Holding Onto Hope And Some Seriously Bad Habits

Eating disorders can manifest in a variety of ways.

You don’t have to be underweight to be sick.

You don’t have to only eat crackers or devour entire pizzas in one sitting, and then run to the bathroom.

The disease is about MUCH much than these symptoms. It is a way of coping with things that occur in life, and masking emotions that make a person uncomfortable. It is a NEED for control in some aspect of your life because you cannot have power over others.

It is very very complicated, to say the least.

And one of the things that tends to happen during recovery is new behaviors begin to replace old ones, because as the feelings emerge from eliminating unhealthy ways, it is hell and you need something, ANYTHING to take away the pain, anger, sadness, etc.

I have always been an exerciser.

Other than being in the hospital, rest days are never ever in my routine.

Actually exercise is probably the biggest “problem” within my personal story since I have never skipped a meal, restricted as much as your textbook ED patients and I truly do enjoy food.

I have a relationship with my treadmill, and every morning me and my friend get together to de-stress, and so I can shut my mind down for sixty minutes.

I always have a goal in mind when I get on the machine, patterns I follow, numbers to hit. This has drastically decreased in the past few years because I no longer leave my home to work-out, but instead have a treadmill a few feet away from our bedroom were Ryan can easily monitor what I am doing.

I am not allowed to run anymore, but I do an inclined walk for an hour every morning and participate in Zumba once a week (which is a lesser amount than earlier in the year) in order to keep my sanity.

A few weeks ago Ryan requested I eliminate walking on Zumba days.

Um?! No!

I was definitely against this because I don’t consider dance an exercise. It is too much fun and immeasurable so absolutely not does that substitute for my treadmill time.

I didn’t win this battle and stopped walking on Zumba days but those are some of my hardest times to “justify” my caloric intake.

Whoa. In the last two paragraphs I mentioned exactly why my husband HATES the treadmill; I am relying on it more and more to accept my meal plan, claim I NEED it to maintain sanity and am completely rigid and controlling when it comes to my routine.

That is probably why he AGAIN asked that I cut my hour down to less mileage, and fewer minutes.

So why are these things a problem?

I am kind of obsessed with numbers and I need to have at least the perfect hour or basically the physical activity doesn’t count.

Obviously this is my black and white thinking at its finest, and the fact that I cannot break from a rigid habit is not doing much for my recovery; especially since my desire for restriction increases when I am less active (remember that replacing one behavior for another?!)

Most people can and will give their bodies a break. If they don’t have time for a long workout, so what? Any exercise is better than no exercise. But on the days where I have not done my “norm” my brain goes nuts. I have trouble concentrating; I get antsy, stressed, am irritable, feel lazy, and have trouble believing I need proper nutrition.

*P.S. These things are not true!

I have made a lot of progress in this department but it is still very much a part of my day I am not entirely willing to give up, and as much as I will take criticism for this, I can accept Ryan’s wish for a cut-back temporarily, but I love being active and the feeling it brings.

My goal is not to completely break up from the treadmill, but essentially form a healthier relationship where it doesn’t always have to be a certain kind of cardio that counts, it doesn’t always have to be the distance or time, and the inflexibility is no longer there.

I kind of alluded to this earlier, and know it has come up in past posts, but I have a belief that I need to EARN food.

Like I said, Zumba days without my walk, and the past two days where I have abided by a reduction in exercise time, have been immensely difficult in the food department.

I don’t think I restricted anything, but the negative voice was CONSTANTLY present, asking, “are you sure you really need that…you didn’t do anything today so why are you hungry…you could do without that morning snack…”

This isn’t the right mentality at all, because a body expends energy regardless of a gym session. Exercise is actually a minimal part of the equation when it comes to how much someone burns.

When I bring up my hesitation for a snack or item because of my “skimpy” workout, Ryan always asks if I think his patients in the ICU don’t deserve food because they lie in bed all day. Of course my answer is OH MY GOODNESS, THEY NEED THE NUTRITION, so why am I different?

In my mind, I am always the exception.

So in the past few days I have toned down the routine, but learning to sit with the feelings of being unworthy, lazy, body image distortions and other pesky emotions that I would really like to ignore, has proved to be incredibly difficult.

Many of you have told me this is the only way to get through it; be uncomfortable, endure the pain, it gets worse before it gets better, but this really sucks.

I am holding onto the hope you provide because with a still VERY long road ahead, more pounds than I want to gain essential to happen before summer, and the ferociousness of my negative thoughts, I need something (other than exercise) to get me through the day.

You guys are awesome. Thanks so much for all you do 🙂


16 thoughts on “Holding Onto Hope And Some Seriously Bad Habits

  1. I am going to be very blunt. Easier said than done. But have you ever thought about,

    “Getting to a better weight & Gaining a little more health”

    So, you can then excercise normally, without it being a negative thing (towards your mind, and also ryans)

    I love you.

  2. SO many things in this post are relatable for me. I also don’t count as exercise (given that I was pre-professional and dancing 6 hours a day for years, this was especially ridiculous), and I also don’t “count” exercise unless I hit my exact number of minimum calories burned. (no counting the walking i do outside, or dancing, or working at the gym–which involves lots of activity, usually 20-some flights of stairs climbed, and at least 30 minutes of re-racking heavy weights). Even in the healthiest symtom management/recovery periods I’ve had, I can’t let go of exercise, because I’ve never learned to develop a healthy relationship with it.

    The paper I just wrote actually has to do with exercise in ED recovery–can’t wait to share it with you once I’ve given it a few weeks for my prof to google the text for plagiarism, hah. 🙂

    • Most people consider cleaning their home a form of exercise, and sometimes I wish I could too, because I suppose my body could use a rest here and there. I really look forward to reading your paper! i hope you send it my way when your professor ok’s it 🙂

  3. I’ve been on my forums quite a bit with these issues of anorexia athletica because we have a few ladies over from another site: Fertile Thoughts.

    These women are all on the restrictive eating disorder spectrum and are faced with the conundrum of having to rest and re-feed or risk never having a family (which is of course what they want more than anything at their stage in life).

    The approach we’re taking is “replace and distract” rather than “stop and stew”. So far, not a bad way to go and it was recommended by two psychologists who specialize in the exercise dependency treatment field.

    At present, your eating disorder is only satisfied if it can create the same severe energy deficit every single day and it doesn’t care how it gets you there. Less time on the treadmill? Fine, you starve instead. More time on the treadmill? You are allowed to eat your measly snack with a bit less guilt. He’s the worst coach in the world just grinding you into oblivion.

    You need both/and, not either/or, to make any headway in weight restoration and physical repair. In motivational interviewing there is a concept whereby you never want the patient to be placed in the position of defending the very thing they would like to change. Unfortunately you and Ryan have set up just such a scenario. You are now the sole representative of the eating disorder in every negotiation to move you towards remission.

    The feeling you get from exercise is not something can only be achieved through exercise.

    Perhaps to avoid the retrenchment that Ryan’s suggestions generate, you can pull out your Replace and Distract sheet of paper and the two you get to brainstorm what you will do to replace the exercise and what distractions can be added to help ease that discomfort you initially feel.

    In your case the treadmill time is likely best replaced with sleep (it’s not as if you aren’t absolutely dragging yourself out of bed for this so-called wonderful alone time needed for de-compression). Also, much of the emotional content of your life that you feel you need to use exercise to cope with, is actually ED-generated fear and anxiety in the first place. The temporary calm you feel while on the treadmill is really about placating the anxieties around any food intake. Even emotional challenges such as fear of rejection by others is actually all hinged on “They’ll think I’m a failure. A fat pig…” — that’s right, it’s all the ED-generated mess in the amygdala (the emotional centre responsible for firing up the fear response).

    Interestingly for the women who have cut the exercise to zero (on our forums at the moment) and upped the calorie intakes to 2500+ (they are over age 25 of course) they are finding there isn’t as much need for coping mechanisms for their emotions because appear to have increased resilience and strength to express emotions rather than being too fearful, malnourished and paranoid to risk rejection in the first place.

    Of course they all initially signed up for quitting the exercise on a purely temporary basis (the only way they could see themselves through the thought), but of course I know from experience with other patients that they are unlikely to return to it. Oh, they’ll be active and healthy (enjoying activities with their children most likely), but the running (they are all distance runners) is a lonely and generally unappealing task for people who love being with people. And the drive to walk on a treadmill for 60 minutes uphill will never hold the same appeal when you are in a complete remission.

    Another long response on my part. Sigh. Hope some ideas are worth plucking from it.

    • Wow, LOVED this insightful response. I agree with this so much. I have been weight restored for about 3 months now, but still fit exercise into my schedule. I find myself saying that I love the feeling I get from running, but while there may be some truth to that, the underlying issue is that the feelings of calm are, like you said, “placating anxieties around any food intake.”

      Also, while I am not 100% recovered because I still get the similar anxiety CJ gets with my exercise relationship, I wholeheartedly agree with you that people are able to deal with it so much better as they get more nourished and put on a healthier weight. When I first began recovery, I thought I would go out of my mind with no exercise and more eating. Fast forward just about 2 months, and my outlook was far less bleak and I was beginning to feel refreshed and excited to live again because I was physically healthier and therefore able to think much more rationally!

      • Gwyneth always has such insightful things to say! I am really trying to take her advice, as well as yours when times are especially tough!

    • Thank you for caring enough to provide long and amazing feedback!!! Exercise and I have a weird relationship in the sense that Ryan and my relationship is based a lot on physical activity. We love to cross country ski, we ran races together, we play golf and walk with our bags on our backs, we play tennis, soccier, hike, etc. We love being outdoors and tend to purely enjoy being together while doing those things. Is it possible to get back to those things or is that considered overly obsessive too? I really dont know a different way of life because I played on some form of sports team since I was four years old. I am attempting the replace and distract theory by doing other activities in the morning, because my body is so used to gettting up at that hour that it just seems to get up. I havent cut out the treadmill but it has decreased. thanks for always providing such wonderful insight and advice! Have an amazing weekend ❤

      • Yes you can return to joint activities post-recovery because that they are simply the enjoyment of being with your loved one and enjoying the outdoors. But you will design them somewhat differently to ensure your condition remains in remission.

        However, broadening your horizons as an individual and perhaps even as a couple is the way to frame a complete 100% break from all activity for now.

        Our identities are fluid. There’s a great TEDTalk by Dan Gilbert: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy.html

        If some situation other than an eating disorder truly prevented you from being physically active at present (like a horrible rheumatoid arthritis flare) then you and Ryan would develop ways to enjoy your life together that did not involve running races because you simply physically could not. An eating disorder is really no different than rheumatoid arthritis.

        The biggest challenge you face is that you continue to believe that you have a choice and that somehow you can choose to live your life as you always have when, in fact, after years of ignoring the chronic condition you have you are getting perilously close to disabling yourself in such a way that you may never be able to get out there again.

        And counter-intuitively by removing the choice (see Dan Gilbert) you free yourself to synthesize greater happiness and fulfillment. Best wishes, Gwyneth.

      • Thank you again for your response, and I look forward to reading that article. I think the hardest part is feeling like I dont even know where to begin; like I am a child having to re-learn everything. In some respects it is exciting but in most it absolutely terrififies me!! You do make a very good point though, when you say what if something outside the ED prevented us from living our lives as we had in the past…heaven forbid I got into an accident or Ryan was hurt at work and we could no longer participate in the sports we used to. We have gotten very good at doing other things but I know we both miss the past. Hopefully we can come up with a good combination of the two. Thanks again!! Your insight is always so helpful…even when I dont want to hear it 🙂

  4. Girl I feel the same way with exercise! It is so hard to cut down or out, especially since I have been an exerciser almost my entire life. I’m at a more normal weight now, and all my friends just assume since I gained some weight I am magically recovered, it is so hard to explain to them that gaining weight does not mean a person has recovered from their eating disorder! Great post! Have a great night!

    • Ahhh that is such a pet peeve of mine; when you gain weight and people think “awesome! she is cured.” um, actually no! the real work begins then, I think! we can battle those exercise demons together because what I have learned is everything is a bit easier with support 🙂 if you need anything, let me know!!!

  5. It’s true that dealing with the discomfort is the only way to eventually form a healthier mindset and relationship with exercise, because if you don’t give it a rest or give a different relationship a chance, then you’re always going to be stuck in the black and white mentality that drives your moods and your schedule.

    I’m similar to you in the fact that it is also hard for me to justify food if I don’t do any physical activity, specifically X amount on the treadmill because for me it’s also a numbers thing. But it’s gotten SO much better and I can only attribute that to a couple of difficult months where I absolutely cut out the treadmill 100%. Once you find other things you really enjoy to do and fill your time with them, then it gets a little less stressful each day…

    But you CANNOT give up only after one or two days of cutting back if you finally want to break the vicious cycle that is blocking your full recovery. Good luck girl, I know it’s tough… but stick to it…

    • Thanks Jess! I have actually continued with the cut back, which was especially hard this morning since I have a seriously late dinner at a very scary steakhouse to celebrate a 50th birthday and then will be away from my home for the entire weekend! thanks for always sharing your experiences and being so honest. They have helped provide hope that I can actually do this!!! have an amazing weekend!

  6. Can totally relate. I find it so hard to relax and let myself just be, doing nothing, which is not being, it is DOING nothing ironically! My body seems to flip into adrenal overdrive so easily that I’m not even connected to the underlying pain – I’m not consciously even running away from it at times, I just feel disconnected (years of bulimic abuse). Sounds like you are doing so so well, being so honest, and really making progress – hang in there lovely – the only way out is through as they say.. x

    • I am so sorry you understand so well, because it really stinks! I wish you well in your own journey and if there is anything you need, i am always here for support!

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