Exercise craving?

A few days ago, I was in a sporting goods store with my mom, helping her pick out a mat for her new Pilates class. We passed by the elliptical machines, and I thought I saw one with an iPod dock and (get this!) built in speakers. So I stepped in the little foot thingies--I'm assuming there's an actual name, but it totally escapes me right now--to get a closer look at the iPod dock.

This was not a smart idea. I didn't exercise in the store, other than about a half a stride to steady myself on the foot thingies, but since then, I have been craving exercise machines like, well, like a junky.

Hi, my name is Carrie, and I'm an exercise addict.

I haven't ridden my bike at all this week, as the weather has been freakishly cold, even for this Midwestern native. I started Pilates classes, which are fun and challenging in ways that my cardio marathon sessions never were. Those sessions were a question of endurance, and part of the hook of working out was just to see how hard I could push myself on so little food. My Pilates classes are challenging in that it's hard for me to coordinate positioning my body, doing the breathing, and everything else that goes with it.

The interesting thing is that I'm not craving a bike ride (although I do wish the weather would warm up because I miss riding) or an extra Pilates class. No, I'm missing that damn elliptical machine. All I can think about right now is that machine and the stupid little red flashing lights and yes, that having an iPod dock and speakers would be awfully fun. Except that fun wouldn't last for very long before the trouble started. In a sense, I suppose that being so particularly attached to the machines is a good thing because it doesn't rule out other forms of activity. It just means that I probably shouldn't be setting foot in a gym anytime soon.

The other interesting thing is that the exercise cravings are a (relatively) new phenomena with my eating disorder. Before, I used to mostly miss restricting, or occasionally, purging. My ED-related "urges" were mostly to skip a meal. Not that I don't have those urges now, but it seems that this past relapse altered some of the behaviors that I find myself missing somehow. A lot of it is the exercise and the endorphin rush, but some of these feelings of "missing" exercise has to do with both the routine I had in place for so long to accommodate all of the exercising and the self-identification I had as Carrie the Exercise Freak. I miss the utter certainty I had in knowing exactly what I was going to be doing at every moment in time. I'm far from bored, but my schedule has been much freer since starting to do freelance writing full time.

The identity issue is another thorny one. I don't identify as an eating disordered person and nothing else, but the eating disorder has been such a part of my life for so long that I often feel lost trying to navigate my way through life without having anorexia as my Plan B. This is perhaps not one of the most savory thoughts I've ever had--nor is it particularly flattering of my character in general, but it is what it is--but I miss the feelings of "virtue" I had when I was uber into exercise. I liked knowing how mentioning one of my several daily workouts would give me a social pat on the back. Yes, it was irritating because I knew I wasn't exercising because I wanted to, but it also provided a shred of self-esteem for me. Maybe it was a half of a Milk Bone when I needed a can of Alpo, but nonetheless, it was self-esteem. When I seemed to screw up everything else I did, at least I could be really good at exercising and losing weight. Also losing my mind.

I don't know if there is a solution to these exercise cravings, other than to keep avoiding machines, maintain my activity at a level my treatment team approves of, and trying not to judge myself too much for having these cravings. One step is that I'm naming and admitting these cravings for all the world to see, and I think I need to accept that missing my ED behaviors in a sense is a normal part of recovery. It's not freakish and doesn't make me a bad recovery advocate and doesn't mean I'm doomed to have these thoughts for the rest of my life. It just makes me real.


Cathy (UK) said...

"Foot thingies" = pedals?

As usual, I can completely identify with this a lot of this post.

You mention the two main 'ingredients' that kept me in an ED:

1. Routine (+ predictability and control of anxiety).

2. Identity (+ individuality). Being able to restrict and over-exercise made me feel 'worthy'. My self control and asceticism boosted my low self esteem.

However, I really enjoyed hard exercise. For me it was a form of dissociation as well as addiction and routine. All my anxiety lifted when I pushed my body as hard as I could. My anxiety was replaced by exhilaration. However, my obsessive and perfectionistic traits meant that I could NEVER, EVER do less in one exercise session than I did in the previous session. The work-out had to be 'just right', and if I didn't do it 'just right' I hated myself with a vengeance.

I can never set foot in a gym again. It would be like an alcoholic just having "one little drink". I have had to work VERY hard in recovery to try to find alternative means of coping in life without my dangerous exercise rituals.

I stopped my crazy exercise rituals when I went into heart failure. That should be quite a powerful deterrent...

mariposai said...

Likewise...I still get tempted, but now I know that the masses of time and energy I used to waste on pointless exercising is now being better spent. I have more time and energy to be with my friends and family, write, draw, paint,play my piano and do other random things.

I've had some horrible injuries from overexercising, so all I do now is pilates. I know that anything else will send me backwards and I've worked too hard on freeing myself to get trapped again.

Tiptoe said...

Carrie, this post is resonating wbith me right now. Ever since my running debate post, I've been thinking about it a little too much, esp. since my walking has been curbed abit due to weather.

I've seen people here runnning in teen/20 degree weather and am tempted to be out there with them just because. I guess what stops me is knowing that obsession-ability with it.

However, I've found myself looking at exercise centers around here and what they offer.

I agree with you about the exercise craving thing. I know for me, even in recovery, it has evolved into this as well. And exercise too has become a part of my identity.

No real words of wisdom except to keep checkingin with tx team and enjoyinng gentle exercise.

Abby said...

This isn't what i want to read right now, but it's exactly what I need to hear. I'm just about to go to the gym--a place I have no business being at for another 15 lbs--just to justify any "laziness" or extra food I may consume throughout the day. It's a predictable way to assure a slight decrease in guilt, in that "at least I've worked out."

Like you, I crave it. It's like an addiction and if I can't do that, I want to restrict to boost up that feeling of control. Reading this, and the comments, I am reminded that I DO have to give it up completely to even make a dent in real recovery.

Once again, it's Day 1 for me, but thanks to this post, it's a day without exercise. Hang in there and know you're an inspiration each and every day.

Carrie Arnold said...


YES on the exercise-as-dissociation part. 100%. It was the extreme cardio that would send me into that mode, and I think that's where some of the stress relief would come in. I think some of my irritability over the exercise issue has been the fact that I really don't want to accept that I can't go back into a gym. As my therapist would say, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

Abby, glad to be of support. Think of all the exercise you got kicking ED's ass there...

Lou Lou said...

A switch went off in my head a week or so ago. since then I have been researching all kinds of blogs, articles, support and help out there for recovery. I love your blog, and especially this post. You inspired me to start my own blog. I am filled with hope and just wanted to say thank you

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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