Sometimes I forget how far I have come and how much I have progressed through my recovery from an eating disorder. I had one of those moments last week. I had slept in and as a result, I ended up hastily sprinting down the road towards my bus stop in the hope of still making it to work on time. Thankfully, I did manage to reach my place of employment in a punctual manner that morning, but that’s not the point of this story.
I didn’t feel the physical effects of my spontaneous bus-catching jog until later that afternoon when I was enjoying a walk at the gym and started to feel a muscular pulling sensation near my groin. Here’s the amazing part ― I immediately pressed the “STOP” button on the treadmill, stepped off and went home to rest. This seemingly simple choice to stop exercising when feeling an injury coming on might seem like a logical and mundane decision for someone to make, but for me, it was an achievement.
See, I used to get injured ― a lot. I wasn’t accident-prone, clumsy or unlucky. Under the control of Anorexia and even in the later stages of my recovery, the incessant pressure to push past pain and risk my physical health for fear of gaining weight truly controlled and consumed my life. I could never risk a day without exercising. I was never allowed to alter the type of work-out, the intensity or length of time. Every session was rigid, punishing and exhausting beyond words. That’s why getting injured used to be the most terrifying thing in the world for me – it meant resting and the potential weight consequences that could follow.
Yet, the ironic thing was that over-exercising had always created injuries and physical health issues for me. If I had just listened to my body on so many occasions in the past, if I had rested for just a day or two, I could have spared my body so much pain.
During one of my anorexic relapses, I was participating in artistic in-line skating – essentially figure skating on roller blades. It was a wonderfully fun sport, but coupled with my obsessive and disordered tendencies, it was at times, unhealthy for me. I was over-exercising in addition to the skate training so my body was rapidly weakening in all its forms. One morning whilst doing my usual rigorous walk before work, I began to feel pain in the top of my foot. Of course, Anorexia told me to keep walking and disregard it, so I did. Weeks later, I was practicing at the rink when I landed a jump and suddenly felt excruciating pain in that same place in my foot. I stopped skating that evening, but the next day I was back to my grueling walk, once again ignoring all of the discomfort.
It wasn’t until I could barely stand on the foot (let alone walk), that I finally caved in and begrudgingly sought medical advice. After receiving the results of my x-rays and bone scans, it was confirmed that I had not one, not two, but three stress fractures in my foot. I was also informed that the bones in my feet were osteopenic, which can be a precursor to osteoporosis. I was devastated – not because of the severity of the injuries, but by the reality that I would not be able to exercise for weeks
What followed my stress fracture diagnosis was six months of wearing a protective boot. I was banned from any form of weight-bearing activity which in turn had Anorexia restricting my food intake once again. I was in such a dark place at a time when self-kindness and compassion should have been in full force.
A few months after my fractures had finally healed, I launched myself back into working out. Anorexia was taunting me about “lost time” and all the hard work I would need to do in order to regain its approval. As a result of this fear-inducing pressure, I ended up badly damaging my knee on the treadmill. I decided to rest, but not entirely ― that would have been “unacceptable”. Whilst sitting down and pumping weights one morning, I slipped a disc in my lower back. This injury was the most debilitated I had ever been and involved months upon months of bed-rest, pain and incapacity.
It is truly frightening how much of a hold Anorexia had on me. My body was in such danger and distress, yet the pressure to maintain an image of perfection took precedence.
As I have worked through my recovery, I have looked back and asked myself over and over – why didn’t I stop and rest as soon as I had felt that little twinge in my foot? What if I had decided to forego the treadmill and stay in bed the morning my knee gave out?
Moving forward, it’s amazing how natural it has become for me to simply listen to my body. I now stop when something feels even slightly uncomfortable or unnatural. Now that my mind is clear and healthy, I have the power to nurture and take care of myself physically. I have reduced the intensity and frequency of my workouts. If there is something fun occurring after work, I will skip exercising completely. If I am exhausted or run-down, I will simply rest, sleep and recuperate.
I now choose to move my body in a variety of ways, based on my genuine desires and needs. Sometimes if I am pumped and energized, I will turn up my favorite music and go to the gym. If I have been cooped up inside all day, I will enjoy a gentle wander around a beautiful park with my husband. Above all else, I stay in tune with what my body is asking of me. I decide on exactly what I feel like doing instead of what I am falsely obligated to.
Self-care is absolutely essential in our lives. Our bodies are all we have, so it is vital we take the very best care of them. Since embracing this mindset and lifestyle, I have been completely injury-free. It has taken me a long time to come to this peaceful, free and powerful place both physically and mentally, but I am so happy, content and proud that I made it here.