I’ve been recovered now for more than 4 years. Before when I was eyeball deep in my ED, I had always been an avid exerciser, but back then it was for all the wrong reasons. Now that I’m well, exercise has taken on a whole new meaning. One great pleasure I get from running is competing in races. I love the day of the race, everyone excited and ready to go, the sound of the horn and everyone trying to find their spot. And I Iove the training. I love scheduling out my runs (type A, party of one, your table is ready) and feeling myself getting stronger. I don’t however, love how my body changes.
If you’re an athlete, especially if you’re someone who participates in a few competitive races every year, or even if you’ve only competed once, you’ll know what I mean. I have my regular exercise routine, but when I’m training for a race, my routine gets kicked up a notch every one to two weeks. That happened in January when I was training for a half marathon, the same month that I celebrated 4 years of being free from my eating disorder. But that month I was sorely reminded of the past.
I know the minute it happens. I don’t dare weigh myself anymore, but let’s face it: When you live in your body every second of your life, there are other ways to know your body is changing other than looking at yourself in the mirror. If you wear a watch or rings, you know. Some, or all of your clothes might fit differently. You might do something as simple as putting your hands on your hips and you feel the difference. To athletes that have never suffered from an eating disorder, doing something as simple as putting their hands on their hips might not conjure up any thoughts at all, but to us, it might spike a trigger.
There are also things I see in the mirror. My collarbones, for instance look different. And then, there are the comments from others. Usually they tend to come from people that don’t know my history, or are just acquaintances. The ever-so-popular, “Wow! You look so skinny!” has at times sent me into a tizzy, but now, I can brush it off as if someone just pointed out an airplane in the sky.
So, what do we do in times like this? Here are some steps I’ve found helpful since I’ve been recovered:
Expect changes to happen, but don’t be attached to them. Depending on what I’m training for, I may or may not notice changes. If it’s a triathlon, the swimming will change my body noticeably. If it’s a longer race I’ll be running, I’ll notice them too. But I cannot be attached either way, positively or negatively about the changes
Keep telling yourself they are temporary body changes. I keep telling myself this in an affirming, loving way. That way I know my body will go back to it’s natural state and I won’t be disappointed by it. It’s unrealistic for me to keep up my training schedule year round and logically I know this. But without reinforcing this to myself, my “gremlin” or “ed head” will find the crack and creep back in, telling me I can and should keep this training up. And that could be dangerous.
When other people comment on your “new” body, acknowledge the comment by saying something like, “Yah, I’m training for a race coming up and been working out more than my regular schedule” and change the subject. Change the subject to something about them that has nothing to do with weight, body size or exercise.
You might be tempted to weigh yourself or buy new clothes in smaller sizes. Resist the urge. If you’re newly recovered and need support, get it. When I was newly recovered, before I even started training for a race, I was terrified of the body changes before they even happened! My “ed head” told me there was no way I could handle the body changes and I was sure to fall back into symptoms of disordered eating and exercise. You may or may not feel this way, but whatever happens, remember you are normal. Triggers are completely normal!
I wrote this post because recovery isn’t black and white. There’s no magic book, or therapist, or blog that’s suddenly going to make us recovered. A lot of us have all-or-nothing thinking, so wrapping our brains around the fact that recovery is slow, looks and feels different for everyone and that there are setbacks is hard for us to accept sometimes. For me, the setbacks are still difficult. Remember to take the time to look back at how far you’ve come.
Andrea Owen is a Certified Life Coach (CPCC) and speaker. She is a self-esteem, body image and fitness expert and believes all of those ingredients can help women empower themselves to live their best, most kick-ass life.
She truly believes that self-love and healthy body image are the foundational power of women’s lives. And that all of us have what it takes to love our bodies and ourselves unconditionally.