In the height of the Bulimia I believed that when I’m the right size I will be happy and successful!
If I had read the title of this blog in the throws of Bulimia I would have thought, “fuck off, when I’m the right size, I will be happy and successful- EVERYTHING will be fine”. And for a long time I seriously believed it.
I, like many people at some point in the eating disorder believed that when I was in the right size pants or finally hit the “magic” number on the scales, then my life would be amazing and I wouldn’t need to do all the shit that i was doing with food and exercise. So I know it’s not the case for everyone, but for me, exercise was a MAJOR part of the eating disorder. And by MAJOR i mean, that exercise in itself was an addiction, not for the entire 14 years, but for many of them.
When I was in my final year of school, I was on anti-depressants and severely suicidal, the eating disorder was full on and amongst all of this I put on 30kg. At the time I didn’t know it, but I also had PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). I joined a gym when I was 18 years old and was trying to work out why I was putting on weight at the rate I was, of course this is a nightmare when you have an eating disorder, NOTHING is worse that piling on the weight, well that’s what I thought at the time. I went through extensive medical tests trying to work out why my body was expanding, despite the restrictive diet and that i had also started to exercise. It didn’t add up, it didn’t make sense to me. I had a lot of shame about getting bigger, especially when i was doing a lot of restricting and exercise (although at this stage the exercise wasn’t a massive issue).
I went to my doctor who referred me to an endocrinologist, we were trying every test to work out what was going on with my body. After several tests and months of deliberation he turned to me and leant over his desk and he said “I think you’re just lazy, go work harder at the gym”. I remember those words so clearly and I was devastated at the time, I thought you fuckwit, you have no idea that I’m not only restricting and exercising, but I was also bingeing and purging. My heart sank, before a wave came over me of absolute shame – and having an eating disorder meant that I didn’t respond to his words. I left that office, mumbling under my breath and went home to tell my mum what he had said. She immediately said, he doesn’t know you don’t eat much but something is wrong, you’re not lazy. So to be frank, my mum didn’t know everything I was doing in the eating disorder, but she knew his response was completely inappropriate. I wish the doctor had been able to actually say something like, “I actually don’t know what’s going on for you – I’m unable to work it out”, which was way more accurate than his arrogant comment about me being lazy and needing to go to the gym and work harder.
So anyone with any idea that someone struggles with their weight or struggles with an eating disorder knows that a comment like this doctors can send you over the edge. That was the lovely little nudge that my exercise needed to tip into addiction. What I know now is that I was furious with his negligence, his arrogance and down-right stupidity at speaking to a young woman in this way.
I left that office and was determined to find another doctor that could help (and I did – within our first consultation he knew that PCOS was the issue), but more than anything, the shame I felt after hearing “you’re just lazy” tipped me into working harder. And by harder I mean to the extreme. I went from doing about three classes at the gym a week, to three classes at the gym a day. I had no idea at the time that what the exercise was hiding and masking was my absolute rage, not just at this ignorant doctor (and I know from working with many people with eating disorders that such comments are very common from medical professionals that understand very little about the emotions someone experiences with an eating disorder).
My 6km walks to the gym, were a warm up to the often three classes I would take each day. The absolutely logical choice at the time was “I love being at the gym, I’m here so much of the time, I think I want to become a personal trainer”. This is so common for people with disordered eating. Many personal trainers mask an eating disorder. In actual fact you feel like it’s a healthy thing, because we are brainwashed to think that personal trainers have “superior mindset”, work harder than others, that getting a six pack is just about changing your mindset and “determination”. Well here’s the thing, when you have an eating disorder, personal training is a vocation that helps you hide the eating disorder and keep it alive.
Before I actually became a personal trainer, I was a personal trainer’s dream, because they would say, eliminate carbs, no alcohol, protein shakes for snacks and off I’d go. That was easy for me at the time, because I would not allow anything pass my lips that would create the possibility of weight gain. So when I became a personal trainer I had access to a gym, every day, ALL day. When I wasn’t teaching a class, training someone else, or sitting at reception, I was on a bike or a rower, where I spent A LOT of my time. I had a lot of fun, but beneath that I was in an emotional hell. I was so disconnected from my body, that I would do crazy hours, surviving often on protein shakes and salads without dressing, coffee (sometimes up to 7 cups) and ironically, cigarettes. Not to mention the constant pain I was in because I would push myself physically beyond any pain point and beyond any rest. Having a job in a gym and an eating disorder was like throwing petrol onto a burning fire and this gave space for the exercise addiction to take on a life of its own. I didn’t ever look like a model from a fitness magazine, but the exercise was helping me deal with issues in a way that I seriously didn’t understand until later. I honestly thought I just loved deadlifts, running circuit classes and being yelled at by anyone that was training me.
Now, when I reflect on the things I did physically I realised that I really had no connection to my body. The Bulimia had morphed from a lot of bingeing and purging to bingeing and exercising like crazy. A couple of years back I hired a personal trainer to get me back into some fitness and her extreme obsessive nature was something that made my stomach churn. I couldn’t stand her lifting her top to take constant photos of her 6 pack or the aggression she showed through her training style, I use to thrive on that bully voice that often accompanies the hard ass kicking trainers, the no pain, no gain approach. I look back now and realise how the many of the trainers I have encountered have been extremely disconnected from their feelings. Things are very black and white and intuition and listening to your body is a sign of weakness and poor willpower. How much weight you stack onto the leg press machine or chest press is not a sign of your well-being, how healthy or how happy you are. I know this not only from myself but also from several of the personal trainers I know and follow.
I didn’t need an intervention to get me away from the gym, I eventually worked out that it was not good for my spirit and I needed space from the industry to heal. Having worked with thousands of women as they move through their recovery journey, I have seen many that have already started their journey into things like personal training, dietetics, psychology, counselling, yoga instructing. Sure, some of these may assist your healing, but more often than not, the desire to pursue a profession that naturally fits with eating disorders, often comes from a place that you are not really aware of. You feel you are making these decisions from a healthy place, I sure as hell did. I thought becoming a personal trainer was awesome and I loved it too, but for almost two years, it kept my life stuck in this hell I endured for 14 years. Now i’m not saying you can’t ever pursue those professions, but more often than not, if you have an eating disorder, or in the early stages of an eating disorder, or have the make up for an eating disorder, or trying to get over an eating disorder, then these professions feel like they were designed specifically for you. I’d encourage you to keep pursuing your recovery and get some space from these professions and see if your spirit once healthy still feels drawn to these. More often than not, it is the wounded parts of us that lead us into these professions.