How I overcame over-exercise:
It wasn’t my choice.
Since I was a teen, I managed to hide my eating disorder through exercise. From the outside, it was a pretty good disguise. As a college soccer player, my pride for starting games and playing every minute outweighed my desire to be thin. For a good bit of my life, my eating disorder was not about weight. It was about coping and lessening the anxiety that food brought me. People didn’t notice, because I didn’t let them see. Going running on vacation and eating as little as possible were more important to me than the places I went. I always claimed to not be hungry; and hungry equals a shit ton of stuff I missed out on, because when you’re starving, you aren’t present. I justified my 2 a day workouts during the summer as following a “training program” coaches gave me for soccer and cross country. I would workout 7 days a week in college, going for runs after practice if I felt it was too “easy”. When I moved out and lived on my own, I had absolutely no one to answer to about my obsessive exercise patterns. I spent hours at the gym, carefully burning more calories than I figured I would eat that day- and extra if I was supposed to go to a social event. When I was in day treatment, I snuck in all the exercise I could when I got home.
Here’s the thing, and I’ve said it before. THE BODY ALWAYS WINS.
I thought I was invincible, forcing myself to come back from injuries, because oh my gosh, I could NOT miss my workouts and runs. What would happen to my body? For most of my young adult life, I’ve been told I’m athletic. What if I got huge?! My body couldn’t possibly know what to do with food. How would I deal with stress? Anxiety was always a fantastic excuse for my lack of appetite.Before leaving for college, I made a vow to myself: “I will NOT get fat. I probably won’t be able to workout at much as I do now, so I better watch it.” Never mind the fact that I was a collegiate athlete and a full time nursing school student.
I wasn’t invincible, and it caught up with me.
My body was screaming at me, and I didn’t listen.
I had my ankle reconstructed my junior year of college. I tore all the major ligaments and had no idea, because I was so set on running my first half marathon. I spent 5 weeks in a hard cast, then several a more in a boot, then a few weeks in physical therapy before I thought the trainers at my school were going to slow with me, and took things into my own hands. I ran cross country for my college the following year, but not before having leg surgery to relieve acute compartment syndrome, which was likely from overtraining. Two years after graduating college, I had knee surgery to “clean out” scar tissue, etc (yes that’s a thing). I came out of surgery, and my doctor told me my knee looked like one of his football or hockey players knees, that had been playing for years. “No more distance running.” I was told. So I ran 3 half marathons.
A little more than two years ago, my back started hurting me. A LOT. I noticed it during hot yoga, when the normal easy back ends became a source of pain. I chalked it up to (another) old injury from college. After all, I got knocked around a fair amount playing soccer.
My back pain eventually got bad enough that standing straight up hurt. I could hardly lean backwards. I finally saw a chiropractor. After having x-rays, the doctor sat me down in his office (this is rarely a good thing when you see a chiropractor). Showing my my x-rays, he proceeded to explain that I had very little disc left between my L5 and S1 in my spine. It was almost bone on bone. “Degenerated disk” was my diagnosis. The doctor suggested chiropractic care, but told me he didn’t really know how much he could help me. “Spinal fusion surgery” was mentioned as I sat in shock. I asked if this could have anything to do with my eating disorder. “Yes. That certainly couldn’t have helped.”
I was angry. I was upset. This injury was one of the things that truly woke me up as to how damaged my body was.
I had done the damage.
I had tried to kill it, wether that was my true intention or not.
And I had to change.
I didn’t want to- I was scared. I knew my life had to look different after that day. Let me tell you, a serious back injury DEMANDS you listen to your body. It demands you take care of your body. A back injury is crippling, and if it doesn’t get better, the reality is, your quality of life is going to decrease. When people think of exercise bulimia and anorexia and over-exercise, they think of frail bones and fractures, but not necessarily spinal injuries. I was terrified. My priorities had to change. I could no longer treat my body like a machine. I’m a nurse; I absolutely need my back to be healthy. Hell, I’m a human; I need my back to be healthy so I can enjoy my life.
For a long time when I was at my sickest, I was apathetic. Sure, I wanted to get better, but I also didn’t want to do the work. It seemed impossible, because this life of earning and justifying food wth exercise was all I could remember. I never thought I was sick enough, thin enough, unhealthy enough, etc. At my lowest, I angrily begged God to send me a sign that I had hit rock bottom, not realizing I was there. “I’ll get treatment…when…I’m really underweight…when…I have something serious happen to me…”
In those moments of questioning how I could really change, I realized that all along, I had signs. I was the only one not thinking they weren’t serious enough. I didn’t need GOD to send me an epiphany; I needed to acknowledge that my relationship with exercise was very disordered, and had hurt me.
I quit running. I stopped doing hot yoga. I went to a chiropractor three times a week for 8 months. Then twice a week for another 3 months. I cried a lot. My back hurt, and so did my heart. I didn’t know who I was without the “athletic, healthy girl” label I had defined myself by. Eventually, I got down to weekly visits to the chiropractor. Somewhere along the way, I wandered back into my Bikram yoga studio. I was healthy enough to get away with being there, but as I lay on my mat in the middle of class one day- hot, soaked in sweat, and miserable- I realized something.
I fucking hate this.
What am I doing?
Exercise shouldn’t be about burning calories. And that’s what I am here for.
Exercise shouldn’t be harmful. And that’s all it’s ever been for me.
Why am I doing this?
Exercise shouldn’t be a permission slip to eat. And that’s the only reason I was doing it.
I walked out of the yoga studio that day, and never went back.
I’ve lost track of the timeline, but I stopped hurting my body after that day. My body won, and it had made me listen. The consequences of my choices were too much. I felt like a quitter. felt huge and gross. I felt lost.
But I found myself.
Corny. But so freaking true.
I let myself figure out what LINDSEY liked doing. What filled me up, made me happy, and helped me be healthy.
One November afternoon, I took a yoga class at a random place a few miles from my house. I KNEW I would hate it- it wasn’t Bikram yoga. It wasn’t running. It wouldn’t be hard enough. I braced myself for skinny, pretty girls in matching Lululemon outfits, who drank green juice and shopped only at Whole Foods.
And I fell in love. My first class, I had so much fun. I LAUGHED. I was energized instead of exhausted.
The Baptiste yoga practice redefined my view of exercise. I found that being strong was better than being sick. I found community. I found friends. I found opportunity. I found my breath, and in that, I found awareness of my body and my feelings. I found out those things aren’t really that bad. Unfamiliar and scary, but necessary. I found healing in an unlikely place, and I am so grateful to the good Lord above for bringing me to that little studio that day.
Redefining my relationship with food and exercise is a process. I still struggle. It’s a journey. There are low valleys, but also high mountains that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I am healing. I am learning. I don’t own a pair of running shoes anymore, because that’s what I need to do to keep myself safe. I doubt I’ll ever set foot in a gym again. I wasn’t invincible, and I learned that the hard way. I don’t have words to tell you how thankful I am that my back DID heal- yes, I still have to be careful, and I still see a chiropractor. But now I listen to my body, which is something I never would have done before.
I hope that no one has to go through a story like mine to finally wake up and take care of yourself. Maybe some of you already have, or maybe you’re getting ready to and just don’t know it. Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live. It’s the one thing on this earth you truly own. Someday you will be more grateful for health, relationships, and memories than you are for miles run, calories burned, or what number you see on the scale. Don’t wait, because you might not be so lucky.