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Content Warning: eating disorders, body image, exercise addiction
Did you know there’s an ‘optimal’ way to look when in recovery from an eating disorder?
Chances are, you do (thanks, social media).
Popular eating disorder recovery accounts consist of muscular yet thin girls who flaunt their healthy eating and exercise sessions with the hashtag #strongnotskinny.
They praise the gym as their haven for self-care and promote leading a ‘wellness lifestyle.’
Is there anything wrong with these women promoting stress relief and a newfound love of their strong, nourished bodies? Absolutely not. Is it dangerous that these recovered individuals are the ones getting the most press? Hell yes.
I have been in recovery from anorexia for seven years. I am a personal trainer. I do not trust the general fitness industry with my recovery or anyone else’s.
How I developed anorexia nervosa is not as important to me as what perpetuated it.
At the height of my disorder, those around me praised me for how ‘fit’ I was. They envied my ‘healthy lifestyle’ and ‘gym discipline.’
The gym, to me, became a concrete pillar of my identity that overshadowed my life far after I’d returned to a livable weight.
I pushed my body to the point of breaking down every day, and, in an effort to develop a healthier relationship with movement, I started attending group classes instead of going to the gym alone.
This turned out to be a huge mistake.
I delved headfirst into body-shaming territory.
Instructors’ common motivation was ‘sweat out that fat’ and ‘build that booty!’ Oh, and let’s not forget ‘no pain, no gain’ (which is what I was trying to avoid!)
I gathered from these group classes that the ideal female body had a flat stomach, big butt, wide hips, and ‘toned’ arms (whatever that means.) And, guess what? All the popular eating disorder recovery accounts were by girls who fit this mould.
No trainer I’d seen asked me if I had a history of exercise addiction or an eating disorder.
No eating disorder recovery articles I read featured fat or disabled women.
Naturally, my eating disorder returned with a vengeance.
Except, now, instead of trying to make my entire self as small as possible, I was trying to be society’s ‘recovery ideal.’
I became a trainer while supporting these toxic body standards, starving myself, and exercising for 2+ hours a day, fretting about my body’s shape and size.
The gym I started at had photoshopped pictures of women and men with abs, booties, and biceps blown up on the wall for extra motivation. I promised a ‘Beyonce booty’ to my clients more than once to get them to do that extra squat (sorry!)
I was exhibiting severely disordered behaviour, but within the fitness industry, I was normal.
It was only when I quit that gym that I realized just how far from recovery I’d fallen.
I was still chasing a body ideal, just one that was focused on ‘wellness’ instead of thinness.
It was only when I formed a body-positive movement organization and started delving further into body positivity and eating disorder recovery research that marginalized bodies in recovery came out of the woodwork.
Society’s beauty standards helped perpetuate my anorexia, and it is a daily struggle to not fall back into disordered habits.
The messages are everywhere in the fitness and eating disorder recovery industries.
So, from my personal experience, would I suggest exercising in a general group fitness class or on your own in a gym while in recovery? No.
However, when done in a supportive environment, I recognize that movement is a source of power rather than shame.
It’s all about finding a body-positive exercise space.
I used to believe I was the only trainer who took a body-positive approach to my work, but I was wrong. I found a meaningful space to teach and train at a women’s gym that focuses on empowerment rather than aesthetics.
I also discovered Superfit Hero’s Body Positive Fitness Finder, a directory for body-positive trainers and spaces worldwide.
Eating disorder recovery and exercise can happen simultaneously.
Just make sure you’re with the right group class instructor or personal trainer.
Find someone who asks about your mental health. Find someone who does not tolerate body shaming in themselves, you, or others.
Follow lesser-known social media accounts that showcase the good, the bad, and the ugly in eating disorder recovery. And always have a really good recovery team on hand.
I have made it my mission to break down marginalization by the fitness industry. Make it your mission to get angry at anyone who tells you how your body ‘should’ look in recovery.
Marjorie, known more commonly as Meg, is the founder and owner of Thrive Tribe Movement, a company that exists to encourage joyful movement in all bodies, especially those marginalized by the ‘pop culture’ fitness industry. Meg spent most of her life ignoring her mental health in order to fit into the boxes society told her she should. Now, she openly discusses her experiences with depression, disordered eating, and anxiety, actively rebels against food rules and pressure to lose weight, and spends a ton of her free time concocting tasty baked treats in the kitchen.
SITE DISCLAIMER: The opinions and information shared in any content on our site, social media, or YouTube channel may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We are not liable for any harm incurred from viewing our content. Always consult a medical professional before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Libero does not provide emergency support. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433 or another helpline or 911.