Eating disorders fundamentally disconnect us from ourselves. By keeping us trapped in worry about our physical bodies, they separate us emotionally and spiritually from our passions and the things that matter most to us. Practices of mindfulness can be used in recovery from an eating disorder as powerful tools to help reconnect with our bodies and become aware of all the wonderful things they do for us. Mindfulness allows us to slow down our thoughts and reactions enough to see how our eating disorders harm us and what small steps we can take to reconnect to our most healthy selves.
While it’s true that one thing alone (e.g., movement) will not heal your relationship to food and your body, the tips and perspectives shared in this blog are meant to provide new ways to interact with eating disorder urges.
I am sharing methods that worked for me in connecting with my body, to build both physical and emotional resilience through movement and related practices.These perspectives are my views, as someone who has dealt with an eating disorder and has been around those suffering in many different capacities.
My hope is that this blog and the included writing exercises help you to understand your body and your journey toward healing, and your willingness to embrace support and love along the way.
My journey with ED has been a long and winding road. The main reason I wanted to share my journey was to allow others to see that the road to healing is not linear.
Mistakes are going to happen… allow them not to stop you, but to redirect you.
I began to get sick when I was in tenth grade. I had a great relationship with food before this time (read: balanced and moderate…food did not control my thoughts). I went through a tough situation with friends that culminated in me feeling extremely isolated and excluded. I began to use food as something I could control, while my life felt like it was very chaotic. Of course, I did not understand this at the time, it took many years to gain the perspective I have now.
Throughout this experience, I became obsessed with calories and measurements, and I felt lost and confused. My world was crumbling around me, I felt I had no one to turn to and not enough strength or knowledge to support myself, so I resorted to what I could change, my appearance. It made sense to me that if I became thinner, people would like me more.
After all, isn’t that the message we get from the media every day?
My increasingly rigid eating habits quickly spiraled out of control, and before I knew it I had landed myself in our local hospital. At that time, eating disorder care was nearly non-existent for people under 18. Partly due the lack of therapeutic care (counselling, therapy, trained emotional support) I received during this time, it took me years to want to get better. But finally, I got so sick of being sick that I asked my parents to enroll me at a Rehabilitation Center in Arizona. Although being there wasn’t a ‘cure all’, it was my first step to asking and receiving help that was more deeply focused than simply ‘weight restoration’.
Whether you see yourself and your journey in my story so far or not, I hope that you can appreciate some main points suggested:
1. An eating disorder, can be a way to try and gain control in a world that feels scary and harmful.
2. Eating disorders require a great deal of therapeutic treatment and support to be understood and subsequently healed.
3. To begin to heal from an eating disorder, one must WANT to heal. No one can be forced into successful treatment, no matter how much their loved ones may care. There is no doubt that objective support and love helps, but lasting healing must come from an autonomous decision from within.
Following my treatment in Arizona, my healing journey was fraught with ups and relationship to myself and to the world. As I experienced life milestones like graduating high school, moving to another province for university, getting my first job and car, I realized more and more what my attachment to food and body hatred was taking away from me. I sought therapy and began, at long last, to reconnect with my body and honor the nourishment that it called for. I had long used exercise as punishment for eating, and now I began a new relationship to exercise and movement. I began to add weight training into my time at the gym, not simply to burn calories but to become a stronger, more resilient human.
By no means did this shift happen quickly or without doubt and periodic emotional breakdown, but for the sake of keeping my story somewhat short, I came to love how my body felt when I fed it enough and moved it too. I even came to enjoy my body with a few more pounds…and threw out my scale for good measure.
As I look back at my journey (most of the time), I am so thankful. I can confidently say now that food obsession and body image do not play a significant role in my current day to day life, and that I am free to pursue other passions and live, breathe and play.
Since becoming a personal trainer 8 years ago, I have seen a lot of disordered tendencies within the fitness industry at large. I have also seen the wonderful benefits of movement in healing when the focus is placed on mindfulness and compassion.
Incorporating a Movement Practice
The elephant in the room should be discussed before we move into this section. Your eating disorder most likely tells you that exercise should be used as a method to ‘make-up for’ or burn off the food that you have eaten. I would like you to entertain, even for a moment, the possibility that exercise has nothing to do with calorie burn, and everything to do with connecting to your unique body and soul.
I know that this statement can seem threatening since it goes against everything your ED wants you to believe. Wherever you are in your healing journey remember that there is freedom in movement!
Look out for Part 2 that focuses on how to incorporate your movement style into your life in a sustainable (and fun) way, and how/where to reach out for support if needed.
Kirsten a CPT and Life Coach who specializes in connection to body and self through Mindful Movement. She recognizes the great need for movement as a part of eating disorder recovery, since much trauma can be held within our disconnection from our bodies, which can therefore separate us from our healthiest selves.
She offers sessions that help to create an understanding of how to move your body through this world in the most aligned, joyful way for you.
She knows from experience that healing isn’t easy, but that it can be the most beautiful and transformative journey of your life.
You can follow her work on Instagram @moved.coaching and @moved.community ; and contact her at her website www.movedcoaching.com