly checking their reflections, seeking reassurance. These perceptions and the recurring behaviors cause distress and disrupt daily life. For some, it manifests as changes in eating habits and exercise routines.

My objective at the time was clear: shed the label “skinny” and emerge as someone big and muscular. I described myself as a “stick,” though, in reality, I was kinda jacked. My self-image changed every single time I looked in the mirror. I struggled to detect what I actually looked like from the distorted image my mind imposed, not to mention the diverse array of comments people would throw at me. These comments ranged from encouraging me to eat more on some days to deeming me too “manly” on others. I coped daily with the relentless clash between my mental self-image and the reflection in the mirror.

At this point in my journey, I slowly started to disconnect. Going to the gym became a formality, something to check off a to-do list. My physical health was suffering as I put less effort into my workouts, and my mental and emotional health plummeted further. Dissociating from my workouts didn’t mean I stopped comparing myself to every single person in the gym. It didn’t mean I quit stepping on the scale every single day, dismayed by the number, regardless of what it read. The fire that once fueled my workouts had dwindled; there was no clear goal driving me forward anymore.

How It Is:

As I persisted in pushing through my workouts, I found a sense of comfort in the routine. A rhythm that began to resonate with me. I took delight in waking up early, relishing in a sense of productivity, and eating when hunger tempted – all without the heavy burden of external expectations.

Gradually, my love for the gym reignited. With time, my mind-to-muscle connection deepened, allowing me to genuinely appreciate how my body could move and function. Lifting weights became a source of joy and fulfillment.

With all of that being said, this is no fairy tale with a perfect, happy ending. I still face struggles. Occasionally, doubts about my reflection creep in, and there are moments when I catch myself hesitating to eat my favorite savory meal. But it’s all about gentleness with oneself. It’s about understanding that goals can shift, that it’s alright to revel in confidence, and equally acceptable to have moments of self-doubt. Your body is uniquely yours; it’s not meant to be a copy of someone else’s.

I’ve come to embrace my body, both as it is and as it will become. I’ve learned that the body I inhabit is a sacred vessel, and it’s vital to treat it with kindness and care. In this moment of my weightlifting journey, I find contentment. Lifting weights isn’t just about physical strength; it’s about feeling empowered and strong from within.


Now that I’ve shared my weightlifting journey with you, I need to emphasize that everyone’s path is unique. What I’ve shared here is my personal experience, and yours may look entirely different. My hope in sharing this part of my life is to offer a sense of comfort and community for you on your own journey.

I’d also like to highlight the positive aspects weightlifting has brought into my life. While I’ve only shared just a snapshot of my journey in this blog, I understand that it might not resonate with everyone and could even deter some from exploring weightlifting. However, I firmly believe that there are numerous incredible aspects to this lifestyle, and there’s something in weightlifting for anyone.

Just Do It:

Yup, just like Nike says, “Just Do It” – “It” being weightlifting.

Engaging in regular workouts offers a multitude of benefits for your physical health. Beyond the obvious muscle and bone growth, consistent physical activity provides a wide array of advantages. These can range from improved cardiovascular health, better digestive health, enhanced immune function, and better pain management. These physical benefits collectively contribute to a healthier, more resilient body, ready to take on life’s challenges with strength.

Working out provides not only a sense of control and stability but also serves as a powerful outlet from life’s challenges. Establishing a gym routine instills a feeling of mastery over at least one aspect of your day-to-day existence. You can anticipate your gym sessions because they offer a reassuring consistency throughout your week. This sense of stability is invaluable, and it’s a portion of your life where you’re in charge, allowing you to find solace and a sense of accomplishment, a refuge from life’s struggles.

Last but certainly not least, and in line with the overarching theme of this blog, weightlifting holds the power to significantly improve mental health. When you engage in exercise, your body releases a surge of dopamine and serotonin, effectively reducing stress and enhancing overall mood. I can attest to this transformation from personal experience. Moreover, scientific research suggests exercise promotes better sleep and enhances memory. However, it goes beyond science. The feeling of strength that comes with weightlifting fosters confidence and elevates self-esteem. After all, who wouldn’t want to flaunt their hard-earned muscles?

Taking care of your well-being encompasses mind, body, and soul.

So I’ll leave you with this question once more: Do you lift to live or live to lift?

<3 Lili

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