Exercise and I have had a tumultuous relationship, to say the least. In middle and high school, when I was overweight and depressed, I hated any and all forms of exercise. I felt inadequate and ashamed of the fact that I wasn’t active like a “normal” person should be. As I grew older, I began to enjoy exercise more, going for walks with friends and working out at the gym occasionally. Yet I still felt inadequate, always assuming that I needed to be doing more. As far as I was concerned, my status as an overweight person meant that I would have to force unpleasant exercise on myself for the rest of my days if I wanted to stop being overweight. Food and exercise had nothing to do with listening to my body. Food was an indulgence that I didn’t deserve and exercise’s primary role was to beat myself into submission.
The core beliefs behind the diet and exercise regimen that led to my eating disorder were as follows:
1. I cannot be trusted around food and don’t know how to listen to my body
2. Exercise must be hard, and it must be forced. As an overweight person, no excuse for skipping exercise is acceptable.
I followed these rules to the letter for months, and they turned me into the scared, underweight, overworked girl that I was one year ago. They turned me into the girl that did the same ab and butt workout every fucking day. They turned me into the girl that ran for an hour and a half on Sundays no matter what because the fear of weight gain did not allow her to rest, who felt like a failure when her back and hip pain became too severe to push through a grueling run.
In recovery, I have tried multiple times to assess my exercise habits, but I have never been entirely honest with myself about my attitudes toward exercise. Don’t get me wrong, exercise has become much more pleasant than it was a year ago. I no longer force myself to do a specific machine for exactly a certain amount of time out of fear of becoming lazy if there is any variation whatsoever. I do, however, still exercise based on the belief that my body cannot be trusted. I exercise because I believe that, as a formerly overweight person, I will have to force it upon myself for the rest of my life. I believe that, without a certain type and amount of exercise, I do not have the right to eat when I am hungry.
The above statements were hard for me to type because I want so desperately to believe that they are no longer true. However, with some reflection, I am acutely aware that these types of beliefs are the ones feeding my still-disordered ideas about exercise. I want to believe that I can listen to my body, and forced exercise makes it awfully hard to hear its requests.
In addition to acknowledging that my views toward exercise are not jiving with what I want to believe about myself and my body, I have another reason for reconsidering exercise. I still have not had a monthly period naturally since I started intensively exercising and severely restricting food, nearly two years ago. Although doctors have prescribed birth control for me, I badly want to believe that my body is capable of restoring itself to health on its own if I give it the chance to do so. And, after doing some reading on the Internet, I have seen some wonderfully encouraging stories about eliminating high-intensity exercise and/or eating more in order to bring back a missing period. I have nothing left to lose, and the possibilities of regaining a significant indicator of health and one day being able to reproduce are more than worth the risk.
The decision to do this was utterly terrifying for me. Even as I type this, I am thinking about how lazy I will feel without my short jogs, intense elliptical sessions, and challenging bike rides. But I don’t want to exercise simply to rid myself of the anxiety of feeling lazy. I want to exercise because I enjoy movement, which I genuinely do when I’m doing it for the right reasons.
When I think past the disordered thoughts and past the fears of laziness, I’m eager and excited to participate in this experiment. I will be able to move my body the way I want to, through gentle yoga, walking, and leisurely bike rides. I will be able to listen to my body and hear what it needs from me better than I ever could with disordered whispers begging for excessive exercise in my ears. I will be able to walk my dog or walk myself and enjoy the world around me.
This decision is definitely scary. Eliminating intense exercise without compensating in other disordered ways will be hard. However, one year ago I decided to stop weighing vegetables on my food scale as a small step in recovery. At the time, it was petrifying to me. But I did it, I survived, and life has become infinitely more vibrant and beautiful since.
If you’re interested in what testimonies I have found that have prompted this experiment, I highly recommend the following awesome links about restoring one’s menstrual cycle with increased food intake and less exercise: