For years I was addicted to exercise. Not because I enjoyed it, or it made my body feel stronger. It did make me feel better mentally, simply because I felt this compulsion to walk, run, or ride my bike so as to feel OK about what I ate. But nothing was ever good enough. I always felt like I could have walked farther, could have fit in a few more minutes of sit ups. If I went a day without exercise, I felt so anxious and gross inside. If I knew I wouldn’t be able to do my regular routine the day before, I would double my “workout” so I could at least have something to try to console myself with. I could never exercise enough, I could never eat too little. I was an expert at resisting at restricting.
Once my weight loss was evident to my mom, she began to try to stop my excessive walking. She spoke to my doctor about it, and somehow he thought that it would be o if I still did a short session of walking each day. If I began to gain weight, I could then add more time onto my exercise sessions. Now, on the one hand I liked this idea, that I would still be allowed a little time to try to get rid of extra calories. On the other, I was so tired of forcing myself to walk endlessly. I really didn’t enjoy exercise at this point. It had become a chore, not a hobby or something I did to better myself. It was a punishment. Looking back, it is fortunate I had such a hard time gaining weight. If it were easy for me to put on a few pounds here and there, I would have been “rewarded” with more freedom in my obsession with walking, and I obviously shouldn’t have been doing any extra moving around at all.
I guess the typical inpatient program puts eating disorder patients on a strict calorie dense diet and bed rest. At times, doctors would almost threaten me with the inpatient option. If I didn’t gain weight, I would have t think really hard about being allowed to stay home. “If you were in the hospital, you would have to eat so many calories each day” “If you were in the hospital, you wouldn’t be able to exercise at all” “You know, if a patient in the hospital program refuses to eat, they are fitted with a feeding tube”. These statements were thrown at me left and right, but I never really felt like they were a threat. Until one day, almost seven years after my first trip to the doctor with an eating disorder as my diagnosis, when a new doctor I was seeing tried to force me into inpatient treatment.
For much of my time dealing with anorexia, I’ve never felt like I was on the brink of death, For some reason I have always felt like that’s just a joke, or that I am invincible. I know these things aren’t true, and that in reality, my heart might be permanently damaged. I’m not stupid, just in a tad bit of denial. One winter I was insistent that I walk to and from work every day. My mom was worried and told me so, saying that my body was under a lot of pressure anyway, and putting more stress on it by walking in freezing temps was just asking for trouble. I tried to ignore her. But one day, I’m not sure what happened…I told my mom I was terrified. For the first time, death seemed like a likely possibility. When I walked to and from work, I would pay close attention to what my heart was doing. I never noticed it skipping a beat or acting funky, but I would imagine collapsing in the snow on the side of the cement sidewalk, and how the heart attack would feel. Would I be in pain? Was dying scary? Or would it happen so quickly I didn’t even know I was gone? Though it was hard, I stopped walking outside in the cold. For once I kind of listened to my body and heeded its warnings.
So, like I said, for years I would exercise for punishment, not pleasure. And though I knew it was only making things worse, it made my brain feel better. I was able to justify the few calories I ate when I exercised. Even as current as last year, I was still caught up in the tangled web of compulsive exercise. I rode my bike to work one day, and decided I could do this every day. I had the hardest time giving it up and feeling OK about it, but last fall before the weather got nasty, I ceased my daily bike rides. I drive my car the handful of blocks to work now. And I am happy to say that a few days ago, my husband and I went on a short bike ride around town. The next day we did it again. But when he asked me the next day if I wanted to go on a bike ride, and I honestly didn’t feel like it, I told him the truth. I was tired, and wanted to stay home and relax. Guys, that was the first time in years that I have turned down a given opportunity to exercise. One small step for me, one giant leap for my brain. Exercise is a trigger for me. If I do it one day, I figure I should do it the next. Soon I’m up to half an hour of activity a day. And while I’m at it, I might as well eat less, right?