The forecast looked grim, but I wouldn’t let that stop me.
I couldn’t risk losing what I had worked so hard for.
I wanted to workout.
I needed to workout.
I couldn’t go a day without it.
There would be too much anxiety, too many invasive thoughts, and possibly tears.
I had to keep my body in check.
I couldn’t handle being out of shape; fitness was my idol and my identify was in my body.
So I set my alarm for 5:30 AM, despite staying up late the night before to study.
When I woke up, I knew that I had no time to lose; I had to get moving if I wanted to get my workout in.
The snow was falling lightly but it hadn’t started sticking to the roads yet. My windows were completely iced over, so I turned on my defrost and began scrapping the windshield until it felt like my fingers were going to fall off.
My tires rotated in place a few times before I was able to pull my car out of the driveway. I knew that I wasn’t a good driver, and that I was halfway insane for going to the gym at this time during this weather, but I didn’t care. I just needed to beat the snow before I was trapped in my house all day. I needed to burn the calories.
The gym was quiet but not quite empty. There were a few frat guys lifting together, coupled with a few senior citizens walking the track. They were regulars, I wasn’t surprised to see them. The frat guys bench pressed 3 days a week; the two women who wore matching outfits walked & talked on the track.
“Okay,” I thought to myself, “Maybe I’m not crazy. These people are here at 5:30 AM working out before the snow storm hits Cookeville. They are being productive & self-disciplined, just like me.”
Except I wasn’t being productive or self-disciplined. I was acting as a slave to my eating disorder. I didn’t have the freedom to say no to a workout that could put my life in danger. I didn’t have the discipline to take days off. I didn’t have it in me to fight when ED drug me out of bed. I didn’t have the confidence to sleep in. ED convinced me that I needed to prove myself, so I did just that.
Although I wanted to workout alone, ED never allowed that. He always followed me up to the cardio floor, making sure that I stayed on the treadmill for long enough at a pace that fit his demands.
His pre-workout talks were so “inspirational”:
“8:34. That was your pace last time. You better not finish this run a second later than that.”
“No walking. You can run sprints or run on the treadmill; you decide.”
“If you run anything less than 2 miles, you’re going to need to get on the stair climber afterwards.”
“You ran 2 yesterday; shoot for 3 today. You never know how long you are going to be trapped inside the house with the snow coming soon.”
So I ran.
I ran until legs started to cramp.
I ran until my chest tightened up.
I ran until my hunger pains could no longer be ignored.
I ran until ED was satisfied.
And the cycle reset.
I restricted that day, then binged later that night, then restricted the next day, then exercised to “get rid” of the extra calories I ate the previous day.
My relationship with exercise fed the binge-restriction cycle that I was stuck in.
Compulsive exercise was one of the most dangerous aspects of my eating disorder.
It drove me to make irrational decisions, like the one I just described.
It isolated me from friends and family.
It was my only cooping mechanism.
It was a punishment for my imperfect diet.
It was a religious ritual of some sort, a worthless attempt to earn my salvation.
In many ways, it was a very blatant form of self-harm.
I wasn’t exercising to be healthy; I was exercising to be somebody. All of my worth was put into my exercise routine and level of fitness.
I didn’t know better, but now I do.
I now understand that it’s not OK for me to exercise when I am hungry.
I now understand that my body needs rest days in order to recover and get stronger.
I now understand that my life’s purpose is so much more than working out.
I now understand that my identity is not found in my level of fitness.
I now understand that exercise is a celebration of what my body can do, not a punishment for what I eat.
I now understand why my friends and family were concerned about me.
I now understand exercise cannot be my only cooping mechanism.
I now understand that I deserve better.
I now understand how to treat my body with compassion and respect.