For me, exercise has historically been synonymous with the word “permission”. Which I know sounds silly but bear with me. When you’re a kid, you need permission from your parents or caregivers to do things like stay up past your bedtime or have a sleepover with a friend. As you grow older, that need for permission typically dissipates a bit. You still need permission to borrow your parents’ car or stay out past curfew on prom night, but for the most part, you begin to gain some autonomy.
But you know, sometimes things get lost in translation and you grow up thinking that your need for permission goes way beyond the scope of borrowed cars and bedtimes. I grew up being taught that I needed permission to simply exist. What to eat, wear, feel, say, learn, and fear, were all ingrained into my very being by the age of 6. It wasn’t until relatively recently that 6-year-old received the compassion she so desperately needed and has been able to heal. But up until then, that little girl really held onto that lesson of “must need permission.”
So, how the hell does exercise have to do with any of this? Well, that 6-year-old turned into a 10-year-old, a 16-year-old, and even a 23-year-old- all of whom still needed permission. That permission though, slowly evolved from something that was forced upon me, into something that I forced upon myself. I learned that it was way “easier” to enforce the permission rules on myself than it ever was to actually ask someone else for the “thumbs up” when I wanted to eat, feel, or be. That self-permission came in the form of a nasty eating disorder whose genesis was over-exercising.
If I ran “x” many miles, then I could eat “x” amount of food. If I danced “x” many hours, then I could wear “x” outfit and maybe even be allowed to eat dessert like my siblings and friends.
I had those calculations memorized and for a while, it worked. But, thankfully, I have never been good at math, and living my life as a sequence of exercise/food exchanges, was anything but a sustainable. So, once I decided that I actually wanted recovery, I nixed exercise all together. I had to admit that I was, at that point in my life, powerless over the insidious force that was my “permission.”
Fast-forward a few years to a place where I want to make peace with movement. I love running and I love LOVE yoga. These two things bring me joy that no anti-depressant ever has. I have had to find ways to integrate these activities into my life and not as the permission to live it. I’m no expert, and still have a long way to go, but here are a few things that have helped/are currently helping me move my way through recovery.
- Find something you actually enjoy doing. Just because it seems like everyone thrives at Orangetheory or you want to look like the seemingly happy, and super bendy yogi on Instagram, doesn’t mean you have to! Your movement does not need to look like anyone else’s. Hell, it’s not going to! So, set the expectations aside and just do what feels good for YOUR body!
- Change your mindset from “moving to eat” to “eating to move.” I’m not going to harp on about how food is fuel, instead I’m going to ask you to trust me when I say that exercise feels 5 million times better once your body is nourished. Exercise does not give you permission to eat. And in all honesty, nobody nor anything gives you permission to eat. It is basic human right afforded to every one of us, no matter how loud that ED voice can be sometimes.
- Talk to your treatment team! And I don’t mean just get medical clearance and the prescription number of kcals for weight maintenance. TALK to your team. Explore with your therapist why it is you want to start moving again. Clarify your motives and be nothing short of brutally honest.
So, go forth and move on. Be your own permission to live the life that you want. And never forget how incredibly worthy you are to be living that life.