It has been almost 5 months since my last post, and I must say, it is daunting to write this first article. Since I last posted, I became a mother to the most wonderful baby girl, Olivia. But before I get into the joys of motherhood, I need to take stock of my recovery and be honest with you all.
As the title says, I have decided to give up exercise for a month. And, in an effort to remain honest with you all, and to get some extra accountability for myself, I have decided to go public with this news before I have finished completing the month. I began my month on 13th September and so I am over a week in already.
I am aware that exercise (whether formal or just incidental) is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and contributes to positive physical and mental health. I do have every intention to include some exercise in my weekly routine in the future. However, I have noticed that my thoughts surrounding exercise have become warped, and so, I have decided to take a break from any formal exercise for at least one month.
The honest truth
So, here is the honest lowdown of what has been going on with me:
- I began doing more exercise when I faced the prospect of gaining weight in my pregnancy.
- Throughout my pregnancy, I was restricted to low impact workouts ‘for the sake of my baby’.
- Despite this, I engaged in daily routines which got longer and longer in duration as the pregnancy progressed.
- I was determined to stay within the boundaries of what was a socially and medically acceptable amount of exercise for a soon-to-be-mommy, but I knew my thinking around my routines was not quite right.
- I started to feel bad on days when I didn’t exercise and began permitting myself extra snacks and treats only when I had opportunity to ‘work them off’.
- I did gain some insight into how unhealthy my thinking around exercise was after discussing exercise addiction for an article in March, with eating disorder specialist, Gabrielle Tuscher.
- I felt I was being as honest as I could at the time in my subsequent article ‘Confessions of a moveaholic‘. But on reflection, I wasn’t ready to make any changes or really challenge my thoughts at the time.
- I even looked to my family and friends to feed my denial by asking them to quantify what ‘too much’ exercise was without being honest about what drove me to do it in the first place.
- I am under no illusion that they bought my deception, but there was no point in them pushing me to face up to the reality until I was ready to see it.
- I was convinced I could exist just on the cusp of normal while still satisfying my need to control my weight and shape.
- Three days after I gave birth to my daughter, my part-time helper suggested I invest in a corset for my post-baby belly. I cried.
- This mindless comment (which I am sure was intended as a generic tip for any postpartum mommy), triggered a newfound urgency in me to ‘bounce back after baby’; which is another part of diet culture I really didn’t wish to buy into, yet here we are.
- I began introducing some low-impact exercise within the first week postpartum.
- I convinced myself that I was just trying to get some extra endorphins and energy from my workouts. This was somewhat true at the time. I felt a buzz of improved body-confidence as I saw my body shrink, and I did feel more energetic after working out. But I didn’t like that how my self-esteem had become dependent on my body and how I perceived it.
- On the other hand, I was bonding with my little girl, feeling calm and collected despite the shift in routine and life felt good.
- I began increasing the difficulty of my workouts and eventually started going to the gym on my downtime most days. At first, higher-impact workouts were out because they made me pee my pants (true story), but it wasn’t long before I could use the treadmill more intensely.
- By about 2 months postpartum, I began linking my diet and exercise in a more obsessive way. Doing calorie mathematics throughout the day.
- As I am breastfeeding, I haven’t once restricted my calories taken below what is recommended; but exercise became my new way to purge any perceived excess.
- I began daily weigh-ins when I hit the gym, and I carefully tracked the calorimeter on the treadmill, doing calorie mathematics obsessively as I worked out.
- I found creative ways to remain in denial. For example, I watched online lectures as part of my continuous education into life-coaching while on the treadmill, making the motivation for the extending sessions somewhat justifiable.
- With no physical implications, other than constant tiredness and hunger, and a few unsightly protruding veins all over my body; I was happy to continue until such time that I had a problem.
Flirting with Ed* again?
Noticing that a potential relapse was on the horizon; I decided to ask myself an important question – do I really want to let my eating disorder (*Ed) back into my life? And, if not, what do I intend to do about it? My honest answer to these questions may disturb you. But as honesty is the first step in taking responsibility and making change; I needed to come clean with myself and acknowledge that I was indeed flirting with my eating disorder once more.
Change because you are brave, not because you must!
So, what happened to bring me out of denial and into action? Heres the thing; nothing terrible happened- yet! I just had a few moments of sanity amidst the denial. And in those moments I realized I was playing with fire again. I am now willing to consider whether my behavior is leading me to a place I want to go and to take action against relapse.
I wish I could just say – ‘I don’t want to have my eating disorder back’. But honestly, I do REALLY want to keep parts of my eating disorder (like the buzz of losing weight or seeing some of my bones again or the distraction from my feelings of tiredness or discomfort) but I don’t want other parts (like the drain on my time and energy that comes with constantly thinking about my body and food, or the cloud of fear that exists while I am NOT exercising or dieting – aka living life). I want to be a good example for my daughter. I want to get back to building a career in some field where I can make meaningful change in the lives of others. I want a real relationship with my husband, my daughter, my family, my friends. I do NOT want to be distracted from the good times – just the bad.
You cannot pick and choose the outcomes of an eating disorder. The results I perceive as attractive come with all these negative consequences and much much more. Eating disorders stop us from living. So I AM choosing to live life over losing weight and numbing my feelings. There will be discomfort on the journey I am embarking on, but I know it will be worth it.
Writing this and choosing recovery is very empowering. I feel brave. I feel worthwhile and I feel that I have a right to be hopeful. I am doing something which scares me. I am giving up exercise for the month (to begin with). I am letting in the feelings which come with giving up some control over my shape and weight. I am not weighing myself this month because I do not have a scale at home. I am trying to not count calories (but that art is more difficult to avoid).
The biggest little-motivator
Giving up exercise isn’t going to fix my warped thinking, but it will help me to step beyond my comfort zone and create time for things that are important to me. To live life, not avoid it for fear of feeling.
I have the greatest little motivator in the shape of my 5-month-old daughter Olivia. I may not be able to protect her from an eating disorder down the line, but I can demonstrate through my actions that you can change anything in your life if you just allow yourself to be brave.
I will need help on the way. It won’t be easy. But I have a wonderful family and some great professional supports in place to help. And I know that I have your support too. This means the world to me, and I sincerely hope my journey will someday be an example of the power each one of us has inside of us to change for the better.