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Let's Get Coffee: Exercising with an Eating Disorder

January 20, 2018

 

 

Hi loves,

 

I'm a bit annoyed because I just spent an hour writing this "Let's Get Coffee", and the whole thing somehow got deleted. So that's fun. Let's try this again.

 

Inspired by the New Year, I've decided that I want to get back into working out regularly. Before you roll your eyes at this (since everyone's New Years resolution is getting to the gym more), it's a bit different when you're struggling with an eating disorder.

 

I genuinely like working out. But one of the strongest elements of an eating disorder is an obsession with food and body image, so while most people can rationalize, "if I'm working out more, I need to eat more, in order to refuel my body" my brain instead thinks, "I'm working out more, so if I also restrict on top of this, I can lose even more weight." But this mentality has often left me feeling weak, lightheaded, and malnourished. Last year, I went through a few months where I worked out rigorously, almost every day, but I became really obsessive about it. I thought I was doing good things for my eating disorder, because with all the exercise, I wasn't really purging. I finally had to give up exercising because I pushed myself to a new limit- I was working out on an empty stomach while I had the flu. This left me sick and weak for days. Crazy, right? Most people associate health with going to the gym, but I had to give it up in order to save mine. 

 

Having an eating disorder is like having two voices in your head that can't stop fighting. There's logic, and there's emotion- eating disorders run on emotions. I am completely capable of distinguishing rational and irrational thoughts, logical explanations and disordered desires- but that does not mean I will choose what is rational. 

 

My eating disorder tends to work in binaries- "you can do this, or this. You can choose this, or that." My ED has done this with exercise and food. Somehow, my brain has pitted the two against each other, when in reality, I need both. I deserve to exercise and eat. I deserve both. I realize this isn't groundbreaking to most people, but when my therapist told me I deserved both, I nearly cried.

 

In my first Let's Get Coffee about my eating disorder, I talked about how many disordered behaviors have become normalized by society. Things like dieting, counting calories, excessive exercising, skipping meals...normal people do this. I personally know people who "overcame" their eating disorder, or stopped purging by taking up strict diets and exercising. I put "overcame" in quotations because in reality, nothing is fixed. Eating disorders exist in the brain, not in a select set of actions. Giving up purging by exercising rigorously or controlling your diet is not solving your eating disorder, you're simply finding something new to obsess about. Eating disorders are about control- whether one is taking that control through purging, counting calories, or obsessing over the latest fad-diet or juice cleanse, the eating disorder is still alive. 

 

Knowing what I didn't know a year ago, I am hoping to avoid my previous mistakes. I will continue seeing my therapist and my dietitian, and work on rewiring my brain. This time, I am getting back into exercising because I like it, not as a method to solve my eating disorder, or abstain from purging- and that makes all the difference.

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