Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My relationship with exercise.

I promised to detail my relationship with exercise in a post a while back. So I decided today was a good day to talk about it.

(This could be triggering for some people. If you are easily triggered by descriptions of other people's disordered behaviors don't read on.)

I've always been a sporty type of girl. I genuinely enjoyed the adrenalin rush you get from work out videos, sports and dancing. Before I knew what a scale was (basically) I spent at least an hour or so a day engaging in some kind of physical activity. Be it dancing, soccer or a long walk - I did it for the pleasure. There was rarely another motive involved. Obviously I knew exercise was healthy and kept you fit, but that's not really why I did it. I did it because it made me feel good and I enjoyed it.
I'd describe my relationship at this point as healthy.

Then I started becoming more weight conscious. My body started developing and I gained weight. At first I wasn't too concerned, but after a few people commenting that I'd "better start working out" I decided it was time to try to change my appearance. First it started off pretty innocently, although there were more and more days I'd FORCE myself to exercise, even if I didn't feel like it.
Then it started snowballing out of control. I HAD to exercise and hour each day, with only one "free day" a week. I would work out in the oddest times if I knew I was going to be busy that day. I didn't really restrict during that time, although I did try "dieting" on and off. I got to a stage where I would work out up to 3 hours a day if I had the time. That stage stopped after a short time, but anyone in their right minds could have told me that something was wrong and I wasn't heading on the right track.

Slowly but surely my "diet" got stricter and stricter and my exercise increased. At this point it varied from 1-2 hours a day. My food intake became more and more minimal, and usually my exercise schedule was dependent on it. At this point there were no "free days" unless I was sick or didn't eat that day.

Then my family did a mini "intervention" and I was forced to stop my restrictive eating habits. My exercise on the other hand, didn't change one bit. I upped my exercise in order to compensate for the added food. I stopped losing weight, and even gained some, but obviously my behavior was still very much disordered.

After a month or so of "normal" eating I slowly began restricting again. My exercise stayed at the same intensity, pretty much regardless of my eating habits. As my weight started dropping I was banned from exercise. I would still go for long walks and work out at night in my room. I wore weights around my ankles and would sit down as rarely as possible, just so I could "burn more calories".
I would say this is when my relationship with exercise was at it's worst point.

Then I was put into IP and wasn't allowed to exercise at all till I was nearly weight restored. Afterward I would exercise for about 30 minutes each day. For a normal person this would be healthy and even advisable, but my mentality was that I "HAD" to and that made it wrong. Then I started going to the gym, where I would work out for at least an hour a day. I was still eating "normally" so no one minded that much. I was advised to "take it easy" and "not push myself too hard", but somehow I always managed to allay the worries of those around me. But they were rightfully concerned, and deep inside my heart I knew it as well. I just didn't want to face the fact that I was slowly slipping backward, because I didn't want to stop.

After a while I got a job and had no time to go the gym anymore. But by then my food intake had dropped so low that I didn't even have enough energy to exercise, even if I had wanted to. I was waitressing, so standing on my feet for 6 hours a day, combined with early working hours and not enough food made me too tired to exercise. I figured that meant I was doing well. "I'm not exercising anymore" I would tell myself "This means I'm doing better, right?" Of course I was still losing weight, despite not exercising. Even as tired as I was on the days I had less working hours I would try to fit in some gym time. But for the most part I was just to physically fatigued to do anything of the sort.

Once I went into recovery the third time I was banned from exercise because of the critical weight I was at. Thankfully I was not as obsessive about my exercise habits as I had been before, because I hadn't been regularly working out in a while. What I struggled the most with was eating, as my stomach had gotten used to very small portions. I would still go on walks from time to time, and that was enough for me.

Now, looking back at my history with exercise I can say it's an area of my life I need to proceed with caution. At this point my struggles with food have lessened a great deal, but I catch myself wanting to do more then just walk and do yoga. Exercise DOES benefit me, because it definitely increases my appetite and helps my mood (endorphines and all that). But I need to bear in mind that it is easy for my to spiral out of control. Detailing my relationship with it helps me to clearly see my history, and where I'm coming from. I long for the day when I can have the same approach to exercise as I did when I was younger - when I would do it just for pleasure. Who knows, maybe someday?

Till then I still need to fight not to compare myself with others who can exercise more then me. I need to remember that my body is different, and I have a different history then they do. For some of us it's fine to add a bit more activity to our lives, to others it isn't. I just learn to be content with the fact that for now I need to go easy on myself and give my body the time it needs to heal. Then someday, when I'm in a better place, I can enjoy this aspect of life once again.

What's your relationship with exercise like? Do your past issues affect the way you see it now?


  1. Thank you for sharing your story with exercise. I can relate to pretty much every word on this post because I too had a shocking relationship with exercise - I still do! However, these days I refuse to run, go to the gym or any of that nonsense. I won't even use my elliptical that I bought when I was freaked out about no longer having a gym to go to. All I do is walk, lift weights when I want to and yoga a couple of times a week.

    I used to take yoga to the extreme when I first started recovering because it was my ONLY form of exercise. Now, I just see it as something to do when I need a good stretch :P


  2. oh good lord- this question... sigh. I used to LOVE LOVE LOVE running- it was my stress reliever in every way. I LOVED IT but then it became nothing more than something to enable my eating disorder- I would run even when I was injured and ever since I did treatment in June... other than one instance where I fainted at the gym - I have avoided exercising at all costs bc i know i can't do it in a healthy way yet...

    i know one day i will be able to...i hope



  3. I'm so hell-bent on comparing myself to others and feeling like I "have" to work out that it sickens me and I hope to improve my relationship with exercise soon. I really dislike when people say "all I do is..." or "I only run x miles." Seriously, you're exercising, you're being healthy, you don't have to act like what you're doing is no big deal and that it's the easiest thing in the world. (I hope I'm not offending anyone btw, this isn't intended to do that!) This triggers competitiveness inside and fuels my feelings of having to work out 6/7 days per week. I have been getting a bit better with relaxing or doing an easier workout when I'm tired, but I hope to one day get to the point where I can take more than 1 or even 2 days off when I'm tired. Thanks for sharing your experience as I know it can be troubling to discuss sometimes. :)

  4. I know what it's like to confuse your feelings of love for exercise with a feeling of obligation in order to burn calories. It sucks :/ I've actually written quite a few posts on it.
    But I'm really glad to see that you recognize when you are doing it because you feel like you HAVE to and when you really want to exercise. That can be tough to distinguish. And writing it down helps sometimes. So it's good that you had this post :)
    It sounds like you're doing great. Just keep talking back to the ED behaviors, and focus on keeping your body healthy so that you WILL have the willpower and energy to exercise for fun sometime soon!
    Thanks for this post. It's honest and means a lot to me.
    <3 Haley

  5. Thanks so much for sharing your story, I was the same way! I would just HAVE to exercise that day, if I did not exercise, I was a complete failure, a fattie. I would jog on the treadmill for 45 minutes, and then some even if I had an injury I would still exercise! I'm glad we both realize that this isn't normal, and it isn't fun either. I'm learning healthy exercise, and I hope you do too(: It should be meant to be a fun thing, not to burn calories.

  6. Wow! You are such a beautiful writer. I know the topic was not that happy, but your writing style made me happy to read it.

    Anyway, exercise and I never had any issues. I treat my ballet as an art, not an exercise, so I always forget that it does burn calories. Despite the fact that it is actually an exercise, I never lost weight directly from dancing. I would eat less and dance and lose, then I'd eat more and dance and gain. It was solely the food intake that made me loose or gain. I would have to say that I never "abused" exercise. During winter break last year when I had off from dance, I forced myself to use the elliptical for 1/2 hr, but it was only for three nights. My pure hatred for the conventional exercise actually beat ED out on that one.

    Geez L, I'm sorry I always ramble in your comment section. I think since you love exercise, fully recovering could be a great motive for you. When you heal, you can exercise and enjoy it the way you used to. It's another reason why you deserve to beat ED!