Today she is going to share her thoughts & experiences with learning how to trust herself & her body after dealing with an eating disorder.
I’m grateful for the discussions we’ve had so far about body image, emotional eating, & losing weight without resorting back to an eating disorder. I hope Emma’s thoughts on exercising after an eating disorder will add to the discourse.
Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below!
When you join a gym, they ask you what your goals are.
This question might seem quite innocent, but as someone who has had a disordered relationship with food and exercise in the past, it highlights a deeper issue that I come across every time I exercise – Why am I doing this? Is it a way of negating what I’ve eaten today? Is it a way of sculpting my body into something that I might – just maybe – be able to consider okay? Is it me accepting that I will never be as thin as I once was, but only on the grounds that I’m fit and toned?
Since my recovery from anorexia, I had been avoiding exercise.
The reality is that after having used it as a weapon and a punishment for so long, I don’t trust myself with it. The fear that it will send me back into a spiral of self-hate and dissatisfaction is strong.
A part of me doubts that I can ever exercise again without the underlying motivations to improve the way I look, which in my experience is a moving target that never leads to contentment. There is no moment when you think to yourself, “Right, NOW I’m truly happy.” There’s always a little more to improve, a little further to go.
Of course, shunning exercise completely isn’t a healthy way to live.
What you eat might have the biggest influence on your weight, but we all know that exercising is a key part of being healthy and feeling alive.
When I was in the thick of my anorexia, there was a small list of foods that I ate often – carrots, lettuce, a few other vegetables. Does recovery mean never eating a salad again, never biting into a crunchy carrot or crispy piece of lettuce again for fear that it will spark a relapse?
Recovery is not about shunning everything you did at your worst, but rather about shifting your motivations and finding balance.
I do eat salads often, but rather than being dry lettuce, they include avocado, pumpkin seeds, olive oil and chickpeas. I do eat carrots, but when I feel like smothering them in hummus or pesto, (a.k.a all the time, because hummus) I smother away.
Could the same apply to exercise?
Could I change the reasons why I exercise, and change all that surrounds my exercise?
This is what I’m trying to do.
So I ask myself: What are my goals? Why am I here?
What if my goals were to feel my body?
This is what my body feels like when I am lifting weights.
This is what it feels like when I am running.
This is what it feels like when I’m glowing after a class I had no motivation for.
And this is what it feels like when I decide to stay in bed and relish a bit more sleep instead.
That might be my ideal attitude towards exercise, but living in a society that values appearance over experience means it will take patience, dedication and trust.
A big part of eating disorders is a lack of trust.
You don’t trust your body to ask for reasonable amounts of food, to stay at a steady weight, to know when it’s eaten enough. You begin to believe that eating according to your hunger is dangerous, that your body needs to be controlled at all times.
And conversely, your body stops trusting you to feed it regularly and to look after it. It has no idea if the next ‘famine’ is just around the corner, so whenever you do feed it, it demands as much food as possible.
You become locked in battle against yourself – with your mind desperately trying to stay in control and your body desperately trying to stay alive.
I have escaped that battle with food. I know I can do the same with exercise.
This is me saying, I trust myself.
I trust myself with chocolate, carrots, lettuce and peanut butter – and everything in between.
I trust my body over the measuring cup and the scale.
I trust myself to listen, to know when to stop and to know when to go a little further.
And yes, I trust myself with exercise.