And the point is...

I was chatting with one of my co-workers today in the bakery (though not the one who told me to "let my titties hang out"), and griping about always being hungry because my metabolism is now fighting back. Between work and my recreational cycling, my body needs a lot of fuel. I'm not exactly fond of this always hungry state. It's pretty annoying. But my co-worker looked at me and said:

"Isn't the point of cycling so that you can eat everything?"

I thought, hmmm, that's interesting. Although I am still very aware of the fact that exercise burns calories--both from my ED history and from the fact that living in this culture, it's kind of hard not to be aware of it--that was never my motivation for starting to exercise. I did it to manage stress and to improve my health. Did I harbor secret fantasies about losing weight because of my new exercise habits? Yep. But that wasn't the sole reason I was exercising.

Even at the height of my eating disorder, the exercise was as much an OCD ritual, an addiction (damn didn't I loves me some endorphins), and a way to absolve guilt over eating (my therapist didn't describe my routines as "punishing" for nothing) as it was a way to burn calories. After a while, I didn't really have a motivation for working out- it was just something I had to do, like brushing my teeth and wearing deodorant. I did feel extremely guilty for not burning calories when I didn't exercise, but it wasn't a major motivator.

I've been trying to break my OCD obsessions with counting calories, miles biked/run/climbed, speed, etc, by avoiding exercise machines. It just makes it too easy for me to obsess over this minutiae that the ultimate goal of exercise--the stress relief, the enjoyment of it--gets lost. Buying my bike was a big step in this direction. Exercise still has the connotations of weight loss about it, and I guess given my history that shouldn't be all that surprising.

But the one thing that made me laugh about my co-worker's comment was that I couldn't understand why someone would want to eat more? It's annoying. I have to think about food even more than I already am, just from a practicality standpoint. I have to spend more time on food prep and grocery shopping. All around, I wish I could do my biking and not have my metabolism be all "FEEEEEEEEEED MEEEEEEEEE!!" like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors. Even though I haven't lost weight while riding my bike or being on my feet, I continue to do them. I know that the benefits my rides (and my job) give me make the extra calories worthwhile.

Although my co-worker's comment did make me laugh a bit, it also made me realize just how much exercise and weight loss are linked in our culture, and how so many other factors played into my exercise issues. It also made me realize that the idea of me, biking for the sheer enjoyment of the wind in my hair--in my helmet, really--makes me pretty unusual. All I can think is how much nicer the world would be if we all got back to this primal enjoyment rather than the drudgery of calories burned.

12 comments: said...

I'm so with you on liking exercising but NOT LIKING the fact that it makes me hungrier. Sometimes I actually want to exercise, but I don't only because then I know it means I have to eat more. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who thinks like that. Just now, even, I was running and though "oh, this is annoying, I'm going to be hungry afterwards and then I'm going to have to eat." Seems like other people with eating disorders think "I'll exercise and I won't eat." or "'l'll exercise because I ate." Then Americans, in general, think similar things (regardless of if they have an ED). They are like "I'll exercise because I ate or so that I can eat." I seriously feel like the only person who sometimes gets fearful of exercise just because I know the effects (hunger, wanting to eat more, having to eat more). Sometimes I think "Maybe I'd rather just sit still and not move ever so that I don't have to eat." But that's not right either. Food does taste good. WE should all aim to enjoy eating, enjoy tastes, and enjoy activity - without any bit of "should" language working its way into our thoughts. We should all enjoy the eating process without feeling like now we must go exercise or without feeling like we just "ruined" the effects of the last exercise routine we did.

Cathy (UK) said...

A really interesting post (as usual...) - so much of which I identfy with.

Throughout my long history of anorexia nervosa (AN) exercise was my 'most important ritual' - i.e. it was the ritual I absolutely HAD to do, but also wanted to do. I had always very physically active and participated in competitive sports (running and swimming) long before I developed AN. I only started to exercise in a dangerous manner (i.e. overtraining) when my anxiety and depression escalated at age 11.

It would seem that nowadays, most people (whether physically active or not) assume that if a person exercises regularly that they must surely be doing it to control their weight... The idea that someone may just enjoy exercise for the sake of it is beyond belief for many people, who would exercise in order to lose weight, or to feel they have earned the right to eat more.

I don't enjoy eating but I know that if I want to be physically active that I have to eat more. So, unlike many people, I have always eaten to exercise rather than exercised to eat. Exercise does make me feel more hungry, but that increase in appetite is insufficient to satisfy my body's true requirement for energy. I always risk under-eating.

I would love to go to the gym again now that I am no longer underweight, but it's a dangerous place for me given my brain's desire for rituals and routines. I could easily slip back into a pattern of exercise dependence.

Amanda @ HopeHasAPlace said...

I felt the same way about exercise in regards to my ed. It was more of a compulsion than a way to burn calories; burning calories was a side benefit, but not the main goal. Ironically, I started exercising as a means of getting out of my house, which I shared with my aunt (a disordered eater, but not diagnosed ed).

Melissa said...

Little Shop of Horrors reference FTW! :)

Tiptoe said...

My relationship with exercise and my body cues have always been weird. I actually don't feel hungrier when I exercise more. That can make it tough justifying to eat more, though I do because I know I need to in the long run. What happens for me is not a body signal that I need food but rather a complete utter exhaustion of major depletion of energy reserves. And that feeling is probably one of the worst ever.

In general, with many recreational runners, I hear all the time, "I run, so I can eat more." Or after finishing a big race, they say they are going to eat some huge meal.

H. said...

I agree, and I feel the same way a lot of the time. Though I had a serious bought with AN in the end of high school and through most of college, and until I joined my school's cross country and track teams did exercise cease being about burning calories. (though it was also about feeling "high" and escaping me problems).
Once I was running competitively though it didn't take more than a season for me to start separating my ED from my running. I even found myself eating more to support my running so I could compete well. In XC running and working out was about lung capacity, cardio conditioning, and lactate threshold, and my coach was sure to tell us the purpose of every run and workout we did.
Now even post-college, I still run "a lot" according to my non athlete friends (I run 40-50% of what I did) I don't think of my running as burning calories so I can eat more or lose weight. I do it because I enjoy feeling somewhat fit, I enjoy running and enjoy feeling what my body can do. I kind of "forget" running burins calories and I don't "count" them as being burned, it just dosen't occur to me. Which yeah, makes me an odd one too I guess.
I wish more people could exercise for sheer enjoyment than for solely burning calories.

Missing In Sight said...

It's true that in our culture exercise is linked with being allowed to eat more. I'm a testament to that. I started out exercising because of much needed stress relief, but then my exercise morphed into a way of assuaging the guilt I had from eating. I still feel guilty from eating on the days I can't work out.

I've alway been compulsive about exercise. I DO exercise on the machines, but lately I've been trying to keep my OCD impulses away by putting a towel to cover up how far I've run and how many calories I burned. That way I can get off the machines on time instead of going longer to end my exercise on an even number or rounding up to a higher number.

I'm hoping to get to a place where I can let my body decide when it's time to finish or I can exercise for the enjoyment of it.

Cammy said...

I've thought about this too. I was never a "big eater" before my ED, and at times it really is annoying that right now my cal requirements are so high. I never really have become comfortable with the amount that I eat on the meal plan and think it's a pain in the ass, but I deal with it because I know it makes my life better. But it is indeed fascinating how some people are just more oriented toward food than others, how some people would love to eat more after starting cycling and some people get grumpy about it (no offense, my reaction to these issues is the same as yours!). My old psychologist once told me that "some people live to eat, and some people eat to live."

Maddi said...

I sooo agree!!! I hate that I turned bike riding and walking into a "chore" to burn calories, but now I am retraining myself to enjoy these things for what they are, not for the fact that they burn calories, and I have actually really enjoyed them! Especially biking, I bike almost every day simply because I love it! The other thing you hit on is having to eat more. I am starting swim team on Monday, and I am suuuper nervous about how much I might have to increase my calorie intake!!! It may be up to as much as 1000 calories! I am really really nervous, but i am going to give it a try. I am joining swim team because I love swimming, I just hope I can be stronger then my ED and eat what i need to, even if it seems like a monstous amount! Thanks for the post-i agreed with everything 100%!

James Clayton said...

I'm with the rest of you. I'm itching to be active and exercise but need it's too risky with the compulsive routine/weightloss quest for me to commit to right now.

At some point I'm hoping that I'll be able to approach exercise as a free choice and something to enjoy rather than something to absorb guilt and self-punish.

First and foremost, food is fuel for your body. Exercise isn't something we do to justify eating. It's bizarre that we just accept it the opposite way round.

We'll get there eventually. :)

Laur said...

You rock! ;-)

john said...

Nice article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Looking forward for the next blog.

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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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