Do What Empowers You
Updated: May 13, 2020
For the longest time, exercise was always a means of compensating or punishing myself for whatever I put in my mouth. It was never about enjoying moving my body in certain ways, nor was it something I did because I genuinely wanted to. I was compelled to excessively exercise daily - it was a compulsion fueled by self hatred and crippling anxiety, all under the guise of healthy living and diet culture. What I was doing to my body was only the opposite of this, and that doesn't even begin to describe the hell it created in my mind. If I didn't move my body enough any given day, I would be (literally) shaking in fear. The anxiety that plagued my actions and fogged my life drained all the pleasure out of moving my body in empowering and purposeful ways.
In spending 5 weeks in residential treatment for my eating disorder, I was forced to sit with this anxiety and stop excessively exercising involuntarily. It literally felt like I was a prisoner - the only exercise I was allowed to do daily was walk down the same narrow corridor from the community room to the dining room. As a reward for completing all my meals and snacks for 3 days in a row, I would be allowed to walk a lap of the treatment premises twice a week.
After being forced to stop moving my body daily in vigorous and intense ways for this period of time, I had to slowly relearn how to find joy in exercise in a non-disordered way. While I am by no means done working through this, I have found activities and exercise that I enjoy taking part in and am working to learn how to give my body the rest and nourishment it deserves.
In my eating disorder, I would compulsively run and do full body strength training exercises daily. Never had enjoyed running growing up, feeling compelled to run x miles daily was my literal hell, and I was so depressed and anxious living in that way. When exercising out of self hatred and with the desire to change my body, there was such a strong negative energy that fueled my movements. I was exercising because I hated my body, in the hopes of changing my body. I have now learned to move my body in ways that make me feel good and bring me joy and a sense of empowerment.
Instead of being an activity that fueled my isolation and could be abused in the form of staying at the gym for hours, or visiting the gym numerous times throughout the day, I have learned to find connection in exercise. Going to group exercise classes has no longer made exercise about isolating, and the communities created in this environment - when in the right ones - can be about empowerment and encouragement. Spinning classes, boxing classes, and yoga classes are some of the many classes I enjoy going to and with the help of many inspirational and motivational instructors, I have learned to use movement to feel connected with my body.
Before, I would completely disassociate when running because of how much I hated it. I would disconnect my mind from my body and be completely wrapped up in the blasting music in my ears to avoid the pain my body was in. With the help of numerous instructors and friends, I have begun to use exercise to feel grounded and connected, to feel mindful and purposeful.
When I move my body now, my mindset towards this exercise isn't always about self-hatred or wanting to change my body, it is moving with purpose and a sense of empowerment. I try and move my body when I want to, and how I want to. I have eliminated the aspect of numbers and counting to help this process, and in doing this, I have allowed myself to be fully immersed in whatever exercise practice I am engaging in.
Instead of focusing on how many miles I've run, how many calories I've (supposedly) burned, or how high my heart rate can go, I try and be more intuitive and in-tune with my body. By removing the numbers in my work outs, I am able to feel more connected to my body and the experience in a way I never did beforehand. I don't use running apps anymore, don't look at the calories burned on machines when I use them, don't turn on the spin bike tracker, don't time my runs, or regularly measure my heart rate. Instead, I try and use as little technology as possible when exercising in order to fully engage with my body and be present.
Moving my body has become a tool of empowerment I have found that adds more joy and connection to my life instead of doing the opposite. In my recovery process, I have essentially switched the meaning of and motivation behind a practice I used to abuse into something that I use to add substance to my life.