After a 5 year struggle with anorexia (with purging tendencies), depression, self harm and over exercising I have now been recovered from my eating disorders and exercise addiction for 3 years. Though currently struggling with depression and trying to find my happy self again!
My motto is 'Dont let the sadness of your past & the fear of your future ruin the happiness of your present'
I am a generally happy girl who loves running, going to the gym and eating food!! Though my life has been very different.
I spent 5 years sick with anorexia nervosia & purging tendencies & over exercising. I was depressed and self harmed. I spent 2 years in different treatment centres.
After alot of struggles, lots of ups and downs, suicide attempts, tears, anxiety, panic and never thinking i would be healthy.
I am now declared healthy from anorexia nervosia.
I have been blogging for 4 years, and my whole journey is written in my posts. I now represent healthy and happiness. I want to show anyone struggling that it is possible to recover, no matter how hard it may seem.
I am happy and healthy and living my life. Going to school, meeting friends and trying to find myself in this world.
I write about my daily life, but also try to write posts about how it was when i was sick, advice and tips.
I am open and friendly, so dont be scared about writing a post or sending me an email at: email@example.com
Do you prefer to stand when doing things that most people do while sitting? Do you try to avoid sitting? Do you fidget? Do others comment that you always seem to be on the go? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, then these behaviors are non-exercise activity issues within the context of a restrictive eating disorder.
I am usually told in no uncertain terms by many with restrictive eating disorders that they are not exercising to try to limit any weight gain. They assure me, and everyone else, that it has nothing to do with body image or food intake at all. They are merely exercising because they love it; it makes them feel strong and healthy; and it improves their mood.
Studies unfortunately suggest that you are desperately trying to believe your own advertising when you swear that the exercise you do is all good.
In another study, best predictors for identifying exercisers who also had an eating disorder were if they agreed with the following statements:
being annoyed if exercise interrupted
others feel you exercise a lot
feeling bad if unable to exercise a certain amount
feeling that you have/had problems with exercise.
[C Boyd et al., 2006]
Ironically, high levels of depression were more likely with both AN and BN patients who exercised excessively, and levels of anxiety and somatization were particularly high but only with excessively exercising anorexics [E Peñas-Liedó et al., 2002]. The irony of those data is that exercise for non-eating disordered patients tends to ease depression and not exacerbate it.
A community-based study in Australia had the following outcome:
“Exercising to improve appearance or body tone, and feelings of guilt following the postponement of exercise, were the exercise variables most strongly associated with elevated levels of eating disorder psychopathology and, in turn, reduced quality of life.”
[JM Mond et al., 2004]
Yet another comparative evaluation of how eating disordered patients engage in exercise when compared to healthy controls:
“The anorexic group were significantly more hyperactive, exercised more frequently and engaged in a wider variety of exercise behaviours. They were also more likely to exercise in secret and were more compulsive about exercising. They displayed a ‘negative addiction’ to exercise, and gave control of their negative mood states as their major reason for undertaking it.”
[CG Long et al., 1993]
You may find the Exercise for Restriction Quiz worth revisiting. I will address a bit later on in this post the ways in which you can help yourself stop being an apologist for exertion and start becoming an advocate for your own health and recovery.
Those with restrictive eating disorders are most likely to die of either cardiac complication or suicide [M Misra et al., 2004; AH Crisp et al., 1994].
Exertion (exercise and/or moderate to intense activity) both during an active period of restriction and during the recovery effort, are dangerous and possibly life threatening. Also keep in mind that active restriction does include cycles of restriction/reactive eating, bulimia, orthorexia and not just anorexia.
The heart’s ability to function normally is hit hard on three fronts with restrictive behaviors: physical damage to the muscle, electrolytic imbalances and de-myelination of the nerves.
You can also feel fairly confident that if it has crossed your mind that you are somehow not sick enough to need to rest and restore energy in your body then you already know that you are indeed “sick enough”. The term “sick enough” is only a concept that pops up for those with restrictive eating disorders.
UPPING THE INTAKE DOESN’T WORK
Many ask me if they cannot just increase their food intake to somehow make up the difference of the expenditure associated with their exercise.
Our bodies do not work mechanistically. A better analogy is that a body has adaptive and quite sophisticated triage rules. Triage is a system used in emergency environments to try to maximize the number of survivors. The body also tries to maximize its ability to survive by prioritizing biological functions in times of energy depletion and deficit.
If an energy deficit exists in the body thanks to a period of restrictive eating or under eating relative to excessive energy expenditure, then replenishing the energy of daily exertion on top of the basal metabolic requirements (which are suppressed*) will take precedence over replenishing the overall energy deficit throughout all the cells in your body.
*Metabolic rate is suppressed when the body does not have enough energy (food) coming in to support all the biological functions in your body. The metabolism is not broken and is in fact performing its life-saving ability until such time as you are energy balanced when you reach remission.
Basically your body is saying to itself: “Well if she’s going to drag me out for a run every morning then there’s no way I’m going to be trying to figure out how to reverse bone mineral density loss, or repair the heart muscle and I’ll keep the biological functions suppressed so that there’s enough energy to handle the godforsaken run along with staying alive until tomorrow.”
I have mentioned in other posts how glucocorticoids (cortisol) impact how your body uses the energy you take in. Stress varies both the levels and pulse rates of glucocorticoids such that your body will preferentially move energy into storage while continuing to suppress biological functions. Exertion and activity are huge stressors for an energy-depleted body.
Even if you could eat enough to truly support regular exercise, on top of the energy needed to stay alive and the energy needed to restore weight and repair damage, the body is stressed by the exertion to the point where you are going to tread water and fail to reach a full remission.
REPLACE AND DISTRACT
Stopping exercise sessions with nothing but yourself and your thoughts to keep you company will inevitably make you want to crawl out of your skin in short order. Researchers in the exercise dependence field recommend replacing the exertion with other non-exertion-based activities and distracting yourself from the times in the day when you are likely to want to indulge in exertion-based activities [K Linder, M Blaydon, 2007].
The first thing I always suggest as a great replacement is sleep. That would of course be second in line to the best of all replacements: food! If you happen to be an early morning exerciser, then simply sleep in.
For some, the usual morning wakeup is needed and provides some grounding. In that case, still set the alarm, but do 30 minutes of slow yoga stretching, or mindfulness exercises, breathing exercises, or just sitting quietly in the kitchen with a nice mug of something hot (and ideally full of calories too).
Distraction can help alleviate the negative mood, irritability and anxiety that you feel because you are not exercising. Have family breakfasts. Set up a mid-morning get together with a friend for a coffee and a muffin. Have a strategy for busyness at the times when you are most likely to want to exercise.
Enroll in activities (non-exertion) that you may have had some interest in in the past. Crafts, languages, learning new software packages: flip through what's on offer at a local community center to get inspired.
Getting out in the nature is mentally valuable. In fact there is now a whole sub-section of study on green activity. There are three kinds of green activities: appreciative, consumptive and motorized. Not surprisingly appreciative green activities improve environmental behaviors [MA Tarrant, GT Green, 1999].
Access to a garden or a green area a short distance from home is associated with less stress [TS Nielsen, B Hansen, 2007]. All green spaces improve mood, with the greatest self-esteem improvements realized for those who are mentally ill. Water in the green space generated greater positive effects in both self-esteem and improved mood, and mood improved within 5 minutes of being outside [J Barton, J Pretty, 2010].
How slowly can you go around the block? Make that your task. See if you can get it to 15-20 minutes for one block. Take in absolutely everything in your surroundings. Note every change. Bring a camera and take a picture of the same view each day so you can then compare after your walk whether you actually missed a detail from one day to the next or not.
^^I think whats written above (even if its alot) is great advice. However from the whole article the perception which i get from the author is that exercising is bad and not something you should return to after having an eating disorder. Which i think is wrong... According to the author (what i presume anyway) is that she would tell me i began exercising too early and that the only reason i like exercising is because i have had a past ED and using my 'i have had an active lifestyle while growing up' as an excuse to why i like exercising?
Which is just wrong... I have learnt from my mistakes when it comes to exercise. I have over exercised and burnt out... but now i know better. Now i can listen to my body.
And i am definitely not someone to tell you that you cant exercise after having an eating disorder because thats not true. Of course you can... but you also need to find balance and not just exercise to compensate, to change your body or to burn calories. But to have a healthy reason. To enjoy exercising.... and if those cases are true and you are a healthy weight. Then go for it... enjoy exercise :)
The problem with exercise is when it becomes an obsession and addiction... which usually only the person who is struggling can know.
^^^But read above why you SHOULDNT exercise while in recovery and trying to gain weight... even if you are suffering from bulimia or binge eating. Then too mcuh exercise isnt good for you either. It stresses the body too much.