Liv vs. Exercise: Part 1

Growing up, I always had a love for fitness. I was very active in sports and trained at a competitive level. Running was always one of my favorite pastimes.

As my eating disorder began to get worse, my relationship with fitness took a very dark turn. I became OBSESSED with the numbers. I would go to the gym with a pre-determined number that I must burn off before I was allowed to leave. I never saw anything disordered about this because it was easy then to just convince myself that I wanted to be in better shape for soccer season.

I would go to the gym sometimes more than once a day being completely controlled by the numbers showing up on the machine. No matter how sick I felt, I could not get myself to stop before I hit the number I decided on for the day because if I stopped, Ana would NOT be happy. It didn’t matter if I came to the verge of blacking out— If I didn’t reach that number I was a failure.

As I started treatment, exercise was one of the first things stripped away from me. My relationship with exercise was not healthy and my team knew my obsession with numbers would not get better if I kept going to the gym or doing my ‘secret’ workout ritual at home. I was furious.

As I got stronger in my recovery, fitness would slowly get re-introduced. During these times, when I would go to the gym, I would cover up the numbers on the machine so I didn’t get obsessive over what I was doing. However, no matter how hard I tried to work out in a healthy way, it didn’t last long before I relapsed over the obsession of numbers and lost my privileges to work out.

It felt like a never ending cycle. I was upset and embarrassed with myself. It only became more challenging when I got to college and my friends all wanted to play intramurals or work out together. I always had to find some excuse as to why I couldn’t play. I was always too embarrassed to share the real reason I couldn’t join them was because I was on exercise restriction.

This summer I started running again for the first time in a long time– I started running a lot. I haven’t been visited by the voice that loves the numbers…or at least I don’t think I have been. The most challenging part in recovery for me now is trying to establish what is disordered vs what is not. My relationship with exercise had been toxic for so long that sometimes I wonder if it will ever be healthy. When I wake up and decide how many miles I want to run, I have to question myself and ask WHY I want to run so bad. Do I want to run because I enjoy it? Or do I want to run because I have to hit a certain number?

Anorexia is one giant mind game and trying to tell the differences between her voice and my own is not always the easiest. This is a chapter of my recovery story that is not yet fully healed and I am not sure when it will be. Will I ever be able to have working out as a part of my life in a healthy way? I really am not sure. I am just taking it moment by moment and doing my best to listen to the needs of my body.

Exercise

The other day I went on my first run since before I went inpatient in February. This was a big deal for me because I LOVE running, but I was not allowed to run for a while. I had to miss out on participating in intramurals at school and for awhile I could not even go to the studio that I practice ballet at. It was so embarrassing for me to explain that I could not do these activities because I simply could not take care of my own body.

There are many reasons why I could not exercise. It is very common for people suffering with an eating disorder to suffer problems with their heart as a result of malnutrition. Along with that my body was also extremely dehydrated/still is from refusing to put anything inside. And yet with all the nasty side effects, people still glamorize this disease…

One of the biggest reasons I could not exercise was because I would have blacking out spells fairly frequently (as I fuel my body they start to decrease). In April I was hooked up to a 24-hour heart motor to see what was causing these constant blackouts. Turns out my resting heart rate averaged at about 35 beats per minute. I have bradycardia (abnormally low heart beat) but this was about 10 beats lower for me than normal.

This sucked. I spent the majority of the month of April having to take breaks walking up stairs because my body physically could not handle it. I went from running 5 miles to hardly being able to walk up a flight of stairs.

I kept telling myself I need to do this for the boys I watch. I love to run around with them, but my body was starting to not be able to handle it. It was not fair to them if I couldn’t race around the block anymore because I could not get myself to eat lunch.

This was and still is my motivation. I know I should aim to recover for myself, but the boys I nanny and the kids I work with really is what gets me out of bed on rough days. They are my happiness when I cannot find happiness within myself.

So going on this run the other day was monumental. The best part about recovering is when I am allowed to do the things I used to enjoy so much again.

There is only one thing that scares me about being able to exercise again. I am afraid I will lose control again. I am afraid that I will start to abuse my running. I over exercised to the point of exhaustion far too frequently. I used to not let myself get off a bike or elliptical until I hit my “perfect” number. Even when my body was begging me to stop I would not do it. I am hoping that by being aware of this problem that I will not take advantage of it again. Running makes me happy- it should not be making me sick.

With the summer camp I work at starting up soon it is so important that I am taking care of my body. My work hours are going to be long and I NEED to be healthy to do a good job. I owe it to my coworkers, the kids, but most importantly I owe it to MYSELF.