From Exercise Addiction To Learned Balance

Years ago, caught up in the cycle of body dysmorphia, self-loathing and the belief that if I reached a the perfect body size, love, success, and happiness would magically happen for me. Yes, I believed that changing my outside would finally allow me to have the life I craved. This thought didn’t appear to me out of nowhere. Everyday thousand of images barraged my psyche further convincing me that if I only looked the way I was supposed to then my life would in fact be perfect but that just shows what was going on inside of me was not normal. Exercise became my religion. Other people went to church while I went to the gym and stood in the first row, overeager to prove my commitment to this new life, this new me. Teachers actually, missed me when I didn’t show up. I began running three miles to the gym nearly daily and putting in another few hours on the machines and classes. Of course my body changed, tightened up, slimmed down but I couldn’t see it. My insides were so broken that all I noticed were the other women in the classes, waiting at the light, at the beach, café, everywhere. Compared to them I still had so much farther to go so I befriended the teachers convinced that if I spent personal time with them then I would learn their secret sauce, the ingredient that made the different between looking good and being perfect because that was the piece dangling outside of my grasp. One bite of food sent me working out even more obsessively burning off whatever calories I consumed. Eating and exercising slipped out of the realm of normal and became unhealthy places to focus my attention and boy did I quickly graduate to the top of the crazy class. Before long I became something I didn’t know had a name. I became an exercise bulimic.

Of course I learned immediately that normal brained people do not become addicted to exercise but I wasn’t normal, not when it came to diet, food and exercise. I actually developed all forms of bulimia, bingeing and purging, laxative abuse and exercise bulimia. Yay, for me. At the height of my exercise bulimia my thoughts ran on a loop, working out and getting rid of the calories that I consumed from bingeing or anorexic eating. Another component was the inability to really see my body. I had no idea what my body looked like and the scale didn’t help. There was always that last ten pounds. Someone joked that the only acceptable weight for a food addict was ten pounds. I’m sure it was meant to be funny but it wasn’t. I found it painful. Eventually no matter how little I ate and how often I worked out my body kept growing. The hardwiring of my body went haywire. Eventually, I hit a wall with over-exercising, laxative abuse, and comparing and despairing my body against other women and it had to stop or I was not going to make it.

I began the long and arduous road to recovery, letting go of bingeing, purging, over-exercising, anorexia, laxative abuse and any other means of controlling my food. In recovery I learned coping skills: writing, helping others, keeping my side of the street clean and admitting when I am wrong. I let go of the belief that fixing my outsides alone would be enough to heal my insides. I had no idea how fragile I had been until I stopped yo-yo dieting and fasting and began working on my mind, body and spirit. With a strong support system I delved deep, uncovering layers of hurt, and healing the wreckage of my past. For the first time in years I felt freedom from the obsession, pain and fear that if I stopped exercising my world, like a house of cards would come crashing in on me. Recovery also allowed me to give up the pursuit of perfection and to accept and love myself today. My life is no longer on hold waiting to reach some magical number. I don’t get on scales nor do my clothing sizes vary wildly like they did when I was in my obsession.

For a long time I quit exercising for fear that I only knew how to do it compulsively. I went from an obsessive-compulsive, all or nothing, black or white mentality to learning to like the gray area and by doing that I learned to accept myself body, mind and spirit. Over time I was able to include exercise back into my life but when I wasn’t well or went months for health reasons without working out it didn’t concern me.

Six months ago I started running again, 3-5 days a week and everything about it is different from the days I used it to purge my body of whatever binge or morsel I had consumed. When I’m racing through the streets of my city I’m not thinking about how many calories I’m burning or wearing my body down by pushing past my internal stop signals or beating myself up on days I’m not interested in working out. Today I enjoy the breeze on my face, how strong and alive my body feels, and how much better my brain works when it is free from anxiety. Today exercising consciously and lovingly is a part of my self-care that allows me to be present for the people in my life. I am no longer distracted, running a race with my demons desperate to keep my fears shoved down deep inside of me. There are people who I can be honest with and they don’t judge me for being vulnerable or feeling different. Today, I love my body because it has gotten me this far and I’m amazed that after all the abuse I’ve put it through, it’s strong and healthy and so am I, both on the inside and the outsid

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