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The One Question That Causes Anxiety Around My Eating Disorder to Spike

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The other night I was heading downtown to meet some girlfriends. When we arrived at a bar, I noticed that one of the bouncers looked familiar. We did that awkward couple-of-seconds look trying to figure out where we knew each other from and then at the same time, “Goodlife!” He worked at the gym I used to go to. We made small talk and he mentioned that he wasn’t at the gym anymore. I replied with, “Oh yeah, I don’t actually go there anymore either.” To this he asked, “So what are you doing now then?”

In general, I explained that I’ve recently graduated, was working full-time and not going to any gym. He looked sort of confused, but only by my last statement and asked, “So, what do you mean? What do you do now then?” To this comment, I’m sure I also gave a pretty confused look and (cluing into the fact that his original question was about fitness) responded with, “Um, just sort of doing my own thing…”

Now, I’ve debated writing about this short conversation, because I can already hear so many different opinions from people reading it. “So what, he was just wondering if you’re at another gym,” “You were probably jumping the gun and reading into how he responded,” “You’re so touchy,” “Wow, what a jerk.” The truth is, the reason I’ve gone through with writing this is because I don’t want to write anything that will waste someone’s time, and I listen to my gut when something is nagging at me. This moment was nagging at me for a few reasons, but even more when I began to be honest with myself.

The gym, and my confidence in my ability to live an all-around healthy lifestyle with it included, remains a sore spot for me. Being brutally honest, it is where my eating disorder often manifested itself, bringing in a lot of false confidence and a hell of a lot more damage to my body and mind than I ever needed. I spent years losing precious time to the gym when I should have been sleeping, eating and studying. It was all so unnecessary, yet I was addicted.

Beginning recovery a few years ago, it was a non-negotiable with my recovery team that I terminate my gym contract. I was mortified. Absolutely mortified. I cried in the office and tried to smile my way through all the anxiety I felt. Fake it till you make it, right? Wrong. So wrong (yet sort of right). That first year without the gym was tough, and I had to learn many new ways of coping. Eventually I could go biking or running, and I learned to feel my body outside of the confinements of gym machines and treadmills. Everything was just dandy, and I was thinking, “I’m ready to try this gym thing again, it can’t be that bad!” At first it wasn’t all that bad. I felt good about being healthy and able to choose when was the best time for me to go workout. I was so blind to the gradual ways that my eating disorder would creep back up on me.

My casual workouts became a couple hours, and I found some old training workouts in my email that I thought, “Oh hey, I can definitely handle these.” I began talking about following the nutrition plan that had come with those workouts, and things just truly got away from me. After about eight months, it was time to quit the gym again. That was also tough. I felt like I could never lead a “normal” healthy life without being able to go to the gym, and I realized so much of my recovery was aimed at being able to live that standard “healthy lifestyle” that everyone talks about.

But the truth is, the gym was rarely a healthy part of life for me, and sometimes left me feeling defeated. Yet, when someone asks, “So what are you doing now then?” searching for an answer about what gym I’m at or how I stay physically healthy, my anxiety spikes for the tiniest moment. In reflecting upon this, I had an epiphany. The only reason I’m feeling that anxiety is because I think they’re judging me based on the fact that I don’t go to the gym anymore. And the even harder truth is: I used to be that person.

Here I am, recovered from an eating disorder, getting upset that someone questioned why I wasn’t at the gym anymore; simply because at another time, I would have been that person to judge those who didn’t go to the gym. Eating disorders are unique to each individual. They can make you numb, cold and sometimes anxious or judgmental. Of the many roots that grew into my eating disorder, some came from the fact that I felt and perceived the “ideal” woman and lifestyle as being very physically active. I was fed images and thought that dieting was some skill that some women were better at than others. My judgment of others who chose to not engage in that lifestyle came from the fact that I was jealous and insecure of them being able to live happily without this huge thing in their life that I was consumed by.

In efforts to protect me, my eating disorder put up many tall walls of judgment. These walls were held up because I was, myself, afraid of being judged and rejected. I was afraid of not being good enough and so I tried to perfect myself, all the while being angry that others didn’t have to hurt themselves the same way that I did to feel accepted.

So, in these moments when my anxiety spikes in response to such a question, I need to reflect on my own immediate reaction being: “How rude of him to judge me based on that.” Because some of those opinions that I was scared of hearing from writing this, are warranted. I should not be worried that someone would judge me based on that decision, as I would not do the same to anyone today. I have found many ways to remain healthy and active outside of the gym and will continue to do so. I also need to be constantly aware of the fact that my eating disorder would love to find every opportunity to plant seeds of doubt, judgment and insecurity to get me back where it wants me. I won’t let that happen, and neither should you.

A quote posted by Recovery Warriors on Instagram has helped to reflect in these moments:

“You’re so hard on yourself. Take a moment. Sit back. Marvel at your life: At the grief that softened you. At the heartache that wisened you. At the suffering that strengthened you. Despite everything, you still grow. Be proud of this.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via Lapchenko

Originally published: October 31, 2017
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