TW/CW – disordered eating, restrictive behavior, eating disorder talk, intentional weight loss.
A while back I was selected to interview for an upcoming documentary titled “Dying for Fitness.” I was not selected for the final cut, but I wanted to share my responses with you as I feel it is important information about my lived experience related to “Dying for Fitness” and my journey of healing from Exercise Bulimia. See below.
But first, here’s the thing about diets and excessive exercise. They don’t work. Diets fail 95% of the time, yet we keep trying. And worse yet, we blame ourselves for weight gain. The weight gain that happens after a period of restriction is your body keeping you ALIVE! Biology wins every time. Diet culture and fatphobia are so deeply rooted in our society, it is astonishing really. The diet industry was worth $254 billion dollars in 2021 and continues to grow. Diet companies are not interested in your actual health and wellness, they are solely concerned with your money and making you feel like a failure so you keep giving them more money. It was never about health. Even ones like Noom do a better job at disguising it than most. Don’t believe me? Educate yourself. Take a look at the scientific studies that exist. You can read Intuitive Eating or information on Health at Every Size from organizations such as ASDAH.
Before my healing journey began, I was so crippled by diet culture and a fear of weight gain that I could barely function. Every moment was consumed with calorie counting, restricting, over-hydration, and figuring out how many workouts I could fit into a single day. And this was celebrated because to an outside observer (even those close to me) it looked good. I was losing weight after all and isn’t that all that really matters? No. It is not. I was miserable and I was hurting myself. My body straight-up revolted to save me and I am so grateful for that. You can read more about my healing journey in a previous blog post.
Here is my interview.
What area of exercise/sports do you work in or practice?
I am a Ph.D.level self-care expert with a wide variety of expertise related to healthy lifestyles. Exercise is an essential domain of self-care. As a classically trained dancer that now dances for recreation/exercise, I also encourage my clients to incorporate dance and movement into their practice of self-care. We must move our bodies regularly to live long, healthy lives. In my past, I danced and choreographed musicals professionally in the greater Boston area. I continue to engage in barre work, water activities like swimming and aerobics, yoga, and other movement-based exercise programs like Zumba, Body Groove, and 567 Broadway. (Listen to my podcast interview you with the creator of 567 Broadway, Joseph Corella).
What’s your experience dealing with people who exercise in an unhealthy way?
I am healing from exercise bulimia, disordered eating, and anorexia. At the height of my disease in 2015, I took up to 17 classes a week at a local boutique fitness studio. This level of exertion was in addition to a traditional gym routine throughout the week and choreographing musicals on the side. Many members of my family live in larger bodies and diet talk was constantly happening. Growing up, thanks in part to dancing and a youthful metabolism, I thought that I had somehow avoided that gene. Then came my senior year of high school, and at 17 years old, I put on weight during the summer. To combat this, I restricted my food intake, increased my exercising, and easily lost weight. It was my first memory of intentional restriction and my father was eager to share tips for managing hunger.
I mistakenly believed that I could control my body size with these methods. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and my weight has fluctuated dramatically as a result over the years. This continued over the next 15 years in a vicious cycle of over-exercising and under-eating, always resulting in weight gain after a “period of loss.” This would restart the cycle once again to undo the damage I believed had been caused by being lax in my routine and not the futile pursuit of controlling my body size. Every time I gained weight, it was more than the weight I had previously been at prior to starting the diet. I figured I just hadn’t cracked the code yet.
As I approached my wedding date in 2015, the intensity of my eating disorder took on a whole new level. I was now combining methods of purging to include abusing laxatives as well as over-hydrating integrated into my cycle of over-exercising. During this time, I also participated in DietBets and local weight loss challenges. I was obsessed with meal prep, myfitnesspal app, and anything that I thought was going to help me. I always won the challenges, determined to be a “thin” bride above all else. It’s also worth mentioning that I was celebrated for keeping this unsustainable pace and forcing my body into a more societally acceptable shape through all of this abuse. This fueled an unhealthy cycle.
It was just after the wedding when it all started to backfire. I couldn’t get the scale to budge, and no matter how many classes I took, the weight increased. At this point, I turned to a Keto diet and lifestyle, which was the final straw. I knew I needed help. I sought a dietician’s support to assist my weight issues, and after accepting the fact that I was suffering from an eating disorder, I began my journey to heal and appreciate my body. I will admit the first few sessions with my dietician, I was frustrated as I just wanted her to tell me how to lose the weight once and for all, but that was not going to happen. Instead, our work catapulted me into a journey of self-discovery and healing. I mourned the loss of my thin body and learned to be me again. This was not an easy process but it was necessary for so many reasons.
I share my journey and try to steer people away from unhealthy habits when it comes to diet and exercise. I feed my body in a loving, mindful, and intuitive way, and I now understand that exercise should be joyful. It does not have to be extreme to be effective, and exercise can be activities you enjoy. I still love to dance, so that is always my go-to activity, and truth be told…I don’t miss the gym membership.
Do you have any personal experience of injuries caused by overzealous training?
In my youth, I suffered from Chondromalacia (Runner’s knee), which is an overuse syndrome as a result of my dance training and the intensity at which I trained and performed. Again in early adulthood, as I continued to punish my body with over-exercise and exertion, I suffered from various debilitating pains, including continued knee issues, shin splints, and hip issues. Since releasing unhealthy habits, the majority of the pain has subsided, and it is no longer persistent.
Are there any fitness programs you recommend?
I typically focus less on specific fitness programs and instead encourage my clients to embrace exercise that is JOYFUL. Movement is fun – not punishment for eating. I love Zumba, and I think it can be a great program when practiced at a sustainable pace. Anything done to extreme levels will ultimately become unhealthy. Additionally, Aqua Zumba is excellent, as well as Body Groove and 567 Broadway. I am not a fan of 30-day challenges. They tend to foster an unhealthy relationship with exercise, which is a slippery slope to an obsession with changing your body to fit an unrealistic societal ideal.
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