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How Working in the Fitness Industry Affects My Eating Disorder Recovery

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

Fitness — you either love it or you hate it, but it doesn’t feel like you can escaping. Health and fitness is very much front and center in today’s society. Weights are getting heavier, exercises are getting weirder and outfits are getting skimpier. In my opinion, it’s becoming a competition that no one can win.

I work in the fitness industry as a lifeguard and class instructor, and every day I overhear people’s conversations about weight loss, new classes, lifting heavier and all the other things that go hand in hand with gyms. But no one is ever satisfied. No one is ever happy with their progress. And I, too, have been sucked up into this world. A world that is seen as healthy and strong — but I think we need to question this: how healthy can something be when it’s causing so much strain and obsession over our bodies?

This is what could have been detrimental to my recovery.

I’ve spent the better part of four years recovering from an eating disorder — the years when you’re meant to be deciding your future and planning your whole life, scary right? I knew I wasn’t in the right place to head off to university, so I decided to give personal training a try. Looking back now, I realize that I became a personal trainer for all the wrong reasons. Even though I was in recovery, it just became another aspect of food and exercise that I could control. It had me obsessing even more over my appearance. I found new ways in which my body “wasn’t quite right” and I started being swallowed up but this new world.

Before I set foot in the world of fitness, all I wanted was to be thin and delicate. My aim was to be as light as possible. All of a sudden, I was catapulted into unknown territory; I was in awe of these women who appeared strong and stable, with muscles and bronzed skin. Social media sucked me in and I would scroll for hours, picking up tips and new exercises, hitting the gym whenever I could in the hopes of achieving a body just like these women. In my naive mind, I believed that I was recovered, able to lift heavy things and work toward my new “body goal.” I thought that I was making all of these choices in the name of health, but I had stopped listening to my body. I didn’t notice that every time I stepped into the gym, my anxiety would skyrocket. I didn’t pay attention to the fact I was comparing myself more and more to the women who would come to workout. I was slowly but surely returning to that place of self-hate and doubt. Nothing about my mental health was remotely healthy.

It was only until very recently that I started being honest with myself again. I began to notice that this wasn’t a way to live, I wasn’t happy when I forced myself to go and exercise and I wasn’t happy trying to keep up with more unrealistic standards. I was becoming sick.

So, I stopped.

I stopped going to the gym so religiously. It’s been about a month now and I’ve gone to the gym only a few times. I’m done with forcing myself to exercise. Those few times that I went to the gym were all really good workouts, I had energy, I wasn’t anxious and I felt good. But I know this isn’t always the case, I know that more often than not, the gym leaves me feeling worse than when I entered.

What has been hard is continuing to honor my body during the times when I’ve felt bloated or if I’ve eaten a lot, especially with the holiday’s approaching. There have been days when I’ve felt unhappy with how my body looks and it’s taken a lot of strength to not dash off to the gym. I now realize that I had been doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Another difficult aspect of cutting down exercise has been other people’s comments. Yes, this really does happen.

“Oh Lucy, you haven’t been to the gym recently, is everything OK?”

“Not exercising? That’s a bit lazy!”

“Sandwich for lunch? That’s an extra half hour in the gym.”

“You bought your wedding dress already? You’ll have to be good for the next year then.”

All of these comments have been said to me within the last month, wether they were said in jest or not, they still hurt. When did it become OK to judge people on their choices? Why do people feel the need to comment on my choices? Why do I need to justify my choices?

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to reassure myself that what I’m doing is right for me. A lot of the time I feel like I’m being pulled apart by people’s comments and suggestions. Doubt creeps into my mind and I’m left feeling like a failure, all because people can’t see the ongoing battle I face with exercise and food. For some reason, we’ve been taught to believe that it’s OK to make off the cuff comments about people’s food and exercise habits, when really, it’s none of our business.

I think it’s time to reflect. I’m not saying we should all stop exercising, but maybe we should take a step back and reevaluate our reasonings behind exercise. Are you desperate to get to the gym because it’s what you really want? Because it helps destress you and makes you truly happy? Or is it because part of you is fearful? Fearful of not being seen in the “right body,” fearful because you’ve been “bad” or “fallen off the wagon” and are desperate to “correct” your mistake?

Health and fitness has become such a huge part of our world, but maybe it’s time to stop glorifying it as much. Stop putting so much pressure on individuals to be “perfect” and stop pretending that this charade is always to do with being “fit” and “strong.” Maybe it’s time to see it for what it really is — a new obsession and more unrealistic standards to live up to.

Follow this journey here.

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 h4ckermodify

Originally published: August 2, 2017
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