Exercise after a history of Eating Disorders: it’s about resetting the goal posts.

If you’ve struggled with eating disorders, you’ll know all about that little voice: the one which is obsessed with numbers on a scale, nutritional guidelines and calorie counting. When it comes to exercise, not much changes.

So often, to the mind of the person with anorexia or bulimia (or any ED that doesn’t fit neatly into a diagnostic box), the gym is an opportunity to lose weight. It’s about the number on the scales rather than getting stronger, feeling fitter and looking more toned.

Having been that person with a history of EDs, I am talking from experience. When I struggled with anorexia, I only did cardio and perhaps some pilates. I then stopped visiting the gym during my recovery for about one year. Many years later, I have started getting back into the gym, attending 2-4 times a week for the past two months. It’s been amazing. My anxiety fades whilst I’m in the ‘zone’, I get an endorphin rush and I feel mentally good about myself.

I have purposefully avoided weighing myself but came across my current weight when having routine measurements for a medical appointment. My weight was around about the same since I’d started getting back into fitness. It came as quite a surprise, because the ED voice in my head was convinced that my cross trainer cardio combined with cutting back on sugary foods must be equating to lost calories. This came as a shock and for a couple of hours, the former ED voice was being highly critical: you’re fat, you’re not trying hard enough, just stop eating – that will be the only solution… yet before I’d found out the weight I’d felt good about myself. What does this show? It’s all about our THOUGHTS and BELIEFS. If we are self-confident and love ourselves no matter the size, finding out an archaic number shouldn’t faze how we feel about ourselves.

Later that afternoon, I confronted the ED voice. I came to a realisation which is what I want to share with you today:

Exercise is not about just losing weight. It’s sole purpose is not to make us fit into a certain pair of jeans. It’s about becoming STRONGER, FITTER, HEALTHIER and MORE CONFIDENT in yourself. 

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We are all naturally a different size: our metabolisms vary, some of us might have bigger or smaller bones and a bigger/smaller frame. Muffin tops, love handles, cellulite… these are natural parts of life. Two people of the same height and weight might carry fat on their bodies in different areas and look so different! It’s therefore useless to compare ourselves to others are we are all built differently in the first place. How many babies are born at the exact same weight and size?! Even before we grow into children and adults, we are already pre-programmed to be a different shape.

So what’s my point? Exercise is about feeling good. It’s not about losing weight. It’s about getting healthier, no matter our size. In fact, as we get stronger, we might put on weight because of muscles.

I now go to the gym with all of this in mind. I realised that a long cardio session on the cross trainer is pointless if I’m only focusing on weight loss. I now go to the gym for things which are enjoyable. I go there to become stronger, and test myself to become faster and go further.

When I was at my lowest weight, I never would have achieved 8km on the treadmill.

To the eating disorder voice at the back of my mind: sure, I’m 20kg heavier now than when I had anorexia, but I’m also far happier, healthier and stronger.

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