Beating anorexia allowed me to exercise my way to a body I’m proud of
I was once warned that exercise would kill me. This weekend, I ran my first half marathon in 2 hours, 1 minute and 40 seconds; I’m pretty sure, now, that exercise has played a massive role in saving my life.
A few years ago, I tagged along with my boyfriend and his friends as they went for a gentle jog along the seafront in Abersytwyth, where we were students. Everything was in slow motion but they were too fast for me. I did what I always did when I felt left behind; pushed as hard as it took. I got back to my house, went upstairs and collapsed. The next day, my GP told me that my heart could give in at any moment, and if I continued to exercise, I was asking for death.
It sounds dramatic but it wasn’t enough to scare me. It never is when you’re anorexic; you’re invincible, the doctors just don’t know it.
When you’re in recovery from anorexia or bulimia, everyone is almost overly cagey about exercise. On admission, most patients are put on bed rest, meaning that for 24 hours a day, you can only move to use the toilet, and even then you are watched like a hawk in case you sneak in a star jump as you get up off the seat. After that, you’re awarded the luxury of being wheeled around or if you’re lucky, you’re allowed to walk – within reason. Even when you’re months into treatment, complying by the rules and eating whatever increasing amounts of delicious, nutritious food they insist you need, you’re limited to two 15 -20minute walks in the hospital grounds. You’re spied on, and you will be reported if you dare to double loop.
It all seems a tad excessive, being told off for fidgeting, stopped from leg jiggling and suspected of making yourself a drink in the kitchen in the interests of burning calories walking to it rather than thirst. When just weeks ago, you were up and about, clubbing or working out better and harder than all the ‘normal’ people, you are now accountable for every single move.
What you don’t realise at the time, is that the people stopping you from doing these things, are saving you from yourself. Lines have to be drawn and in the depths of mental illness, eating disordered people will go to great lengths to cover up their attempts to burn an extra 10 calories. As ridiculous as the rules seem, there is method in the madness. Quite simply, they’re stopping us from getting anywhere closer to killing ourselves.
May 2012, I was training for the Great Manchester Run, a 10k that I’ve done almost every year since I was 16 (in sickness and in health). I was fundraising for Beat and received an email from a friend I’d met during my time in hospital. She raised concerns about me using exercise as a method of raising money for a charity supporting people for whom exercise played a huge part in their illness.
It made me question whether I was doing the right thing, was running 10k for an Eating Disorder charity tantamount to doing a sponsored fast? Suddenly, I felt like I did when I was in hospital being told off for wanting to walk at what, to me, was a normal speed (i.e. faster than your average Primark ‘shuffler’) – that what she said was going a bit overboard. And this time, I wasn’t in hospital care, I was doing something which was helping, rather than hindering my own recovery and I wasn’t going to let anything anyone said or thought get in the way of that.
I am healthier than I have ever been, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without exercise being part of my lifestyle. Running and swimming used to be chores, endless routines where numbers ruled everything and obsession ruined any ounce of natural enjoyment. I was too tired for endorphins to have their wonderful way with me.
Now, exercise means that I can finally not only use, but admire the body that I once tortured so vigorously. A body that, when it was as thin as I could possibly get it to be, I hated anyway. A body that I thought I would never, ever accept, never mind appreciate or feel comfortable with. I never thought I would ever be able to stand in front of a mirror and think, “Yeah, ok, I’ll take that”.
To enjoy exercise, you have to treat your body with respect; fuel it, nourish it, feel it and go with it. The exercise I do now is worlds away from what it used to be and what I’m getting back in return is a million times better and more satisfying than anything anorexia-fuelled sweat-fests ever offered. You’re supposed to feel fulfilled and proud with every pound that drops as a result of exercise but it is all empty promises – you won’t be happy until there’s another pound gone, and another, and another…
Real pride is climbing to the top of a craggy mountain without fainting over your Ryvita at the summit, it’s putting months of training in, seeing and feeling the changes as your body adapts and becomes stronger and healthier by the week, it’s being able to let go and live and eat without guilt, it’s growing boobs, it’s running in the rain and loving every drop – It’s about crossing the finish line of your first half marathon and being overwhelmed with emotion, not because of a personal best or a good time, but because you just killed those anorexic lies.Tagged in: anorexia, anorexic, bulimia
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