Going to the Gym with an Eating Disorder

It’s hard to believe the gym was once my safe haven. A place I would spend hours, visit multiple times a day, and felt my happiest at. The amount of old men gym friends I’ve acquired the past 8 years is unheard of it. To be honest, I have more 80 year old friends than friends my own age. I never remember being too tired, I always felt I should do more and therefore I had to. I never slept out because doing my fasted cardio was more important. I could never ever ever skip a workout because the world would end, I was sure of it. Even days I went hiking, I would wake up at the crack of dawn to fit in a two hour workout before. But it all seemed worth it, I loved fitness. So much that I went to business school in hopes of opening my own gym one day…


And now, 6 months into recovery, the gym is absolutely terrifying. Which is something I thought I would never say. I remember the beginning of treatment, my therapist said that I may not like working out or going to the gym as I move through recovery and I laughed in her face. But I guess she was right, because the gym has become pretty triggering.


Firstly, how did I ever where tight tanks and spandex shorts? I mean I remember feeling huge in them but I still wore them and the pictures I took now prove I was not huge. But now, I’ve gained weight and  I definitely don’t look as tiny. So now it’s a rotation of the 2 tanks I feel somewhat comfortable in, too terrified to wear the more fitted ones I have and too nervous to go shopping for new ones. So finding clothes to wear to the gym is an absolute shit show. I feel SO UNCOMFORTABLE with my body, how in the world am I supposed to rock a tight pair of yogas?!


Secondly, I spend half the time worried that everyone is focusing on how different my body looks. I am just waiting for someone to come up to me and ask what happened and why I’ve let myself go. Do they notice how less intense my workouts are?


Thirdly, triggers are everywhere at the gym. I mean luckily my local gym is mostly old people, but body comparisons are still pretty regular. There are a few individuals I used to be pretty close with. I now avoid them, terrified they’ll talk about diets, or their 3 hour workouts, or how they are cutting weight. All things I used to preach, and now I can’t even type them without getting anxiety.  Not to mention all the mirrors- mostly because I remember how I used to look in them. It’s funny, I always thought I looked huge and now I would love to look like that (but it wasn’t health yeah yeah I know).


The worst is the endless thought cycles. I had these even when I felt “healthy and balanced” back in my fitness days, I just wasn’t aware. I wasn’t aware that half my day was spent planning my next workout. I literally would spend so much time researching badass workouts, planning a whole schedule, only to stress out that it isn’t hard enough or that it isn’t the right workout.


If I was lifting heavy, I worried I would get bulky. If I was doing plyos, I worried I would lose my glutes and muscle. If I did less cardio, I worried I would gain too much weight. But if I cut back on cardio would my muscle develop better? If I lift heavy though, my muscle could develop more but I never am cut enough. So that leads back to me being bulky, but is jumping around for 40 minutes of plyos enough? What if I get soft? But it’s not like I like my arms when I lift? But I do want shoulders, but my shoulders get too broad and my traps are unreal.I would wonder if people feel bad for me because I work out so much and still look this bad. If I was doing the right workout, wouldn’t I look good? I must be doing something wrong…


It goes on and on and for YEARS I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t aware that this dialogue went on daily, for hours, occupying my entire mental space. And now although these thoughts have decreases massively, when I go to the gym, I’ve noticed they slip in a bit more. I start wondering if what I am doing is good enough, wondering if I should lift or if that’ll make my arms even wider, perhaps I should just not lift upper body until I lose my old muscle to look smaller… like I said, it never ends.  Even writing this blog, my mind is buzzing with thoughts about what the right workout is! I still lose myself to these endless cycles, but when I am aware, I realize no matter how long I think of these, I never find an answer and that seems to bring me peace.  I could spend two hours stressing over the right workout, but when I have the awareness to realize my mind is racing and I have yet to find the answer, the thoughts tend to silence.


So when it comes to my new workouts, it’s pretty challenging. I do not trust myself to make my own workouts, whatever I knew about fitness was through the eyes of an eating disorder so I really don’t trust myself. In fact, my old self would be (and sometimes still is when the ED voice creeps in)  horrified by my current workouts.  But the truth is, as hard as it is to admit, I am tired. My body is so tired. There is so much shame in admitting that but I truly am. I mean physically, I’ve ignored a ton of injuries that past few years too scared to take time off from the gym. But going to the gym is no longer fun, it’s really just a place of body shaming and anxiety for me right now.


I have however, found so much peace in yoga and at home outdoor workouts. Now believe me, the thought cycles have been going crazy with these workouts-  30 minute of plyos  and a yoga class is surely not a workout and I am bound to get fat, right? I mean today I spent an hour convincing myself that I’ve already gained 5 pounds by doing so. Six months ago if I went to a yoga class it was only after my three hour workout.


That being said, I am truly trying to find strength to listen to my intuition- that my body needs a break and that my soul loves yoga! I would love to take the plunge and just do yoga everyday for a week- no plyos, running or weights. But- I am still working on it, like I said, recovery is a process. Each day counts, baby steps!

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