Exercise and Eating Disorder Recovery
Updated: Aug 19, 2019
One of my goals having a public platform to share my eating disorder recovery is to provide a space to be honest about the ups, downs, and hot pink times. Early on in recovery, anyone writing, speaking, and posting about recovery seemed to have it all together. The message I received was from those in recovery was, “I never engage behaviors, think about food or numbers, and you can do it!”
During the years I’ve been in recovery, I’ve felt that if I did have a behavior, a slip, weighed myself, worked out too long, or thought about food then I clearly was not in recovery. I felt defeated, not enough, and sometimes this overwhelming “ideal” of recovery gave me more thoughts about throwing in the towel. I can never be “normal”. Why am I even trying? The eating disorder is so much easier, predictable, comfortable, and safe. Recovery is impossible. I also feel so much shame which means I can’t tell ANYONE!
My old tapes still tell me that recovery means perfection which means I will never struggle. However, I don’t want anyone struggling to receive the messages I did about recovery from books, speakers, and social media. My recovery isn’t always positive. It is FAR from perfect. Over the past two weeks, I have had an uptick in the amount of exercise I’ve been doing.
I’ve been an athlete all my life. My eating disorder began by doing way too much movement and restricting. Then, it morphed into adding purging on top of those behaviors. Each time in treatment, I’ve been told that exercise is always something I will need to keep an eye on.
Five weeks ago, I innocently started doing a workout video online. The first two weeks felt balanced. I was ok if I missed a day. I listened to my body. I ate appropriately. About two weeks ago, something flipped in my head. I began getting afraid if I missed a day. I did not listen to my body. I did too much. A few times I ate based on “the compensation game”. This past week, my brain went crazy. It was as if all those old thought patterns from when I was my sickest were now present. It was really scary because I knew what was happening and still kept doing it! I liked it and hated it at the same time (not hot pink at all)! I was confused. Why is this happening?
I told my team. Initially, I felt I could handle it. This has happened before and I’ve been able to stop. But then, huge RED FLAGS started showing up: not directly answering questions but not lying, worrying about numbers, food, and exercise amounts, planning my day around exercising, isolating, and feeling too much shame to tell my friends.
Yesterday, I went on a trail run in the mountains. I had mixed intentions before going. The mountains give me so much joy, freedom, and connection. I feel so close to God, the Creator of all that is around me in the mountains. I cannot explain the joy I feel! As I was out on the trail, my mind cleared. I realized that this slip had a purpose. As I reflected, I have a lot of stressful things happening in my life over the next four months. The biggest stressor in these upcoming events is the unknown. Anything can happen – positive, negative, or right smack in the hot pink!
All this fear and future tripping triggered this slip!
As I ran, I hiked when I needed, listened to my body, and I could feel my stress leave. I even ate appropriately yesterday even though I didn’t feel hungry. Sometimes I use my brain over my body when it comes to eating. I already feel back on track today! I am going to rest and eat. I am going to follow my team’s direction starting today. In the past, I would tank for months at a time and it would take months to get back on track. I have less shame today. Look I bounced back!
When I spoke at EDCare, I had someone ask me how I manage exercise is in my recovery. I said something like, “It’s still hard. It’s something I’ll always have to keep an eye on.” It’s true. It will always be my go-to and confusing. Exercise can be a good stress reliever BUT in cannot be the way I cope with stress all the time.
I hope you find great hope in knowing that I still struggle AND I’m still in recovery. My slips will never be like the past, when I was at my worst. I am still in recovery. There are dips, highs, flatlines, circles, and all sorts of shapes my recovery takes while still moving in a healthy holistic direction!