Often the emphasis in eating disorder recovery is the capacity to eat sufficiently, flexibly, and socially. However what is little talked about is the capacity to exercise with the same mindset. As someone recovering from anorexia, I didn’t believe that I could have a healthy relationship with exercise. I went as far as to purchase off-peak gym memberships to restrict my access to local gyms.
Exercise was always something I had to protect myself against. Exercise had been my poison. It all began with a dog - an 8 week old teddy-bear-looking puppy with a definite appetite for exercising sufficiently, flexibly and socially.
Everything about the Park Run contradicts all of my prior experiences of exercise.
She’d walk me everyday around the park; We became best friends instantly. She taught me to be much more mindful of my fitness. To stop and collect the sticks, to chase the birds, and to make friends whilst doing it all. She’d bunny-hop on her hind legs to meet new people, and drag me along to meet them too. I was becoming flexible to exercise the needs of someone else, instead of just listening to the exercise needs of my eating disorder voice. Trust me, she barks much louder than my eating disorder voice!
One Saturday, we had set out on a morning walk around the park. I had been eyeing up participating in the Park Run for some weeks after a suggestion from an old friend. However I am always reluctant to admit I’ve listened to someone else’s advice on fitness, so I was stubbornly denying any want of involvement. After some significant sniffing out with the dog, I reluctantly took to the starting line.
Everything about the Park Run contradicts all of my prior experiences of exercise. I used to punish and ridicule myself for every misstep. Now there’s a crowd of people and a sea of dogs cheering me on at the finish line. I’ll spot my dog halfway through the run, socialising with other dogs and remember I’m managing (in my own way) to do the same. I’m always frightened that I will not make it. I always do. I’m always afraid that I will be disappointed. I never am. I never mind that I was a minute faster or a minute slower because I remember everything that had to happen to get myself to the starting line.
You can exercise sufficiently, flexibly, and socially. Exercise can be stress-relieving and not stress-inducing.
After a few Park Runs, I became envious of the people that knew people at Park Run. At the Park Run I knew nobody, only my dog and the faces I recognised briefly in crowds. I craved the sociality of it all. So one morning, I took the ultimate leap of faith and joined the Facebook page of my local running group. Then my eating disorder voice spent the entire afternoon trying to talk me out of attending. Nevertheless, the dog talked me back into it.
You can have a healthy relationship with exercise. You can exercise sufficiently, flexibly, and socially. Exercise can be stress-relieving and not stress-inducing. I run in a proper pack now and I know people at Park Run because we wear the same T-shirts. My dog (and a village of other people) taught me to have fun with exercise. Me and the teddy bear go almost everywhere together. We’re on our next adventure together this year. We’ll be delivering eating disorder awareness talks to people across my company. And after some significant sniffing out with the dog, I’ll reluctantly take to the starting line again…
-Contributed by Katie
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