Many “before and after” stories begin with a picture of a medium or large or very large person on the left, and a smaller version of that person on the right. For me, the story is about gaining, not losing. The picture below shows a too-thin girl who was exhausted both physically and mentally. I had been dealing with a severe eating disorder for years, and I couldn’t bring myself to ask for help. It wasn’t about looking a certain way; the disorder took the form of an irrational but intense fear of being “too much”; taking up to much space literally and figuratively, and one of the consequences of giving into that fear was a damaged and exhausted body that I tried to keep hidden. I couldn’t even play my cello without injuring the tendons of my wrists and arms, much less participate in sports and other activities that I loved.
Three years after that first picture was taken I finally asked for help, and I started the painstakingly slow “recovery journey”. Telling that whole story would take far too long, but the role of exercise and fitness is an important part of it that I wanted to share. I grew up playing sports and loved being active in the outdoors, but when I became so weak and thin I lost that part of my life. When I was faced with the fact that I would have to gain roughly 40 pounds to be medically stable, I needed something to hold on to in order to fight through the overwhelming fear and anxiety that came with changing my body that drastically. Over the past five years I have used fitness – the goal of being strong and gaining back that active part of my life – as a day by day and sometimes minute by minute motivation to do the painstaking work of re-wiring my mind to view food as a source of health rather than a source of fear. If I wanted to be strong, I had to eat. Period.
I joined Healthworks last month. One of the reasons I joined is because of the variety of classes. They have been really helpful for me in the past as I’ve tried to pursue health and strength without getting into the unhealthy rut of long, isolated, cardio machine workouts, and the gym I was at before only offered a few classes. The atmosphere at Healthworks also seems to be a little more peaceful and less competitive than other gyms I’ve been to, which is really helpful.
Now, though I still have work to do, I am at a place that I wasn’t sure I would ever be. My body is healthy, my mind is less foggy, I can actually enjoy food knowing it is helping to fuel a body that can do things it could never do before. I can dance at my best friend’s wedding without seeing stars. I can join my friend when she asks me if I want to try an aerial acrobatics class without being afraid that my body can’t handle it. My “after” picture is about gaining. Yes I gained weight, but that isn’t all; I gained health, strength, and a love of life that had been taken from me for years. Whatever your “after” needs to be, know that fighting the fear is always worth it, no matter how long it takes.