Exercising for Joy, not Compensation
As prevalent as disordered eating patterns are (3 out of 4 women experience disordered thoughts around eating), we can't forget about our relationship to exercise.
Exercise is literally the bomb.com. We can move our bodies in ways that bring us pure joy with a little help from our endorphins. A Harvard study showed exercise as being just as effective for depression as anti-depressants (I'm in no way saying these medications are unnecessary, I just think it's a cool comparison to demonstrate its strength!). We also get pure joy out of life through exercise. I think the best kind of exercise is the kind you don't even realize you're doing (dancing, skiing/snowboarding, sports, hiking, gardening, walking your dog, etc.)
Sure, exercise helps with conditions like diabetes and hypertension. No doubt. It really only makes sense that our bodies reap some benefits when we move it and respect it. I use the word respect because sitting on the couch 24/7/365 might not be respecting your body just as much as exercising too often or for the wrong reason isn't either. Sitting on the couch IS a form of respect when you listen to your body and notice it needs rest. Exercising IS a form of respect when you want to get out and move.
- Exercise in response to how much you've eaten?
- Exercise in advance when you know you're going to be eating a lot later on (ex: Thanksgiving, a night out at your favorite restaurant, etc.)
- Force yourself to complete a long run, HIIT class, or other form of exercise when you don't want to?
- Do you feel guilty or lazy when you miss a workout for the day?
- Do you restrict or are you extremely careful with what you eat on days you miss exercise?
- Do you exercise until a certain amount of calories are burned (ex: getting off the elliptical once you hit X calories, not when you physically want to)?
- Injure often and find it hard to stop exercising when you become injured?
This took me a while to wrap my head around. As someone who's been on numerous sports teams since I was a little girl, exercise is second nature to me.
I lost the joy in moving though when I got to high school and started to use it as compensation. Did I eat "a lot" that day? If yes, I would tack on extra miles to my run, more time on the exercise bike, or complete other forms of movement my body didn't want to do.
I used to hear things from blogs or influencers that promoted exercising only when you wanted to with activity you chose. I would laugh at these comments and think how un-motivated these people must be. I unknowingly was putting myself on a pedestal for working out when my body didn't want to. I felt like I was in control of my body and life when I would complete all of my workouts for the week.
Plus, our society promotes exercising when we don't want to, so we might just think it's normal to hate exercise. Around January you'll see ads for gyms telling you that you should be going even though you don't want to. We see how well that works. Gyms filled to capacity in January and empty by at least March.
I also now know that over exercising is actually a form of bulimia thanks to my coaching call with an intuitive eating coach. People may not induce vomiting to "rid" calories, but they may exercise it "off." As you can assume, no bueno for the mental health.
So anyway, as someone who was following the Kayla Itsines plan of doing pre-planned legs, arms, and abs circuits, plus cardio on top of that, I decided to give this ~exercising when I want~ thing a try.
At first, I felt so weird. One morning I woke up and instead of forcing myself on a run that I would inevitably hate every second of, I told myself, Alex, you do you girl. If you want to sleep in go ahead. I tried closing my eyes to go back to sleep and couldn't. I wanted to run so I went for a run (I also don't track miles or times anymore. SO freeing). On the other hand, I did this again the next day and easily fell back asleep. I woke up without feelings of guilt knowing I could always go for a walk later if I wanted to. My day was so much better starting my day off with the rest my body craved.
It sounds so simple and that we just should "listen to our bodies," but I think that phrase is getting tossed around so frequently that it can lose it's power. The body is so damn smart. Like magna cum laude status, let's try listening to what it has to say more often.
How my Sports Team Helped Me Recover:
Sense of Belonging:
It's funny because I didn't think I had an eating disorder or disordered eating when I was entering high school, so finding ways to "beat it" it wasn't really a thing.
If any of you have ever been on a team (or in any type of close club for that matter), you know how awesome they can be. They become your second family. Unlike your friend group, you can't choose your team, which usually leads to a motley of personalities. Similarly to a family, you can't choose the types of people you're stuck with, so you learn how to love them no matter what. When you are together for 2 practices a day, summer camps, and weekend games, you have such a sense of belonging, community, and identity.
In hindsight, I realized my eating became more normalized, and my thoughts about my body became more neutral after being on my high school's field hockey team. It gave me this sense of belonging, identity, and community, and I'm forever grateful for this team and the amazing girls that felt like family to me.
A lot of people with eating disorders and disordered eating are struggling with a lack of belonging, lack of identity, and not feeling like a part of a community. Before you discount this and count all of the friends you have, hear me out. You don't need to be without friends to feel these ways. If you don't feel a sense of belonging or are unsure of your identity, eating disorders unfortunately, may be the way to cope with this. This is why it is so important to find community and a sense of belonging in other hobbies and communities when straying from disordered eating behaviors.
If you Have Cellulite, You're in good company!
Another way being on a team helped me recover from disordered eating and orthorexic tendencies was interacting with strong badass women on a regular basis. I realized weight and size had no correlation to how well you played. Larger girls could beat thinner girls to the ball, and honestly, having a little meat on your bones seemed to help you be more physical too.
As you scroll down instagram, you may see lots of the same type of women. Thin, lean, toned, and cellulite-free. So I threw together a little collage of badass women who are healthy and excel at what they do with, drum roll please, cellulite.
So there you have it. Believe it or not, despite what magazine covers and internet click bait say, cellulite isn't the end of the world! Every body is different, and for me, being a part of a sports team made me realize that. If you're transitioning out of diet culture and leaving disordered eating habits behind, I highly suggest finding community and identity in other hobbies that remind you there's so much more to life than #cleaneats and #bodygoals.