During a recent session with my therapist, I felt compelled to ask for her professional take on my relationship with exercise. I told her that I prioritize running over just about every other line item in my routine. I told her that I feel immense amounts of shame if I cannot squeeze in an hour-long workout on a daily basis. I told her that I consistently run in the 105-degree Arizona heat, no matter how miserable the experience is. I told her that I rarely feel like the choice to stop running is even an option. I told her that I am afraid that without exercise, I will lose control of my entire life. She listened to me rattle off all this information, then replied matter-of-factly: "You have an exercise addiction. How is it working for you?"
I recently came across the concept of embodiment while scrolling on that quintessential self-care resource known as Instagram. (Please note the sarcasm—I am trying to break said scrolling habit.) But excessive social media consumption aside, this term has resonated in my bones. Embodiment evokes a sense of deep awareness, connection, appreciation, and trust for the body. It feels intuitive and emotionally safe, like the start of a close friendship. It also feels sensory and tactile, like the experience of being unconditionally at home in my own skin. Since this initial Instagram encounter, I have wanted to learn all I can about what it means to practice the art of embodiment in eating disorder recovery.
When I operate within the framework of an eating disorder, my life orbits around fear. I am afraid of consuming three balanced meals. I am afraid of not being able to squeeze in enough exercise. I am afraid of the number staring back at me on a scale. I am afraid of seeing the calorie count on a nutrition label. I am even afraid of existing inside my own skin.
I find myself asking: What should my response be when a present situation fuels past eating disorder temptations? I need to examine why I flirt with behaviors I know are unhealthy when life tosses me an unforeseen curve ball. Then I can choose a different course of action—one that honors recovery rather than placing it in jeopardy.
This might seem like a bold, hyperbolic claim, but it just so happens to be true: I have no regrets about my eating disorder. Of course, there are some behaviors I am not proud of, relationships I have worked fiercely to restore, and memories I still flinch at. But in terms of actual regret, I simply think it's a wasted emotion. While I have absolutely no desire to relive those 15 years of battling anorexia, this formative chapter in my life transformed me into who I am right now—a person for whom I feel genuine love and respect. So if you'll indulge me for a few minutes, I will unpack why I have no regrets about my eating disorder.
I just returned from a two-week trip overseas to England, Scotland, and Ireland. I love to explore the beauty of this earth and immerse myself in all kinds of unique cultures, but if I am not careful, traveling will often coax my eating disorder back to the surface. While I do have quite an adventurous streak, I also tend to feel anxious when I deviate from my normal routine, which can open the door for a certain uninvited guest—otherwise known as my eating disorder—to hitch a ride on the trip. However, since I am not about to stop traveling, here are a few strategies I use in order to ensure this pesky eating disorder will not ruin my vacation.
I have permission to enjoy food. As obvious as this sounds, it's one of the most impactful realizations I've come to learn in eating disorder recovery. In the darkest seasons of my illness, I believed that showing a preference for any food at all was a sign of weakness. I would not allow myself to acknowledge pleasure in the flavors or textures of anything I ate. Food was purely utilitarian back then—I consumed just enough to stay alive and placate the concerns of those around me. But the more I heal, the more I learn that food is a source of nourishment and enjoyment. So I can grant myself permission to experience both.
In a previous blog post, I illustrated how I combat harmful thoughts about food. Now, I want to take this a step further and examine how I recalibrate behaviors around eating. These days, I have a healthier relationship with food than I ever thought possible. I attribute much of this transformation to a framework called intuitive eating—and the decision to make a peace treaty with food as part of my eating disorder recovery.
It would be a blatant lie to insinuate that eating disorder (ED) belief systems and thought patterns never cross my mind. Even with all the diligent, consistent recovery work I have put in over the years, I am still not immune to occasional insecurities, temptations, and criticisms from the eating disorder voice that once consumed each waking moment of my life. However, while I used to reactively listen and submit to this voice—no questions asked—I now understand there are healthier, more empowering alternatives. So how do I respond when these ED thoughts re-surface? I talk to my reflection in the mirror.
The National Eating Disorders Association runs an annual social media campaign each June called #NEDAPride. I just learned of its existence, but I love it already. As someone who is both queer and in eating disorder recovery, this combination feels so poignant to me.