How I'm balancing my love of fitness with my eating disorder recovery
This post discusses one woman’s experiences with her eating disorder. If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, you can find many resources from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). TW: graphic discussions of eating disorders.
I was 12 when I experienced my first bouts of body dysmorphia. At an athletics meet, I overheard two girls on my team talking about how skinny I was. I left it alone because I’d heard it before — I was used to my body and had learned to deal with the little niggle in my brain that told me I was different. However, I questioned everything when I got home. I stood on the bathtub to see my full body in the half-length mirror, and I didn’t see what those girls were talking about. I became obsessed with the fact that I couldn’t see my hipbones – surely I would have been able to if I was actually skinny, right? That night marked the jumping off point for me in terms of my eating disorder, and things spiraled out of control quickly.
I became obsessed with eating “healthy.”
My life was a cycle of cutting out all carbs, dairy, fat, and sugar, then trying to combat that obvious nutritional error by bingeing. After a binge, I would feel horrible guilt and either make myself sick or do a ridiculous amount of exercise.
My relationship with food and exercise was dark and unhealthy.
I knew that my habits weren’t good, and that I probably had an eating disorder. However, my weight never dropped drastically enough for me to be classified as anorexic, so I decided I wasn’t sick enough to get help. I looked okay to everyone else, and when I looked in the mirror, that translated to obsessive thinking about losing weight.
I would go from netball practice at school to ballet class at the studio, then walk the 3 miles home on an empty stomach. My eating disorder told me I was strong because of it, and I believed it. Soon enough, I’d get blindingly hungry and would binge on everything in sight, only for the cycle to begin again the next day.
I went into therapy after fainting in class for the third time.
I was eventually diagnosed with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), now called OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder).
My eating disorder was a combination of atypical anorexia, orthorexia, and bulimia. I went into treatment and gained back the weight I had lost, and my family and friends celebrated my recovery. My body was back, but my brain was not. I still thought about food and exercise in an unhealthy way, and struggled during the six months that I was not allowed to train.
After the start of my weight restoration and recovery, I became more comfortable with food. I tried to understand that eating today didn’t mean my body would change drastically by tomorrow. I kept my intrusive thoughts in a box at the back of my brain, and did my best to live normally.
Then, I gained weight.
I went on birth control because of PCOS, and gained 2o pounds in six months. For the first time, I had stretch marks, and I wasn’t gaining muscle as I had before. I wasn’t eating any differently and was exercising the same way I usually did, but I was still gaining weight. In hindsight, the reason is plain and simple: side effects. But at that point in time, the weight gain slightly opened up that box of dangerous thoughts, and all of those ideas came rushing back. I began to regret the program I’d completed during the first stages of my recovery, associating my new weight gain with my original return to a healthy weight. I fell back into my cycle of not eating, bingeing, and over exercising.
This time, I caught myself doing it and started working to stop it early.
I love fitness and I love food, and this time, I’m determined to make their relationship in my life work.
So, where to from here? Well first, therapy. Constant counseling is a big help and an essential step in recovery. The most important thing in therapy is to be as honest as possible – you can’t make progress if you keep lying to your therapist and to yourself. Struggle and fight, and know that you are not alone.
Next, I am working towards understanding. Understanding why I eat and why I exercise will help me evaluate whether my intentions are healthy or not. With this understanding, I know that if I want to exercise because I ate dinner, I probably shouldn’t — my intentions aren’t healthy. I understand that food is fuel and fun and fine, and that I need to eat to be alive.
Eating disorder recovery is an ongoing process, and I understand that I am doing the best I can. I am moving forward, ice cream in one hand and dumbbell in the other.