Exercise bulimia

 I truly love to run. Without a watch, not around a track, and 100% solo. I love it. As the great Chris Traeger said, "I do my best thinking when my heart rate is elevated". 

But from the time I started running in eighth grade until I ran the Boston Marathon in April 2013, I used my weekly mileage as a form of control. I had effectively given up my outright control of food through anorexia and simply slid running right into its place. Under the guise of training and racing, I engaged in what I now understand to be exercise bulimia for years. 

I had always viewed bulimia as the eating disorder of weak people. "Have some damn self control", I'd think to myself. I've only purged twice in my 16 years suffering under an eating disorder. But have I justified eating by adding a few miles onto my run that day or committing myself to an extra HIIT class instead of taking a rest day? Of course. My brain turned those into "healthy" add-ons. An advanced yoga class in the afternoon after a long morning run? Cross training. An easy 5 mile run on a Sunday I'd planned to take off? Shaking out the cobwebs before a hard Monday workout. An extra few miles before dinner out? If you want tiramisu, you have to earn it. 

It's taken years and coaching from many trusted sources for me to be comfortable with two rest days a week. Even now, I like to clock at least 10,000 steps on those days. And it's all about the mindset. It's hard to argue that aiming for 10,000 steps a day is not a healthy goal. But if it's 10pm, we've taken Rex around the block for the last time, I'm on the couch with my husband, and I check my Health app to see I'm at only 8,000 steps for the day... is it "healthy" to take Rex around the block again? Have behaviors like that contributed to my husband's feelings that I am more connected to my eating disorder than I am to him? 

I could drive myself mad going down that rabbit hole. For now, I purposely leave my phone at home during some walks so that the steps number isn't accurate. It's one way I manage those compulsions. Tapping into my logical brain, the brain that knows that 2,000 steps will not make a difference in my weight or my fitness level, is another way I'm learning to manage. Breathing and repeating the mantra, "you will be ok", is another new favorite.

Exercise can be medicine. It can contribute to a mental health and self care regimen. But it can also be toxic and can start to control you, to make choices for you. Take a look at your relationship with exercise. Is it healthy or is it a compulsion? Like any relationship, it can be changed.