I don’t ever remember being comfortable in my body. Not even as a little girl. I remember being 3 years old and having an uncle call me “fatty”, and my entire life my brother has tormented me about my weight.
When I was in high school I started skipping meals and eventually developed full-fledged eating disorders. I initially thought I had the control but in reality, the disorders were controlling me. And so the struggle continued. My weight has almost always fluctuated – up and down, up and down – until I discovered fitness those years ago. I changed my lifestyle completely – exercising regularly and eating differently, and I saw the payoff quickly – losing close to 60 lbs in just about 3 months. I’d gained around 30 lbs after college and the extra weight that came off was bonus. I was quite thin for my frame and certain bones poked out here and there. I loved it. But I still wasn’t comfortable in my body.
Starting off my exercise routine was pretty basic – a few times a week. Then, about 4 years ago I started doing Shaun T’s Insanity routine again. It’s a 60 days program where you work out 6 days a week. I did this program twice, back-to-back, rarely taking that scheduled day off, therefore working out nearly 120 days straight. I did another 30 day program, twice, back-to-back, not taking a single day off. Somewhere in and around these times is when I developed my exercise addiction.
I didn’t realize at the time that I was actually doing a disservice to my body (and mind and soul). I was proud of my commitment to physical activity. I was excited that I had fallen so deeply in love with exercise and I craved it. I planned my days, no, my life around my workouts as they were the most important thing. I missed out on social events because they conflicted with my exercise time, If I had to travel I ensured the hotel had a fitness center and was certain to pack my gym clothes, and sometimes, many times, I’d double up on workouts the few days before just to ensure I had met my own personal quota. For a little while, it got to the point where I was working out two and three times a day just for the hell of it. I still didn’t see any issue with my exercise addiction.
I worked through injuries – a torn rotator cuff, a sprained ankle, and a stress fracture in my foot – refusing to give up on my exercising. Two years ago when my eye surgery was confirmed and the surgeon told me no exercise for 6-8 weeks my initial reaction was a full blown panic attack with sobbing and tears and partial hyperventilating because the mere thought of not exercising (especially for that amount of time) stressed me out, gave me guilt and, literally scared the crap out of me. I considered not having the surgery so that I could continue my workouts. I still did not see a problem with my exercise addiction. I often said that “it’s a healthy addiction.”
Then my weight started creeping back up. I didn’t understand it because I was exercising every day. So I increased my workouts and my exercise time. And my weight continued to climb, not a lot but enough to really piss me off – and confuse me. How was it possible that I was working out every single day; sometimes spending 3-4 hours at the gym, taking tons of fitness classes, running, strength training, you name it, yet my weight was still climbing. I was beyond frustrated. Every time I went to my doctor about anything, the subject of my weight came up and I’d end up in tears.
One day this past winter I was having a conversation with a cousin and the subject of my fitness addiction came up and I got really emotional – choked up, teary eyed, cracking voice. It was the first time I realized that my love of fitness had gone beyond that and once again, something I thought I controlled was, in fact, controlling me. Unfortunately, I tried to ignore it. For me, the guilt of not exercising was so overwhelming that I just couldn’t fathom the idea of taking days off. So I didn’t. And I continued to struggle with my weight climb over the winter and spring.
Then at the very start of summer I went to see a nutritionist. Although the offer for dietitians and nutritionists have always been there, it was the first time since my eating disorder days that I decided to speak to someone. And to be honest, the only reason I sought to speak to someone this time around is because it was my fitness instructor who’d just completed her nutrition course and, although somewhat intimidated, I also felt (semi) comfortable with her. She knew about my whacked out exercise habits – at least to some extent – and I told her that my weight was ever-increasing and I wanted to bring it down, especially since I was working toward my certification as a trainer. I wanted to get back to looking the part.
She and I discussed my routines and I disclosed to her that, over the last four years I’d logged every single workout I’d done – I accounted for every exercise, every class, and the amount of time I’d put into the workout. She said to me “So, you can tell me, for the last four years, how many days you’ve worked out and how many days you’ve taken off??” Of course I can. (And I’m certain the number of days I’ve taken off from working out can be counted on maybe 3 or 4 hands.)
After a little more discussion (and soul-baring) she determined that I have adrenal fatigue syndrome and over-training syndrome. That, because my body has been under constant stress for the last 4 years – with little or no rest – my cortisol levels have been elevated for so long and it’s the reason for my weight gain. She told me I had to start resting and with rest, eventually my weight should start to decrease. Coincidentally I had an appointment with my doctor the next day, discussed this all with her and she concurred.
So I started taking rest days. And I felt no guilt. I feel no guilt. What’s really sad – really sad – is that, deep down I knew what the problem was. Hell, I’d JUST taken the PTS course and read over and over that one only need exercise 3-5 times a week. Yet, I did not allow myself off the hook that easy. I think maybe I needed someone to actually tell me that my over-exercising was the root cause of my weight gain but until that happened I wasn’t ready to let go of my addiction.
When it comes right down to it, addiction is addiction. If I were hooked on heroin or an alcoholic I wouldn’t be able to just quit in the instant because I knew it was bad for me. And even though exercise is wonderful and so good for your health, I couldn’t – no, I wouldn’t – allow myself to grasp that my over-training was detrimental to my health. I was so proud of my lifestyle change over the years and my successes that I was determined to keep going, to keep striving for this stupid idea of perfection, to finally feel comfortable in my body. I still haven’t reached that point yet. I have a feeling that this will be a lifelong journey and struggle, and although fitness and healthy living has become such a huge and important part of my life, that one little meeting back at the start of summer helped me realize that it doesn’t have to be my whole life.