Exercise: My toxic relationship.
This is quite a difficult topic for me to write about as my relationship that I’ve experienced with exercise has been very toxic. Even writing about this is a challenge to overcome as it is bringing back old and disturbing thoughts that I have tried so hard to get out of my mind. However, I believe this is a topic that needs to be seriously spoken about as studies have shown that around 80% of people who have eating disorders carry out compulsive exercise.
Getting straight to the point, I hate exercise. And by exercise, I mean the gym kind. I used to horse ride every day, a massive form of exercise, however because I actually enjoyed what I was doing, it never felt like that for me. Then, when I stopped riding and committed myself to losing weight, I turned to gym based exercises, as that was what everyone else seemed to be doing. So, for a year of my life, I forced myself to do it every day for an hour. Whether that be through exercise videos, hundreds of sit ups in my bedroom or stupid 7-minute fat shredding workouts. Whatever exercise I could fit into my daily routine, I would do it. Taking the long route to get home. Doing a squat when I had to pick something up. Running up the stairs instead of walking. My relationship became very obsessive to the point where I physically could not miss a day of any form of exercise. Even if I was at a friend’s house, I would still fit it in somewhere, somehow.
But I hated it. I would wake up in the morning already not liking the day ahead because I knew that it would be full of exercising. And exercising for all the wrong reasons. I wasn’t doing it because I wanted to feel healthy in my body or to let out energy, I did it because I felt like I had to. If I missed a day, then my eating disorder head would scream at me for doing so and make me compensate in other ways. Whether that be through skipping dinner or putting myself through twice as much exercise the next day. It got to a point where I would prioritise exercise over other important things. Things like studying. Going out with friends. Eating. And because I had little energy from the lack of food, it made exercising that more difficult.
Then when I went to University, and my anorexia really kicked in, the relationship got more and more toxic. I would punish myself in my bedroom by doing hundreds of sit ups just because I allowed myself to eat dinner that night. While my flatmates were in the kitchen watching TV and relaxing, I was in my room doing jumping jacks. I was completely under the influence of my eating disorder telling me that food is only acceptable if I earn it with exercise.
And as the thinner I got, the more painful it became. As gross as it sounds, I could feel my spine rubbing up against my skin as I did a sit up. I could feel my hip bones protruding out as I attempted squats. Things became so painful that I had to stop. I had to stop but the voices only got louder. My head was screaming at me for not exercising but my body just could not deal with the physical suffering any longer. So, to make that voice go away, I restricted what I ate even more as a form of compensation. I developed quite a bad form of Body Dysmorphia, meaning that when I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t see how thin I had gotten. So, I kept on going.
However, since being in recovery, I have finally been given the all clear to introduce a bit of exercise again. But I want to make sure that I do it the right way and for the right reasons. I am still fighting with myself not over exercise. To not punish myself with hundreds of sit ups in my room. And to be honest, I am having a tough time with it because it feels like I’m going back to a very dark place that I used to be in. I’m repeating old habits that could potentially be triggering. However, I am slowly starting to transition from a girl who felt like she HAD to work out, to someone who will if she decides it is right for her body.
It is important to keep those affirmations in your head as to why YOU want to exercise. For your health. For your confidence. For your mental health. For energy. For you.
So, now, when I hear people incessantly talking about going to the gym and burning off calories, it makes me feel so angry and hurt because I truly know how dangerous a thing that can be. Because for me, exercise was a tool of punishment, not an enjoyable means of activity. Don’t get me wrong, I do admire those who go to the gym. I just really, really hope you are doing it for the right reasons. You deserve to exercise because that’s what YOU want to do. Not what society is forcing you to do. We all need to get out of the mindset that exercise is a means of losing weight and instead see it as something which keeps us healthy and energetic. Because there is so much more to life than forcing yourself into things you really don’t want to do.
Learn to count your experiences, not the amount of sit ups you can do.