“If I Eat That, I’ll Have To Work Out”: Exercise With An Eating Disorder

Oh, Exercise. The ultimate double-edged sword of an eating disorder.

 

^BUT MY GOD, HOW CUTE IS THAT?

People ask me every so often “What was the hardest part of rehab?”

Depending on my mood, the answer varies.

“The food, the confinement, the emotion overload, the disparity of sick people… the exercise.”

Ah, the exercise, I always land on – or lack thereof.

3 years ago, I was escorted into rehab (yes, escorted. Two people at each side in the case that I bolted… and ran to the highway? I don’t know where the hell they expected me to go.)

Anyway, I remember looking around the vast expanse of my prison-like surroundings, and spotting what looked like a runner’s path.

Circular, brown dirted and perfectly suited to run on during what I assumed would be many hard days ahead, I was relieved to see this silver lining.

“YOU CAN TAKE MY BODY, BUT YOU CAN NEVER TAKE MY FREEDOM (TO EXERCISE)” – the William Wallace inside of me screamed. (Side note: Braveheart, oddly enough, happened to be a fan favorite to watch while in rehab. We were banned from all trash television, as well as any movie baring nudity of any sort – but yet, somehow, Braveheart slipped the radar.)

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As it goes.

Continue reading ““If I Eat That, I’ll Have To Work Out”: Exercise With An Eating Disorder”

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Eating Disorder Regret: Remembering My Best Friend On His Birthday*

 

The last night I ever saw my best friend alive-it was 9pm at a fraternity party at The University of Arkansas, and I was standing there in the front yard backing away from him because I needed to finish a run.

18-years old- my first week of college- he was visiting with his parents on his way to University of Mississippi.

Linds, he pleaded, reaching out for my shoulder. Just stay. Christ, you don’t need to run so much.

I’ll be back, I’d laughed – windshorts hitting my leg. I’ll run home and change and I’ll come back.

But it’s my only night here, he sputtered– yelling down the hill with a red solo cup in his hand– his shorts hanging at the knee. Promise you’ll come back?

Maybe, I’d waved, smiling. I’ll call Riley.

But I was gone before he answered–running. Running because I’d eaten 3 bowls of Special K Fruit N’ Yogurt. Running because I was scared and the ED voice was screeching– And in the end, I didn’t go back.

Scared of calories, scared of loss of control, scared of losing my underweight frame- I texted him.

Goodnight, I wrote, Have fun with Riley–

I met him in the morning– a letter in hand. I love you, I whispered, pulling him close.

Love you too, he mumbled– Because he didn’t know how to be mad.

Don’t be upset, I grinned. I wrote you a letter, didn’t I?

He took it from my hand. I wish you had come back, he said, before turning to get into his parents car.

See you later- drive safe, I waved as he and his parents pulled out of the parking lot– my best friend in the middle seat– his backpack with my letter.

I’ll see him soon–I thought- I’ll make it up later.

And then you– my best friend– who carried me to bed when I fell asleep on the couch.

One month later– you pretty little boy– You fell from a tree, and you died.

8 years later I will always regret not spending that night with you.

Happy 27th Birthday Bradley Jameson- You are so loved and missed! Made that video above 6 years ago, and the only thing I’d change is some of my weak grammar. Love to you, your fam, and our friends that made this video (and the hours of film I still have somewhere in my parents house) possible.

Eating disorders kill, it’s true; but they kill your memories before they ever kill you.

BMJ
8/16/2007, the last morning I saw my BMJ (Left of me)

Living With Body Dysmorphic Disorder

The truth about body dysmorphia? It’s so bloody hard to manage.

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String Test: What my thigh actually is vs what I thought in rehab.

Continue reading “Living With Body Dysmorphic Disorder”

WellandGood.com: 5 Brilliant Observations About Fitness And Body Image From Lena Dunham

5 brilliant observations about fitness and body image from Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham

If you follow Lena Dunham on Instagram, you’ve probably noticed that the Girls creator and actor has been developing lots of active habits.

So it’s no surprise that espnW tapped Dunham to share her thoughts on fitness and body image in an interview for its My Body Can campaign.

In the interview, Dunham discusses her surprising new fondness for running (and more established love for Tracy Anderson), what she likes about her body, and the ways exercise has improved her life, like helping her deal with anxiety.

Here are five of her brilliant observations from the interview:

1. “It [running] was the last thing I wanted to do. When it became something that actually gave me pleasure, I was shocked. Also, endorphins are real. You run with someone for an hour, you feel pretty good. Running for an hour does not make you feel worse.”

2. “When I go through weeks of not exercising, it’s easy to convince myself I don’t need to go to the gym today. I have to remind myself that when you exercise, there is a natural calm that comes from knowing that you did something with your body that day. Actually going and working out makes everything else easier and better.”

3. “As I get older, I’m realizing more and more that it doesn’t really matter if I’m good at it, it just matters that I try. My own effort, my own willingness, are becoming what’s appealing to me.”

4. “When we do exercise, when we really own and understand our bodies and claim our physicality, our superficial quibbles with our bodies lessen because we realize what our bodies can do for us. My relationship to eating, my relationship to critiquing my own shape, all of that has changed since I’ve started viewing my body much more as a tool to do my work. That’s been huge for me.”

5. “I have been 30 pounds heavier and I’ve been 30 pounds lighter, and it has never had an effect on my ability to find love or connect with people. What had an effect on my ability to find love or connect with people was never my thighs, it was how I felt about myself and the love that I was giving to myself.”

To read the complete interview, visit www.espn.go.com

(Photo: Instagram/lenadunham)

Check Out My Greatist.com Article On Exercise Addiction!

Running was a love affair that started from a healthy place.

It was March of my senior year of college when I first laced up a pair of running shoes and hopped on the treadmill. This was for me alone, a way to regain control of my life. Days earlier a court-ordered breathalyzer was installed in my car after I’d been arrested for driving under the influence—drinking pinot noir had gone from a casual college habit to three glasses every night when my bartending shift ended.

“Stretch your legs out,” I remember thinking as I reached the treadmill. “Take a deep breath. Turn up the music. Get a hold of your life.”

I pushed “go’’ and ran four miles. Walking out of the gym that day, the fatigue in my legs felt like the kind of self-control I needed to keep me on track. I repeated this the next day and the day after that. Before I knew it, two months had passed, and I was running six miles, four times a week with an almost never-ending runner’s high.

I made it a point to outrun all of the people on the treadmills around me, and for the first time in a while, I felt good about the direction my life was going. All the recklessness and self-hatred lifted when I watched that treadmill turn another mile, music blaring so loud that it felt like I was screaming all the thoughts from my mind.

By month two, my ribs started to poke out, reminding me of what it felt like to be the thinnest girl in the room. It was a badge of honor I enjoyed in elementary and middle school—I was known as “skinny Linny” until I hit my teens and puberty set in. My parents praised my new “regimented” lifestyle while my girlfriends grew jealous. “You’re so tiny, Linds!” they’d say, grabbing my arm. But I’d wave them off. “I just needed to give up the wine,” I’d say with a laugh.

Next thing I knew, I was on the treadmill nearly every day. The more I ran, the less I ate. I’d sit at the table with my fists clenched, secretly congratulating myself on how much self-control running had given me. I’d gloat in the mirror at night as I massaged my thighs with my thumbs and marveled at their definition. Then I’d give myself a big hug to feel the bones in my back. As I got more and more obsessed with my vanity, I knew I could never lose running—that I could never feel this confident without it.

The Tailspin

Three weeks after graduating, I hopped on a plane to Seville, Spain to start my new life as an au pair. I reasoned that moving away from the comforts of home would be good for me (and give me something new to focus on besides my looks). But two days into my stay, the compulsion to find the treadmill consumed me. Instead of exploring this new foreign city, I found myself walking around, map in hand, asking passersby where the local “gimnasio” was in my broken Spanish.

Anxiety mounted to new extremes as I realized I was in a society that was far less obsessed with the latest fad diet, and far more engrossed with the local white bread and sangria. Unable to find the food I deemed healthy, I started throwing up in my host parents’ bathroom to avoid the extra calories. Soon running six miles a day didn’t seem like enough to burn off the calories I ate.

“Eat only the food you can count,” I wrote in my diary. Eat 250 calories in the morning and run five miles. Eat fewer than 10 bites for lunch. Run four miles after. Walk one mile to pick up children from school.

Being thin—and feeling totally in control of my body—gave me the kind of self-gratification high I didn’t want to climb down from.

“You are too thin,’’ my host mother clucked six months in, but I’d just smile my big toothy grin and brush her aside.

“Was I a little too thin?” I wondered as my jeans loosened in the back, or when I woke in the middle of the night, clutching my legs as they cramped. “Maybe,” I thought as I crawled down the marble stairs with tears welling in my eyes from the sharp pain in my back. But the muscle pain, even when it seemed unbearable, couldn’t stop me. Being thin—and feeling totally in control of my body—gave me the kind of self-gratification high I didn’t want to climb down from.

The Breaking Point

After one year in Spain, I moved home to Texas, where my compulsion to exercise escalated to a level I felt both empowered and controlled by. Exercising became my identity. I’d run 16 miles one day then 10 the next. If I took a rest day, I threw up. I had constant pain in both shins that shot through my legs. But the pain dulled when I ran so I pushed ahead, even after doctors told me I had stress fractures in both legs and needed to give up running cold turkey.

My weight sank and the compliments faded. I could see the pity in my friends’ eyes when I hobbled late to a dinner—the perfect excuse to always miss appetizers—but I refused to believe I was sick enough. If I lost five more pounds and got down to what I truly deemed a sickly weight, I told myself I’d let up a bit.

I knew that I was teetering on the edge of something bad, but I only thought about eating disorders as a weight thing. I’d find myself scrolling through Instagram photos of painfully emaciated “pro-ana” women and compare their sickness with my own. Since I didn’t have a thigh gap, I told myself I couldn’t have an eating disorder. Around the same time, I heard about exercise bulimia, but those searches turned up pictures of people with more bulging musles than I knew existed. None of them looked like me.

Another six months passed, and I jumped at the opportunity to move to New York and take my first job in publishing. I thought this would be the move that would help me find a change of pace and something besides running to obsess about. But the pull of the treadmill didn’t let up. My busy work schedule made trips to the gym difficult, yet I’d find myself sneaking out of networking events to head back into the 24-hour Planet Fitness, my teeth stained purple from the free wine.

My behavior became increasingly erratic. More than once, I ran completely intoxicated, my foot slipping off the side of the treadmill, but I’d just laugh it off with the gym employee. Like a hamster on a wheel, I couldn’t stop moving. I’d walk eight miles home from work and then head to the gym to run another 10.

Increasingly bulimic, I’d binge eat a box of cereal at home and then throw it up before forcing myself back to the treadmill. My energy dwindled and I started to wake up with a sore throat, a dry mouth, and a bloated stomach.

I’d find myself sneaking out of networking events to head back into the 24-hour Planet Fitness, my teeth stained purple from the free wine.

If it hadn’t already,body dysmorphiaconsumed my every waking moment. I stopped showering with any kind of consistency because I couldn’t deal with the stress of being naked. Fearful that I took up too much space on the subway, I wouldn’t let myself sit down between people, and instead spent many rides fighting back tears.

At the urging of a therapist, four months after my move to New York, I told my parents that I was struggling. They were willing to do whatever it took to help, but I wasn’t ready to give up my exercise—the only thing I was sure would make me feel better. The final straw came when I went home for Thanksgiving that year. Weary of my eating, my parents counted the cereal boxes in the pantry before we left for a wedding. When I woke up the next day, they confronted me with two empty boxes I’d binged on the night before. Rehab on call, I went without a fight.

The Recovery

Stripped of both running and alcohol, I had to relearn who I wanted to be without the aid of a drug—and yes, exercise was my drug. We live in a society where exercising and focusing on clean eating are the signs of a healthy (and even sought after) lifestyle—and I was able to hide behind that for years. While exercise is important for our health, it can also be used as a coping mechanism.

Growing up with a family that swore by the gym, I thought of exercise as a positive way to blow off steam. When my best friend passed away unexpectedly at the start of college, I found the gym to be a saving grace, the only place to subdue the grief.

Exercise is scientifically proven to boost moods, and it helps many achieve balance in their lives. But exercise is not immune to the same types of dependency and abuse that booze and drugs carry when it’s escalated to a level of obsession.

Fresh out of rehab, I assumed I was mentally capable to go back to a “healthy running” routine, but I quickly found myself sucked back into the hole of calorie counting and compulsion. Running had been my identity for so long that I felt anxious without it. At the advice of my therapist, I turned in the towel and spent all of last year using my old gym time to discover the other things I wanted out of life. I changed jobs. I went to a book club. I finally started a blog. I recently started dating again and instead of shying away from my past, I told him exactly who I was—and much to my surprise, he stuck around.

Running had been my identity for so long that I felt anxious without it.

One year later, I’ve accepted that I will always have a challenging relationship with the gym. I’m still learning how to accept the idea of exercise as something that is an addition to a balanced life, and not thedefinition of a successful one. I’m far more mindful of the fact that running will not fix any discomfort I feel. It’s a Band-Aid, not a stitch. I’ve started working out again, but I stop myself from heading to the treadmill and obsessing over the digital readout of calories burned and miles run. I take classes instead—bootcamp, barre, Zumba—you name it, I’ll try it. I’ve even come to enjoy them. I like the feeling of my body growing stronger, not weaker. And on weekends, I rest. I eat veggie burgers and fries. I lie in bed watching Netflix because sometimes it’s nice to do nothing.

While I’ll can’t go back and change the past, I now know that I can choose to be mindful—thinking in terms of self-love and self-respect—of the way I live from here on out. And as I finish my story, sitting here at my computer, I’m choosing to be mindful of that.