In my opinion, the right mindset is the single most important step you need to tackle on your fitness journey. We currently live in a world that is constantly reminding us that we’re not good enough, that there is always someone better – so why do we keep going? It’s the right mindset in the face of adversity that will take us from who we once were to the person we’re intended to be — living out our full potential.
Exercise bulimia is a form of “non-purging” bulimia in which a person uses exercise to eliminate calories.
Eating disorders don’t always come in the form of starvation and purging. Eating disorders are sneaky and hide out in traditionally healthy activities, like exercise. With exercise bulimia, working out is no longer about getting fit or feeling healthy… it’s about solving a math problem. 1 apple (70 calories) + 1 rice cake (30 calories) + 1 latte (150 calories) = 25 minutes on the elliptical for breakfast.
In the heat of my eating disorder, I remember spending at least 3 or 4 hours per night locked in my room with my notebook and calculator figuring out everything I would eat the next day based on how much time I would have at the gym. I would only eat foods with very little flavor and that I knew the exact calorie count for. There was times I’d go into a crippling panic attack anytime I was forced to eat outside my comfort zone. My fear wasn’t always necessarily rooted in the calories, I think it was the fear that I’d actually enjoy the food and wouldn’t be able to stop eating.
At the time, I knew what I was doing wasn’t healthy, but I always had myself and everyone else convinced that it wasn’t that bad… that I had everything under control. It came to the point where I really didn’t want to lose any more weight, I actually liked my body, but the obsession with the calculations controlled me every day and every night. What I didn’t know back then was how little my eating disorder had to do with weight and how much it had to do with controlling all the other stressors in my life. Injuries, school pressure, and unhealthy relationships all piled up to create the perfect storm. The gym was my outlet… but not for healthy reasons. It was my way of ridding my body of all its imperfections that caused me the stress. It was like that feeling of emptiness in my stomach cancelled out the emptiness I felt in my life.
After years in and out of recovery and therapist’s offices, I have been able to reintroduce exercise into my life because I want to, not because I need to. I no longer care about the calories I am burning off. Eating a cookie no longer means an hour on the elliptical, and having a glass of wine no longer means I spend a half hour hiding out doing jumping jacks and crunches. I love exercise, but I am also very aware of potential triggers that could set me back. I once made the mistake of using a heart rate monitor to track my calories for a competition at work which quickly spiraled into an obsessive way to control my intake. I do understand the positive impact on this kind of technology, however we also need to be aware that its not for everyone.
Often times as a trainer I hear clients saying things like, “I’m earning my dinner tonight” or “I’m working off everything I ate over the holidays” – unfortunately this kind of mindset is the enforcing the exercise as punishment mentality and can quickly become dangerous. Exercise should be about movement & well-being rather than punishment and fear. It should help increase mood and decrease anxiety rather than visa versa.
So how do we avoid this desperate need to workout?
- Find a healthy maintainable eating style that works for you – 80/20 rule
- Allow yourself guilt-free treats without having to “earn” them – you are not a dog!
- Exercise in a way that is enjoyable for you – strength training, running, yoga, biking, Zumba – whatever YOU like to do.
- Focus on progress and not comparison