If you choose to fear, you will die slave of your own mind.
Since I made the decision to heal from my eating disorder, I believed that anything involving rigour and precision meant I was relapsing. I didn’t weigh myself and didn’t track my food intake or physical activity for two years. For many, that may be healthful: they were never strict and inflexible to begin with, so losing those tendencies would be a return to their true self.
However, I was strict and inflexible long before my mental health went awry. Trying to uproot those traits was like trying to replace myself with a person I couldn’t, didn’t know how, and didn’t want to be.
This attempt didn’t truly heal me. Forbidding myself to record what I was doing in any quantifiable way, I deprived myself of the only tool I had to get in touch with my body. Trying hard to fit into the mould of the “intuitive recovery warrior” only led to a partial recovery. I was still afraid of food, exercised in a way I hated, and felt insecure about my body. The only difference was that now my weight was either stable or going up instead of down.
It was only when I chose to track again that I truly took back control of my life. However, it’s still hard to tell whether I make a decision because I’m pursuing a fitness goal or because I’m still fighting my old disordered mindset. For this reason, I’m going to cover a number of helpful questions you can ask yourself to figure out if what’s motivating you comes from a place of health or disorder.
Am I Scared?
When I doubt myself, 90% of the time it’s about food and exercise choices. Eating and working out used to be my way of exorcising a deep-seated fear of weight gain. It didn’t matter whether I liked it or not. I needed to do those things, regardless of the cost, or else…
Or else I would wake up the next day and find myself morbidly obese. Pretty irrational, huh?
This anxious monster is lodged deep inside and it’s hard to kick it off its throne of fear. To this day, when I look at a menu or consider workout options for the following week, it can take a long time to reach a final decision. Then I start fretting, telling myself I’m wasting time. When I get too impatient, I often pick the lowest-calorie option or settle for one more hour of cardio than the previous week. In the past, that would have been it, but now I know that, when I let myself do this, I’m resigning myself to make a choice that quells the panic.
I’m not holding myself back. The fear is. Acknowledging this helps me take the time to calm down, re-evaluate my options, and go for one that’s in line with my goals, not one that would momentarily neutralise the weight gain threat.
Is It an Obligation?
Weighing myself was an obsession for a long time. I needed to see how much weight I’d lost. Every pound lost meant success. For this reason, I was reluctant to take my scale from its dusty lair under the bed last year. I knew I could become dependent on its decrees once again.
When I went to America for Christmas, my partner’s family didn’t have a scale in the house. If I’d been obsessed with it, I would have been afraid not to be able to check my weight fluctuations for two weeks. In fact, I wouldn’t put it past Old Me to pack my own scale for the trip. Instead, I barely noticed. I weighed myself the day before I left and the day after my return, then resumed life as normal.
So, if you worry your behaviour may have become obsessive-compulsive again, try to stop doing it for a week. If it doesn’t bother you, then it’s only a habit. You’re in control of it, not the other way around.
Is It Necessary?
This question is about understanding your relationship with the bigger picture: your Why, the end goal. The best way to get there is the one you find sustainable and enjoyable. However, a disordered mind is a simple mind, characterised by extreme black and white thinking.
I used to believe that running for an hour four to five times a week and eating only low-fat, low-sugar foods was the onlyway to keep weight gain away. Being an overachiever didn’t help, because I was meticulous to ensure I never did a little less or ate a little more than the day before. If anything, I strived for the opposite.
When you make a decision, it’s important to ask yourself if this is the only way you can get what you want. For example, is it necessary for you to train at 5pm every day? If that’s the only time you have available all day and fitness is an important component of your lifestyle, then “yes” would be a reasonable answer. However, if it must be always exactly at 5pm, every single day, even when you’re tired or sick or you’d rather go to the cinema with friends, then there’s a problem.
In other words, if the necessity is external, then it’s true necessity. If it’s internal necessity, stemming from your own personal, un-science-y beliefs, then it’s time to question them.
Asking yourself these questions, you may sometimes realise the answers point to the unwelcome return of disordered thinking. Disordered thoughts only appear to be logical, but are, in fact, a product of emotional and mental instability. To neutralise them is to rationalise them.
It’s easier to do that on my own now, but I still prefer to open up to my partner. I also have close friends, siblings, and parents, but she is the most logical of them all and is capable of distancing herself from her emotions in order to help me deconstruct the issue. A support network is beneficial, but you need to find someone who privileges logical over emotional thinking. Otherwise you may feel comforted, but may not be able to truly unpick your fears.
In Future Episodes:
Tune in next week for a post about methods to enhance recovery from heavy training!
What are your strategies to recognise mentally unhealthy behaviours?
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