I never thought that I would have anything in common with an anorexic girl until I read this from a girl named Lindsay:
“The first thing that crossed my mind when I fell off my bike was that I had only completed 5 miles of a 25 mile training ride. When would I fit in the extra 20 miles?”
This quote is from this qualitative paper in Sociology of Sport Journal. The full-text isn’t available unfortunately unless you have access through your institution. In this paper, and collaborative ethnography as they called it, the authors shared a few diary entries of a girl named Lindsay interspersed with their analysis.
I came across this paper when searching for information on the sociology of eating disorders about 1.5 years ago. At the time, I had ended my orthorexic ways for the most part, but was still pretty much addicted to my weightlifting routine. Earlier that year in 2013, I started training back squats with a fiery passion. My friends noticed in class (it was a weightlifting class I took for my kinesiology major) that my eyes were very red after my sets of squats. They felt like they were burning a bit too. It was one of the weird symptoms I had developed from maxing out every single time I went to the gym.
The burning eyes feeling I experienced from squats lingered with me during the day sometimes, leaving me with this odd sense of fatigue in my classes and a desire to close my eyes or meditate. I remember I had days where I just woke up like that. The cause was certainly my unwavering desire to reach my fitness goals and years of trying to perfect my diet to stay at a low body fat. Chronic stress in other words.
I again noticed similarities in my personality and habits while reading Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too, by Jenni Schaefer. I read the book to see how she resolved her eating disorder. Although the voice inside her head that tells her she is fat is still there, she says she has learned to separate from the voice and not let it control her life. I will never understand what that exactly is like, but I do understand what it’s like to be too much of a perfectionist.
When I read the quote I shared from Lindsay, I took a step back and immediately realized that I wasn’t the only one with perfectionist tendencies. Then, I had a crazy thought…
Not only was I not the only one who thought about how much training they had left after an injury or something that interferes with their training, there are probably millions. How many people out there have the “eating disorder mindset,” or the preoccupation with food and body weight (and shape) as it is typically referred to in the literature?
The number doesn’t matter; it’s in the millions. What mattered to my core as a human being with an identity was that, like other people who obsess over their diet and training, we were infected by something and had lost control of ourselves. Even though we thought we were in control of our lives, we had been exposed to some virus that hijacked our lives. This virus made us think we enjoyed our wonderful health-conscious lives, but we thought about it way too much and it consumed us. It took time away from socializing and from exploring other things we found interesting.
I don’t have regrets. I did enjoy lifting weights and still do. I still like to cook my own food and feel better when I eat nutrient dense food along with enough calories. But, I have mostly killed that virus and thus, I’m not a robot anymore.
The way I was living felt like the way a robot lives in a way. It’s the analogy I came up with for myself. The media’s messages were implanted in my head, I had internalized those messages, and then acted in a predictable way (became a personal trainer and “knew” a lot about how to be healthy and lose weight).
There’s nothing unique about it. I see it everywhere on instagram, on social media, etc. People read a few things, get infected, act in a predictable manner (do more research, tell their friends, change their diet, preach pseudohealthism-new word I just made up). Some people go on to develop orthorexia, disordered eating pathology, or eating disorders. All because of a virus.
In conclusion, I learned that I had a virus. This helped me do something very positive for my health: start finding a balance. The exercise I was akin to me shooting up adrenaline. I had a feeling for a while that being so aggressive and so high on adrenaline in the gym every time I went to the gym was probably not healthy, but I didn’t fully accept it until my health started to deteriorate.
I’m still in the process of recovering from the chronic stress caused by maxing out and not eating enough calories for years. I exercise less frequently now and don’t push myself. I can’t anymore actually because I don’t have the energy. But on the positive side, I live with more purpose and I have more energy during the day to do things. I have a better mood because I didn’t max myself out the day before in the gym. At least, that’s the theory.