When I was in high school, I was a varsity field hockey player. Practices were 2-3 hours long, six days a week. Since I was aiming to play in college, I had joined a club team. My one day off became another practice day, so I was spending seven days a week playing field hockey. Practice and conditioning could last up to three hours a day. Unlike the other girls on my teams, I had a life-threatening secret: I was suffering from an eating disorder.
During my sophomore year, the exercise continued even after the fall season had ended. Eventually, family and friends became concerned. The illness was harder and harder for me to hide, so April 2012, I entered into treatment for my eating disorder. The first month I never addressed my exercise addiction. I was over-exercising every day after program which completely hindered my progress and kept me farther from the ever-dreaded “treatment goal weight.” That May, one of the therapists called me out. I remember her saying, “Meg, you aren’t doing anything to stop exercising and you’re never going to get better until you do,” along with some other things. That was the day I stopped exercising, and I didn’t exercise alone for approximately four years.
I was 15 then, and now I’m 20 years old. While I was still in high school I stayed on the field hockey team and exercised only while I was in season. But since I’ve been in college, the only exercise I’ve done is walk to class and a few half-semester required gym classes. I consider myself mostly recovered and I know how quickly the disorder can sneak back up on you. I’ve spent years terrified that exercising alone would send me back into that downward spiral of restriction and disorder, so I just didn’t.
Spending multiple years inactive hasn’t helped me either because I’ve felt sluggish, weak and depressed. I’ve realized that not exercising has left me feeling like I could never defend myself, but still feared over-exercise. I knew I needed to start somewhere, but I worried that being completely alone would send me back to my obsessive-compulsive past. This summer I decided that joining a class would be most beneficial for me because I would be surrounded by others, so I went to the nearest kickboxing gym with my family and fell in love with it.
What I love most about CKO Kickboxing is that classes are only an hour which makes it difficult to over-exercise. Everyone is more than welcome to stay for double sessions, but I’ve found that the end of the class truly feels like the end of my workout. While you’re encouraged to push your limits, they also make sure that you go at your own pace. CKO has been part of my life since the beginning of this summer; I’ve worked with almost all of the trainers at the gym and I’ve never felt like they were pushing me harder than necessary.
When I began exercising again, my main concerns were that I’d take everything to the extremes and it would send me back into a restrictive frenzy. To my surprise, it didn’t have that effect at all. If anything, it’s helped me continue to quiet the eating disordered thoughts. The kickboxing gym I’m part of does encourage “burning calories” and losing weight, but listening to that during the classes seems to have the opposite effect on my mindset. I get angry listening to the coaches telling me to work harder to burn more calories because I’ve finally reached the point that I don’t want exercise to be a weight loss job for me. I genuinely want to feel stronger, to feel like I could handle myself in a fight.
Personally, I love kickboxing. I love hitting the bag as hard as I can. I love kicking the bag and beating the life out of it because it helps me feel power that I’ve never felt before. I’m not saying that everyone should start exercising after a prolonged absence by kickboxing, but it has definitely worked for me. Kickboxing has helped me get my life back. It has helped me realize that I only like cardio workouts if they’re disguised as something else and that I have the power to protect myself.
Despite my recurrent Eating Disordered Beliefs, I’ve found that exercise offers me so much more than the society-encouraged weight loss and calorie burn. I haven’t felt any urges to even weigh myself since starting kickboxing, which shows me that I’m in a completely different mindset than I started with this summer. And the best part about exercising again? I genuinely believe that I would be able to defend myself if I was ever in danger. Maybe that’s mostly because of CKO and the fact that they taught me how to throw a punch, but I also feel so much stronger. I feel like instead of freezing I’d be able to put up an actual fight.
If you’re in a similar position that I was and wondering if exercise is right for you, I would definitely recommend taking some kind of class. I loved exercise until it became a job, and it took me five years to find a new passion. Non-disordered Meg loved field hockey and running until they became eating disorder jobs. Now, recovered Meg loves kickboxing. I’m passionate about it, but I don’t feel like I have to go every day. I go to kickboxing classes when I want to, whether that’s four times a week or two. The best part about it is that I don’t HAVE to go. I love going, but if I’m tired or just want to lay on my couch I feel like I can.
When recovering from an eating disorder that has exercise as a symptom, it’s so important to learn that exercise can be fun. Exercise can be something that you can enjoy again, it just might take some time. It’s definitely not something that needs to be rushed into, but I would encourage everyone who finds themselves in my position to explore the options. Maybe you want to become a runner, a yogi, or a kickboxer. Whatever it is, it is 100% possible to add healthy exercise back into your life.
If you or someone you know struggles with an eating disorder or exercise addiction please visit the National Eating Disorders Association for more information and support.
Photo Credit: Cover, Photo taken by Meg Moran