Women and girls have been hoodwinked  into believing that obtaining an ideal body should be a life goal.

For many women, exercise is a necessary evil to be endured as we strive toward the always-elusive goal of bodily perfection ... or, to be most honest, bodily improvement.

We may not think we are buying in to this trope, but this pressure is ubiquitous and - like oxygen - most of us breathe in the polluted air without recognizing the damage.

I remember the summer our swim coach sent home an instruction sheet for his athletes and their parents. On it, he listed how many calories we were burning per day during our four hours of twice-daily practices.

I can still picture that sheet of paper, posted on the bulletin board right near our kitchen table.

The coach had written that we were to consume "at least 2400 calories per day" in order to keep our muscles strong.

That was the same summer he started to weigh us and the same summer that my dad, in good faith I believe, got rid of the snacks I had enjoyed eating after our evening practice.

I got home one night from another grueling practice and opened the cabinet to reach for a favorite treat and the shelf was empty.

I remember standing there in our small kitchen in disbelief for what felt like an hour.

I don't think I even asked where the food had gone.

I simply swallowed my shame and went to bed hungry.

So began the sick math of disordered eating: "If we burned at least 2400 calories in practice, and if I make sure I eat less than 2400 calories a day, I will lose weight and my coach will praise me after our weigh-ins and maybe the snacks will reappear in the cupboard."

I wrote in my journal, "Don't eat!"

I was 15.

Exercise - competitive swimming and weight lifting - became a means to an end.

That end had something to do with what my body weighed, how it looked, and what others thought of it.

And it has remained as such for all of my adult life.

Until recently.

Chalk it up to life lived, or middle age, or back surgery, or learning about how our culture crushes female souls with utter nonsense about how we should look.

Whatever the reason, the jig is up.

And it feels so incredibly freeing!

This morning I swam for an hour in the same pool in which my disordered eating and exercising was born. 

And I swam for the sheer joy of it.

I swam to keep my heart strong.

I swam to heal my back.

I swam because I want strong arms to hug my husband and lift my potential grandkids.

I swam because I love how it makes me feel.

I swam because I am still pretty darn fast.

I swam because I wanted to swim.

I came home and ate until I was full.

And that is how it should be for all of us.

Moving our bodies for the sheer joy of it.