I lay flat on my back on my drenched yoga mat, breathing deeply. Not worried about how many calories I burned or how working out might change my body. I was in shavasana, the last pose of class. I hadn't gone to yoga in weeks, skipping my normal sessions in favor of more intense workouts that would burn more calories, be more efficient, help me run faster. But here I was, back on my yoga mat after ignoring a string of minor injuries that all proved too minor to stop me from running while remaining impossible to ignore. Something my first running coach once told me rung through my mind, "A healthy runner will beat an injured one, any day of the week." Another thought briefly blipped onto my radar and just as quickly, disappeared, forcing me to pull it back and step on it a minute: "Your body is so good. It is so strong and healthy. Don't break yourself."
Don't break yourself, I thought. Don't break yourself. Running through minor injuries makes them bigger and louder. Requires more rest. Running through extreme fatigue taxes the body, digging a hole of weariness that is almost impossible to climb out of. In my body, fatigue piles on top of itself-too many nights of too little sleep, inadequate nutrition because I'm "too busy," too many miles because I still think, and have always thought, that more is better. Despite thinking that more is always better, I know this isn't true. I know I should rest more, do more yoga, but sometimes (read: often) my brain simply won't allow rest.
My eating disorder was once a loud, all-encompassing voice that dictated most of my behaviors. Even if I knew a certain behavior (like purging) was bad for me or wrong, my eating disorder was strong enough to convince me the opposite was true. While it is quieter now, my eating disorder isn't completely gone. It still screams sometimes, I just know how to manage it better. One of the most damaging myths about eating disorders is that engaging in recovery makes the disorder disappear entirely. Maybe my eating disorder will never completely distill, but even if it did, it has been so much a part of me for so long that ignoring its existence would be akin to ignoring the existence of a mean dog you have to walk past every day on your way to work.
Hang with me. Every day, you dread walking by the dog but there is no other route. The dog makes you anxious and you tense up just walking by its yard. It has lunged at you before, maybe bit you a time or two.Then one day, the dog dies and you feel incredible relief-now you can walk in peace. But sometimes, you forget that the dog isn't there anymore, and find yourself clenching your jaw when you walk by the yard. You probably won't ever forget the annoyance, inconvenience, pain, or disquietude the dog brought you. This analogy may be a poor one, but it works: my eating disorder was a mean dog, and sometimes I feel as if I deserve every inch of that meanness.
So this particular moment on my yoga mat, when I was calm and briefly grateful for my body, was a bit of a revelation. Thinking to myself, your body is so good, was a mental and emotional breakthrough, simply because it wasn't conscience. I wasn't telling my brain to relay the message, it just did and it took me very much by surprise.
Part of my recovery includes bi-weekly cognitive behavioral therapy (cbt) sessions, and one of my latest tasks has been to spend a few minutes each night writing down my disordered thoughts, separating them from facts. It looks something like this:
Eating Disorder, "I know you're tired and your body hurts, but you need to work out today. Working out makes you thin and beautiful."
FACT: Working out when I'm tired and hurt will only damage my body more, and my weight will not change due to one rest day. In fact, my body will probably feel better and be primed to perform another day.
Eating Disorder, "Why did you stop counting your calories? If you don't know how much you eat, you'll overeat and become fat."
FACT: Counting calories has been shown, time and time again, to not aid weight loss. Eating when I'm hungry and listening to my body's natural hunger cues is the best way to maintain a healthy weight. I know this, but I also know that my happy, set point, healthy weight is higher than whatever conventional beauty standards promote. This can be confusing, triggering, and extremely frustrating for someone who is 100% healthy.
Eating Disorder, "Look at your stomach. Imagine how small it will be if you don't eat dinner."
FACT: I'm hungry, and need to eat dinner. Stomachs do not grow and shrink from one meal.
Eating Disorder, "You're so fat."
FACT: I'm incredibly not fat, and healthy in every sense of the word.
Eating Disorder, "You should skip dinner with your friend. Restaurant food is greasy and you'll probably overeat."
FACT: I need to spend time with my friends more than I need to avoid food.
Eating Disorder, "The only way anyone will ever love you is if you make yourself smaller. People love beautiful people, and beautiful people are small."
FACT: Beautiful people are everywhere, in every sized body, and are widely loved.
Etc, Etc, Etc.
I've been running long enough to know the difference between a minor ache and a bad ache. I've grown shrewd enough to tell the difference between a sore muscle or a pulled muscle, a stress reaction or a bone bruise or a strained tendon. I've also learned that sometimes, "motion is lotion," and yoga, for instance, can keep me healthy and injury free after spending so much time pounding the pavement. I have learned too, that running through an ache that continues to worsen will only result in a worse injury. Allowing myself to rest is something my eating disorder wouldn't allow me to do. Even if I were injured and couldn't run, I would find some other way to work out; this was never necessary, and still isn't.
My body is strong and beautiful and good, and yours is too. Don't break it.
P.S. If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the NEDA helpline at (800) 931-2237, find a treatment center or therapist near you HERE, or find an Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) meeting near you HERE.