Weightlifting has been an integral part of my recovery. When I was in the heat of disordered Eating, I was also suffering from Exercise Bulimia. This is an unfamiliar term to many people. We typically think of Bulimia and think of Purging via vomiting or laxatives. Exercise Bulimia is a subset category of Bulimia that consists of compulsive exercise to compensate or eliminate calories. It is often accompanied by restrict cycles or binging.
Compulsive exercise and I used to go together like two peas in a pod. This abusive relationship with my body and exercise was killing me.
I had always been an athletic and anxious child and was also a trauma survivor, so those factors mixed with the fact that I was growing up in the midst of diet culture made it highly likely I would develop an eating disorder. The first time I used exercise as a coping mechanism was one day after being assaulted. I felt so confused and angry that I put on my converse and just took off running. I didn't get very far because my cardio wasn't that great, but I did feel a sense of calm and control. From that day forward whenever I was stressed I would go running.
One mile runs turned into 3, turned into 5. turned into 10, 13, 20... mile runs. I became obsessed. What I didn't realize is that exhausting my body allowed me to combat the anxiety and trauma I was trying to avoid dealing with. It kept me numb emotionally, and it made me physically too tired to have anxious energy.
I'll never forget being at a sleepover in 9th grade a few months after I was assaulted and had begun to abuse exercise. We ordered Dominoes... in fact, we ordered a lot of it. I stuck to my 2 slice of pizza rule (HELLO DIET CULTURE RULES) but my friend said she discovered a way to eat as much as she wanted and still lose weight. I watched as she told my other friends to chow down. They then marched into the bathroom where she instructed them on how to vomit their food back up.
I was freaked out. I remember saying, omg that's an eating disorder... little did I know that I had one too... mine just came in the form of Over exercise and morphed into Orthorexia with time. I watched as these friends wasted away from starving themselves and from purging. Many of them ended up in residential care centers. But not me... I had it all figured out.
Salad at lunch
Dinner- Clean eating and healthy...
My running mileage increased as did my fatigue, injuries, depression and anxiety. I was extremely undernourished and under-fueled and had no idea that mental health was related to my exercise habits. I was only 16. In school they taught us how to count calories. Teachers congratulated me on my discipline and long runs. I was "fit" in appearance but I never lost a significant amount of weight like my other friends did. I had the misconception that because I wasn't losing weight, I was just extremely healthy.
But I wasn't healthy at all. I was constantly cold, tired, depressed, sore and the brain fog was intense. Fatigue doesn't begin to describe what I experienced. It was weird because I could go out and run and then when I came home I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I was convinced there was something wrong with my body. My doctor tested my thyroid and assumed it was mono. Not once was I asked about my eating or exercising habits. In fact, my doctor complimented me on my body and said she wished she had my physique. Yep, I was a child and being told my small body was ideal. This only reinforced my diet culture beliefs more. I went on to be diagnosed at age 17 with a genetic thyroid issue called Hashimoto's. This became my scapegoat. I was tired? Hashimoto's. I was sick all the time? Must be the Hashimoto's Hypothyroiditis. Dry skin, dark circles, dehydration? Yup, must be the thyroid.
I was living in denial. My eating disorder served as an outlet for a long time for trauma and stress. My passion for learning and fitness saved my life... the more I learned the more I self-corrected. The science taught me that everything I read in magazines was wrong. I learned about weightlifting and started that too. I loved it! While I was still struggling with disordered eating my habits slowly started to shift. By the age of 18 I was eating enough, but I was still over exercising. This started to shift more and more as my interest in weightlifting increased. I studied hard to get my personal trainer cert and started teaching at the local YMCA. I started following science based progressive programming I made for myself instead of just destroying my body. I needed new ways to cope with the anxiety now that I was healthier in my body. Unfortunately, alcohol was something my friends used heavily. This provided another outlet... BUT you couldn't lift or run with a hangover... and so luckily again, Fitness and Nutrition saved my life.
Once I graduated Highschool I was off to sunny Colorado to my undergraduate degree. This was a culture shock, and the best one possible. So many people were into the outdoors and mindfulness... I immediately embraced this lifestyle and my health continued to evolve. I had always dabbled in yoga but I started it up again and took it more seriously from a spirituality and healing perspective. I also took Peace and Conflict Resolution, Abnormal Psychology, Exercise Physiology and Eastern Religion classes. The intersection of all these topics made me realize just how healing movement and health could be. I knew I wanted to help women discover the benefits of living a healthy and balanced lifestyle. So, that's what I did. I graduated and took a job as Physical Therapy Aide and on the side created the first corporate wellness program at Garelick Farms for the OTR Truckers. From there I went on to manage a MEDICAL SCHOOL fitness center and wellness team. I would be at this job for 5 years. The last year was one that was traumatic. In retrospect I should have left, BUT I froze and fought instead.
I was assaulted by a "friend" at a medical school party. All the trauma I had repressed from childhood and my teenage years came tumbling fourth. This time, I reported the attack. I thought it was the right thing to do. Little did I know the system is not designed to attack the victim. Because I could not prove that this happened, I had to go through a strenuous court process that was honestly more traumatic than the event itself.
My health began to decline again. I lost over 20lbs and with it I lost confidence, strength, happiness and so much more. I was living in a traumatized state. This time I recognized it, but I no longer recognized who I saw in the mirror. I felt like a monster. I internalized and projected the hatred I felt towards the system and my attackers. I became bitter and withdrawn.
I experienced workplace retaliation. You see, the medical school had to protect its student and I was just a private contractor. I was let go. It was the best thing that happened to me although it would take a while for me to realize it. The next phase in my healing journey began. I sought out therapy, healing programs, and started prioritizing my health again. Weightlifting once again became an anchor in my recovery.
There are so many other ups and downs that I experienced along the way that were a big part of my journey and have brought me here today as the owner of a Trauma-informed Health Coaching service for girls/women with Disordered Eating.
- Health/ Nutrition MS , Exercise Physiology and Strength and Conditioning Certifications
- Teaching Self-Defense to women
- Enrolling in UMASS MEDICAL SCHOOL (I immediately knew this was the wrong path but the mental health and pathophysiology material/emergency care I learned about was worth it!)
Through all these changes one thing remained constant, the gym and weightlifting were sacred places. It was the one thing I could do for myself that grounded and centered me.
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