Peanut butter and jelly.
Mac and cheese.
Guacamole and chips.
Oreos and milk.
There are some things that always just go together. When I taught sophomore English, one of the grammar concepts I covered was subject-verb agreement, and how words that LOOK like they are separate nouns (mac and cheese) are actually singular in nature (“mac and cheese” is ONE dish, not two separate items). The two parts make up a whole, so something like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is ONE THING and not two.
To most fifteen-year-olds, this concept was simplistic and seemingly unimportant. One noun? Two nouns? Who cares? But apply this idea to eating disorder recovery, and it is MIND BLOWING.
Let me explain…
Most people believe that an eating disorder is based solely around a food fear. If a person is scared of fat, she will restrict foods that have fat. But what most don’t know is that there are other rules associated with an eating disorder, and when a food rule and another rule become combined, they are one in the same, a singular noun like Mac and cheese. For some individuals, the other rule could revolve around OCD beliefs, like having to eat food in a certain manner on a certain plate at a certain time. For another person, a rule could be focused on the quality of food and that said individual will not eat anything that is not labeled as organic. For me, I have many other rules that are combined with food fears–the biggest rule, however, deals with exercise.
I wrote extensively about exercise in a number of posts on this site. A NUMBER OF POSTS. Why? Because from the onset of developing anorexia, I was steeped in running. Running plus food restriction equaled my eating disorder. And while I no longer run marathons or run everyday, I still have exercise rules…and since these rigid set of beliefs are intertwined with my food intake, if I don’t tackle these exercise rules, how will I truly every recover from anorexia?
First rule: I need to sweat in order to feel like I worked out and earned my food for the day. Yeah, this is a pretty stupid rule. My husband, bless his heart, actually told me it was stupid. And you know what? I needed him to say that to me. I truly respect his honesty, and if something was false, my hubby would be the first to say so. And in this instance, he did.
That is just dumb.
This simple text response from him were the words I needed to open my eyes to the light. It was dumb. I mean, in all seriousness, I sweat standing in the sun for recess duty, but that doesn’t mean I am “working out hard.” Sweat is sweat. It’s a cooling of the body. It has no basis on how much my muscles are growing or how much my cardiovascular system is being taxed. And yet, I believed in this rule for so long, and so much so, that it led me to my second rule…
Second rule: I need to run at least 10 minutes before weightlifting OR 2 miles before doing upper body training. Why this rule? Because I needed to sweat in order to feel like I worked out. And in order to eat food, I needed to know that I worked out. See the sad connection here between exercise rules and food rules??
No sweat–>Bad workout–>No food for the day (or a very limited amount of food)
And don’t get me started on rest days. I was so limited in what I could eat on days I didn’t work out, that it makes my stomach cry thinking about the lack of carbohydrates I ate when I didn’t go to the gym. My stomach was literally so so so sad.
So, how am I going about breaking these exercise rules? Well, first off, I resolved to not run or do long cardio sessions to “warm up” (that was how I justified the runs…I needed to “get my body warm”). The first time I did this was two days ago on an upper body training day. I actually had my running shoes in the car so that after school was done, I could head to the gym for my workout. But then, something in me clicked “on” and I said, “Well, I JUST DON’T WANT TO RUN.” Seriously, it was the light switch (I wrote about this switch in my last post–check it out if you missed it!). Praise God for great friends (Lori, Ina, and Alex) who reaffirmed that yes, cardio should not be in the cards for me. I felt emboldened after coming to the revelation that I didn’t NEED to run. In fact, I didn’t NEED to do anything if I didn’t want to!!!
And so all that day when I thought about hanging up my Nikes, I felt free. Joyful. Happy. And then, 3:30pm came around and I drove up to the gym. Boy, it was a struggle for sure…walking towards the building’s doors, I thought about the treadmills that I’d normally hop on for my two mile jaunts, and it made my stomach churn. So do you know what I did? I WALKED A DIFFERENT PATH PAST THE TREADMILLS AND DIDN’T EVEN LOOK AT THE MACHINES. That in itself helped a ton. Instead, I went right to doing some dynamic warm-ups and jumped into my working sets of military presses. I was so afraid that I wouldn’t sweat if I didn’t run, but you know what? Ironically, I sweated. A ton. Just doing upper body. And then I ate McDonald’s for dinner. Winning!!!
To add more flame to the recovery fire, I am going to challenge myself even more: today is a rest day from training and I am STILL going to eat like normal. In fact, I’m going to challenge myself to eat a breakfast, snack, and lunch that is a bit scary for me. Why? Because I want to retrain my brain to think that food is food. I need it regardless if I sweat or not. And eating meals that are not in my “norm” will hopefully tell my brain “Hey! You ate something scary and didn’t go to the gym…and nothing bad happened! Do it again! This is great!!”
So yes, my recovery is a process. I am taking everything one step, one day at a time. I am slowly separating my singular nouns, my Mac and cheese, and hopefully getting the food and exercise rules to separate to be plural entities (guacamole and chips, Oreos and milk) that do not influence one another but CAN go well together. I desire to have what I will eat in a day not be linked to the training I do and vice versa. It will not be a walk in the park (or a piece of cake!), but I am taking it one meal at a time, one day at a time…onward and upward!