Last week I came across Isabel Barganier's article, I've Recovered From An Eating Disorder And Exercise Addiction... Now What? In it, Isabel communicates a story that many women easily relate to: her seemingly innocent passions for exercise and eating healthy somehow developed into unhealthy, suffocating holds that began to damage her relationship with food, exercise, and her body. After recognizing her disordered behaviors, Isabel worked hard to enter recovery, where she could return to a normal state of health and mind.
But now what? Once you've recognized your disordered eating and exercise behaviors, vow to get better, and feel like you've entered recovery...then what? What does recovery even look like? What does "recovered" look like? Isabel talks about wanting to get back into health and fitness in a healthy way, but she felt like she went from "a fitness PRO to a complete newbie." Now that she feels recovered, she feels "ready to be simultaneously healthy and fit, rather than hurting [her] body while trying to be fit," but where do you start? To keep the conversation going, I want to share a little about my recovery and healing process with exercise and my body.
1. It's okay, sometimes even necessary, to completely remove yourself from your triggers.
Initially, when I decided it was time to recover from my disordered behaviors, I had an extremely negative reaction to almost any sort of physical activity. I had previously been using over-exercising as a method of purging, and I was scared to fall back into that trap.
For a while, I avoided all physical activity that resembled a workout. I even opted out of physically strenuous yoga poses in yoga classes, because simple things like "warrior 1" triggered a memory of days I used to spend hours lunging to "work off" a piece of chocolate. The familiar feeling of my muscles burning scared me, so I avoided it, truly believing that working out was somehow the “bad guy.”
2. But at some point, you're going to have to deal with the emotions that lie underneath those triggers.
But I shouldn’t feel like my world is ending when my yoga teacher asks me to do warrior one, plank, or chair pose. What's going on? It became clear that I was not doing as well as I had thought, that "recovered" is a process that I was still going through.
Somewhere along my journey with exercise and my body, I had decided to cut out working out altogether rather than deal with the issues that working out was causing. I had thought that in order to get rid of my issues, I needed to just “let it [working out] go.” And maybe for a time that was true, but for the long term, I needed to heal my relationship with working out. I realized that at some point my commitment to letting go became a way to flee my emotions rather than feel them.
3. Seek help.
With my yoga teachers and a yoga therapist, I then began the process of fully healing my relationship with exercise and my body. I found the courage to stop avoiding the thing that scared me, and I learned to accept my feelings and deal with them before I let them go.
4. Exercise is not a punishment, so find a movement practice you enjoy.
Stop forcing yourself to workout, and never workout to "make up" for something you ate. This kind of logic is mentally and emotionally damaging and doesn't even physically make sense.
To avoid the above habit, maybe you don't go back to the type of exercise you used to do when you discovered your disordered behaviors. It can be helpful to find a new, different form of working out to work with as you build a healthy relationship with exercise and your body. The biggest thing for me was finding a movement practice that actually brought me joy. This means that I was not participating in a compulsory exercise, or exercise because I thought I had to do it. I was exercising because I actually wanted to. For example, instead of running on cardio machines, which I despised, I started going to Zumba, which I had so much fun at. This helped me to rediscover exercise as something you do to love your body, not hate it.
5. Be flexible, and don't compare yourself to other people.
I exercise regularly, but I do not force myself to follow a strict schedule anymore. Instead, I listen to my body and give it the kind of movement it is asking for! Some cardio days I want to mindlessly watch an episode of "Shameless" while climbing the stair master, but other times I just want to leisurely roller skate around campus. I like to lift weights, but sometimes I'm really not feeling it. On those days, maybe I'll rock climb instead. Or I'll take the day off, and that's okay, too. It's all about listening to your body and finding a schedule and an exercise that fits you rather than forcing yourself to fit into a certain schedule or exercise.
Recovery is not linear, and it has taken a lot to get to where I am today. I am forever committed to continuing my journey of learning and healing, and I hope this article may help someone else on their journey!