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A week ago, I returned to the gym after a two month break.
It was not a forced break, but I made the decision with my recovery in mind. No one ever told me I needed to stop going to the gym, but my team was definitely wary of my exercise level. My exercise wasn’t as extreme as it had been and, to an average person, it was probably just fine.
But, I needed to remember the average person is not recovering from an eating disorder. While on paper, my exercise level didn’t look extreme, it wasn’t right for my body. I was still battling the mind games, organizing my life around working out, not enjoying it, and hurting my body due to a chronic injury.
Without prompting from my team, I paused my gym membership for two months. They were excited to hear the news and even more excited I had made the choice for myself.
The decision was hard to make, but it was even harder to get through the first month. In addition to not having the gym, we had major events in my part of the country, disrupting “normal life” (if any life can be considered normal!). Dangerous flooding took away my access to walking. My depression came on stronger and my anxiety spiked.
It wasn’t harder because I NEEDED the exercise (although, I am an active person and will be an active person my entire life – that’s just my personality, before and after having an eating disorder), it was harder because I had to deal with all the negative thoughts running through my head – thoughts of laziness, thoughts of inadequacy, thoughts of society’s importance placed on exercise and diet.
At the same time, I was discovering new joys in life – joys like painting, cooking, blogging, and spending time with friends. Without exercise as a priority, I had time to sleep in or cuddle my dogs for a bit in the morning. I was able to go about my daily life without the constant pain I was used to dealing with daily.
It was a daily battle. At times, I thought taking time off from exercise would actually push me into a relapse. But the rewards for winning the battles were numerous. I felt like I got to a whole new level of recovery.
I stopped defining myself as the athletic one. I started defining myself as a person who is constantly growing and learning.
There is a lot less pressure when I allow myself to be me than when I feel forced to fit into an athletic ideal (right skills, right muscles, right weight).
As I mentioned earlier, my gym membership opened back up about a week ago. When the day came nearer, different emotions were swirling around my head. I was excited, nervous, happy, terrified, and unsure all at the same time.
The first day, I felt the pressure. I went to the gym as soon as I could and felt pressure to make sure I got back on a regular schedule and “made up” for lost time. I saw the scale and succumbed to weighing myself.
However, after the first day, I used the skills I had worked on during the two months away from the gym. I knew if I continued acting like I had the first day, I would find myself back on “no gym” time. I didn’t want that. I want the gym to be a small part of my life – not the central focus.
So, I took a step back. I never wrote a schedule. I decided to make up my mind the day before. Feeling tired? Sleep in. Overwhelmed? Take some time in the morning to get prepared. Feeling pressured to burn calories? No gym for sure. Feeling excited about the prospect of going to the gym just for the enjoyment of being active? Sure, you can go.
All of a sudden, it was a huge paradigm shift – I was in control.
I used to think control was forcing my body to finish all the workouts I planned. I thought control was making it through workouts when my body screamed at me for a rest. It’s easy to fall into this trap – often people praise this sort of behavior, mislabeling it as strong self-control. But that is not true control. True control is when you listen and respect your body.
I don’t even want to know my weight – who cares? I don’t need to make sure I’ve done exercise #1 and exercise #2 in one day. I don’t even need to do them in a week if I don’t want to – guess who’s in control now?
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