“To improve your chances for sustained recovery,"my dietician Gretchen explained, "you will need to eliminate intense physical movement."
"What do you mean? No exercise?" I asked cautiously, trying to stay calm. Although Gretchen and I had just started working together, I could sense where the conversation was going, and I didn't care for it. At all.
“That is the recommended standard of treatment for anorexia," Gretchen proceeded carefully, "it has proven to be a critical part of the recovery process."
"What about walking? And yoga? And doubles tennis?" In my mind these things were activities, not exercise. My anorexic brain was freaking out and headed full force into negotiation mode. What can I get away with here?
"Look, sweetie, I know this is hard to understand right now, and I am not going to tell you what you can and cannot do. Your recovery is your decision. But your body has been working overtime, it needs to heal."
What I didn't realize when I went into treatment is that the years of extreme exercise had worked my body into a hypermetabolic state. It was burning through food like tissue paper in a bonfire.
By 2015 exercise had become like a part-time job, and a typical day would find my emaciated body performing five to six hours of movement.
I might start with an early morning workout at the sports conditioning gym before getting the kids up and going. Then rush off to a cycle or Body Pump class at 24 Hour Fitness after getting the kids off to school. A couple hours of tennis midday followed up with a power walk after dinner. Although the workouts changed day to day, the hours and intensity did not vary much at all.
I knew it was a lot. I worried if other people became aware of how much I was exercising, it might raise red flags (well, more red flags). So, I was careful. The folks at the sports conditioning gym who were headed to work after class, had no clue I was off to another gym for more. And, the crew at 24 Hour Fitness had no idea I had already completed an intense workout earlier that morning. Many of the women I played tennis with exercised a lot too, in addition to their time on the court, which allowed me to silently justify my own workout schedule. See they do it too. Even so, I wasn't precisely advertising to my teammates the two and a half hours of cardio I had already knocked out. It was a carefully orchestrated schedule that allowed me to continue with my routine while avoiding the scrutiny of others.
And I wasn't enjoying any of it.
I was tired, my hip joints were sore, my muscles stiff, and I felt dehydrated. I often felt I was going through the motions, merely logging in minutes of exercise just ….because. Sadly, tennis, my true love, actually suffered. I developed bad habits, shortcuts to conserve energy on the court. Above all else, I felt shameful, like I was doing something wrong. I knew better. But the little voice in my head spurred me on, tempting me to continue:
It's not too much.
You can scale back at anytime.
Other people exercise as much as you do.
You worked hard to get physically fit.
It helps manage your stress.
You need it.
Addictions can be very convincing. I did need it and without it, I feared I would fall apart.