When I was a little girl I exercised because I enjoyed it. I did ballet from age four to fourteen because I was in love with the grace and beauty of the movements, and how happy it made me feel. I took swim lessons from age five to eleven because there was something so freeing about being in the water. I took gymnastics from age four to eleven because I loved how I felt flying through the air. I took tap classes from age five to fifteen because there was something so incredible about making music and dancing with my feet. I did all of those activities because I genuinely loved them, and not at all for the purpose of trying to change my body.
My relationship with dance transformed as I got older and tried to get closer to dancing professionally. I became obsessed with achieving the body type I was taught to associate with a successful dancer. That drive for perfectionism fueled a lot of my eating disorder, and that developed into an unhealthy relationship with exercise. When I was in treatment for restricting type anorexia about five years ago I had to stop dancing. My treatment team felt that it was necessary for my mental and physical health to step away from the world of dance.
That break ended up lasting about four years. Back in January I finally reconnected with dance and was thrilled that it went so smoothly. Dancing helped me remember how good it felt to move my body. It was such a positive experience that I wanted to be even more active than taking a dance class once a week. I wanted to try reintroducing other forms of exercise that I had been afraid of since they became parts of my eating disorder. I tried walking on a treadmill that I have at home and noticed that I wasn’t really enjoying it. I felt like I had to go a certain distance to have a good enough workout, and I didn’t want to get back into that mentality. I tried Zumba DVDs that I have but noticed my inner critic being incredibly loud. I tried finding some various circuits online that used weights. They felt okay, but I didn’t really look forward to doing them.
I had been doing this trial and error since around the middle of February and was consistently becoming frustrated. I was worried that exercise may always be this obsession, and no longer about the enjoyment I had when I was younger. Several treatment professionals have told me that reintroducing exercise to someone with a history of an eating disorder was a slippery slope. I started to think that they were right, and I began feeling defeated.
Somehow I came across a personal trainer & nutritionist’s account on Instagram. I looked through her photos and saw this strong woman who exercised regularly and ate intuitively. She also appeared very body positive and had gone through her own challenges around relationships with food and exercise. Well, that lovely woman’s name is Mallory King (Instagram – @mallorykingfitness), and I am now in my third week of working with her. I had my hesitations about working with someone new because of all of my history. I was honestly afraid that Mallory would too. I was worried that when I told her about my eating disorder she would think I was too risky of a client, but she didn’t. She told me that she believed I could maintain my recovery while she helped me heal my relationships with food and exercise. She created a nutrition and fitness program for me, and despite my fears, I was really excited to try something new. I hoped that maybe this would finally give me the tools I needed to take my recovery with food and exercise to the next level. Luckily, it has been.
The nutrition aspect of it has been so educational. I have been more mindful of my hunger cues the last two weeks than I had been for the last month or two. I have not once had a restrictive thought or behavior. I am still over nine months eating disorder behavior free. I am still eating all of the foods I love, but realizing that I often feel satisfied with the suggested serving rather than how much I used to have. I have gotten into such a great rhythm with food just over the course of two weeks and that has made me so happy.
I am even more pleased with how the exercise aspect has been feeling. The workouts are hard, but I listen to my body and I push myself a reasonable amount. Not because I’m trying to change my body or burn more calories, but because I want to get stronger. I have discovered that lifting weights feels empowering! I love seeing what my body can do. Now that I am in my third week I have seen such an improvement in my strength. The very first workout I did from Mallory’s program left me stiff and sore for five days. I did an even harder version of that same workout yesterday and I barely feel sore. I’ve noticed that exercising helps me sleep better, and feel less stressed. I’ve noticed how much more energy I have during the day because of working out. I am getting up after seven or eight hours of sleep and feeling great all day. I often don’t feel the need or desire for coffee or a nap in the afternoon. Exercising has honestly made me feel more proud of my body because of what all it can do.
Yes, exercising with a history of an eating disorder is scary. Yes, it can be dangerous. However, I was already in a very stable and solid mental state when I started working with Mallory, and I think that has worked to my advantage so much. For so long I have felt as though mentally I was mostly free from my eating disorder, but physically I still felt trapped because of my complicated relationships with food and exercise. Now I am starting to feel freer both mentally and physically.
I created this quote for a display at the 2016 Portland NEDA Walk, and now more than ever I feel as though I am really embracing it.
“Recovery means learning who I truly am on the inside, and striving to be the best version of myself.” – Emily Locke
Recovery is a process of trial and error. It is frustrating and complicated. The moments when I feel like I am genuinely finding out who I am outside of my eating disorder make the many years of hard work so worth it. Recovery IS possible!
Feature image credit: unknown. Contact me if you know the source. Thank you.