I used to think that there was something wrong with me because I didn’t have a desire to train for a 1/2 marathon.
I’m not kidding.
I told myself that I am young and active, and that because of this I should commit to something that I hated so that I could make myself look good.
I am not a fan of long distance running. I never have been, and I never will be. I think the most that I have ever run at one time is 4 miles, and that is something that I will probably not ever do again.
Not because I can’t, but because I don’t love it.
During the first few months of recovery I was asked to examine my motives behind the exercise that I was doing. I would go to the gym twice a day to lift and run, while also not consuming nearly enough food to fuel my body. I didn’t think that there would ever be such a thing as “too skinny” for me. I thought the idea of “a gentle walk” was absurd. My recovery team mentioned yoga and I remember thinking, “Yoga? Why don’t I just take a nap…” My relationship with exercise became so twisted that I didn’t feel like I could eat (or eat a normal amount of food), unless I had exercised that day. If the workout didn’t kill me, I felt like it was a complete waste of time. Exercise had a tight grip on me, one that I couldn’t seem to escape.
When I first started losing weight, it really did feel like I was making great strides to improve my health and fitness level. I was able to run for longer amounts of time than I ever had before, aerobic exercise came more natural to me, and many people asked what my secrets were.
If only they knew.
After a few months of restrictive eating and compulsive exercising, my health and fitness levels began to decline rapidly. I had no energy when I went to the gym. I started to get really frustrated with myself when I could only lift half of what I usually did. I was fatigued. I got hunger pains through the middle of a 1 or 2 mile run and had to stop. I couldn’t concentrate in class, I became very malnourished, & eventually I met diagnostic criteria for anorexia.
As much as I hated it, I knew that I needed to cut back on exercise. Nothing about me wanted to comply with the advice of my treatment team (and finance, sister, & mom), yet I knew that I wanted to get better. It was so hard to stop doing the things that I wanted to do…..it really did feel like an addiction. Exercise was something I needed each day to make me feel good about myself, eating meals, and easing my anxiety.
It’s important for you to know that it was only when I quit running completely that I was able to really get in touch with my hunger/fullness cues. Exercise puts stress on the body, & excess amounts are not good for you. If you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s especially harmful for you. Your body is in a very fragile state and any type of added stress throws it even more out of wack. It’s more harmful than beneficial. There are people who have died from cardiac arrest due to their eating disorder. Weight restored, on the path to recovery, & seemingly healthy on the outside, yet not healthy enough to escape the complications of her eating disorder. It’s scary, but it’s also a reality.
I want to say it again: In the recovery process, one of the biggest things that helped my recovery grow leaps and bounds is by cutting out the excessive/compulsive exercise. There is a time and place for exercise, but strenuous activity has no place in your life if you are recovering from a restrictive eating disorder. The sooner I got healthy, the sooner I was able to go back to some of the things that I love. Conversely, I knew that the longer I waited to fully commit to recovery, the longer I would remain sick, and be unable to engage in physical activity.
I really thought my recovery team was crazy when they told me that I should experiment with different types of exercise. I hated the idea. I knew that the only thing that help me to “stay skinny” was to run, and I was going to have to be okay with that. I wasn’t going to waste my time doing zumba, or going on a 10 minute walk around the yard. In my mind, those would never be options for me.
When I was ready to re-introduce aerobic exercise into my life (with the green light from my recovery team), there were still many things that I had to guard myself against (and still do). It was understood that if I am hungry, sick, or tired that I didn’t need to workout that say. Even if I just wasn’t feeling’ it, it was okay for me to not workout. I was encouraged to check my motives and ask myself if the working out because I actually wanted to, or because I wanted to manipulate my body shape and weight.
Exercise is not a bad thing…it can actually be a really, really good thing! There is much evidence that shows that exercise can help boost mood, energize us, promote heart health, and protect us from chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. I think our relationship with food and exercise can be confusing because many profit-seeking fitness coaches, “nutritionists”, and health nuts are pushing an idea or product in our faces that promises to give us good health, a great body, and an exercise routine that will bring us the results we want. You’re either all-in or all-out, there isn’t an in-between.
Many people have the tendency to fall into two categories, the first being the individuals who abuse exercise, use it at a means to compensate for “unhealthy eating”, or as a form of salvation that it was never intended to be. In a culture that is so fitness savvy, it’s really easy to get sucked in to rigid exercise routines and joyless activity. This eventually will lead to burnout or negative health effects. On the other hand, there are many individuals who despise the idea of running around their neighborhood or going to the local gym, so they do nothing at all. They are embarrassed to try to exercise. They don’t believe that their body is able to do anything remotely “athletic”, so they don’t try.
Both of these categories are harmful to a person’s health.
The thing is, God created everyone in such a different and unique way that it doesn’t make sense to try to apply a “one-size-fits-all” approach to exercise. Some people love running marathons. Some people swear by cross fit. Others enjoy kickboxing or yoga. God really has blessed so many people with such a wide variety of talents and abilities, which is something that I think is pretty cool.
After a month or so of trial and error, I have come to realize some of “fitness loves”, as I like to call them. Jump-roping, circuit training, plyometrics, and weight lifting are things that I genuinely enjoy doing. I don’t feel obligated doing them, and I don’t despise them. They give me energy, keep me active, and are a positive influence on my mental and physical health. Another thing that I love doing is going on prayer walks for my friends and family. I have discovered that just because I am walking, that doesn’t mean that I can’t still work up a good sweat. It’s not anxiety provoking or filled with dread. It’s calming, peaceful, refreshing, & life-giving; it is positive energy entering my heart, mind, and soul.
I think one of the most realistic, practical, and sustainable goals of 2017 is to find an exercise routine that you truly love, one that enhances your health rather than harms it. Around this nation we celebrate diversity, uniqueness, and the freedom and ability to choose what we wish to do with our lives. I think it’s time for us to take the same approach when it comes to our exercise routines.
*If you are currently in recovery from an eating disorder, you might be in a point in recovery where exercise isn’t beneficial to you. That’s okay. Keep fighting the good fight sweet friend. A life without your eating disorder is worth giving up any amount of exercise for a certain period of time. I know that seems crazy. Trust me, it isn’t. As you become healthier and healthier, you will be able to introduce balanced activity in your life. I promise. In your time of waiting, hobbies that aren’t related to physical activity, such as painting, drawing, writing, & listening to music can be anxiety-reducing and healing.