Fight between mind and body

Much of the writing about anorexia is couched in the terms of mind vs. body.  Perhaps it is something of the nature of eating disorders; perhaps it is our conception of what an eating disorder is.  As hunger pulls at your gut, you tell yourself "mind over matter," as you crack open yet another can of Diet Coke.  Starving, you tell yourself, is an all-out war with your body, and your mind is determined to win.

Recovery, then, seems like capitulation.  Surrender.  Okay, stupid body, you win.  I'm waving the white flag. You couldn't vanquish your body and so you break down and eat.

Or, in my case, lay off the exercise, too. 

This past slip didn't see a return of the full-blown exercise addiction that I've shown in the past.  But the urges did increase somewhat, and now I've been advised to basically cease all activity until my weight starts trending upwards.

I know my body needs this to heal.  I try to think about my heart, liver, and kidneys.

But then I start worrying about my mind.  How am I going to stay sane if I am sedentary?  Some people exorcise their demons, but exercise mine.  The repetitive motion is soothing--I'm like a baby being rocked.  And as much as I hate the fatigue, it does turn the volume down (however slightly) on the worries and obsessions.

So exercise right now seems good for my mind and bad for my body, which pits me right back at the crux of the matter.  Of course, exercise addiction is a Very Bad Thing for my brain over the long term.  Anxiety, however, rarely takes the long view.  Sure, it obsesses about the future, but when in the throes of anxiety and stress, all I'm thinking is make this stop NOW.  The long term can go screw itself for all I care.  I'm not going to be around for the long term if I can't ratchet down the anxiety--or at least, not around and sane.

I'm struggling to find something half as soothing as exercise.  Today was especially hard, as the day was warm and sunny.  Perfect day, I thought, for a bike ride.  Except, oops, I messed up and now going out for a spin wasn't in the cards.  So I crocheted this evening, all gloom and doom and look at me working on this motherf*cking project like a good little girl. Woo woo. {{Say it in an Eeyore voice.}}

Healing my body will heal my mind.  I'm trying to tell my fat starved neurons that avoiding a good sweat is good for me, really it is.  My neurons aren't buying a word of it.  That doesn't make it untrue, just pathetically unbelievable. 


hm said...

Meh. Wish I had encouraging words for you. Only maybe this- that your brain is part of your body too, so if you're not giving in to its ed demands, you're actually still being stronger than your body. Just in a different way.

Fuck ed.

Jessi said...

the fight between mind and body is driving me c-r-a-z-y!

hope you can listen to your body, and I hope I can too!

Cathy (UK) said...

I get what you say about exercise. I used to do crazy amounts of exercise; not really to 'burn calories' (i.e. expend energy to lose weight or maintain a low weight), but because I found it soothing, in so many ways. It rid my mind of worries and repetitive OCD-like thoughts. I therefore have to be very careful in terms of exercise. Putting me in a gym could be very dangerous.

But in terms of appetite and desire for food: I never felt hungry while underweight and anorexic. For that reason I'd get spells of severe hypoglycaemia. My body just didn't seem to send hunger signals to my brain; or maybe my brain didn't perceive them.

I'm glad you are doing better. Crocheting sounds good. I wish I could do it but I'm hopeless at stuff like that!

Amy said...

Eeyore doesn't drop the mother-effer near enough.

Anonymous said...

Wow I relate so much to what you wrote, I am not as far into recovery as you are and I'm jealous of that but I appreciate your honesty.
I also struggle with exercise and although I haven't been to the gym in about a week it hasn't stopped me from popping in a video at home or going for a long walk.

Sarah at Journeying With Him said...

I wonder if playing a video game would be helpful as an alternate activity to knitting--maybe one where you kill things? :)

I'm very glad your team is monitoring things and is on top of your behaviors so that you can continue to work towards an ED-free life. Keep fighting; your mind AND body are precious to us!

Katie said...

I'm really sorry to laugh at your pain Carrie, but this -

So I crocheted this evening, all gloom and doom and look at me working on this motherf*cking project like a good little girl. Woo woo. {{Say it in an Eeyore voice.}}

was just too funny! The right thing sucks, right? I'm really sorry you're feeling so rubbish. If you are channelling Eeyore at the moment, you sound like a caged Eeyore. I know how horrible it is having to sit with anxiety when the anxiety is both insanely high and causing almost intolerable urges to DO something about it, regardless of the consequences. Something that has helped me is reminding myself that every time I act on those urges (whether ED or SI related) I am decreasing my ability to cope with anxiety without resorting to behaviours. It's another long view approach and it's hard to remember in the middle of an anxiety attack, but as crappy and counter-intuitive as this feels, it is in your best interests, both in terms of avoiding slipping back into exercise addiction and learning how to cope with/decrease your anxiety without using exercise or restriction. But feel free to rage against the fact that it feels horrendous!

I hope things get easier soon :)

Cammy said...

First of all, the "Some people exorcise their demons, but exercise mine" comment establishes you once again as one of the most insightful people I have the privilege of knowing.

I know the anxiety that comes along with this issue can be overwhelming. But your "project" when you crochet instead of going out to try to burn off off the demons is way more that whatever you happen to be making out of yarn; the ultimate Project is showing that you da boss, you can call the shots and not let this ED act as the scaffold to your life. And that deserves a sincere, non-Eeyore (although he was always my favorite character) whoop of encouragement. It's not easy, but you're good at challenges. Hang in there and take it a day at a time, thinking of you. <3

Anonymous said...

yep, those happy endorphins shove my anxiety to another place JUST LIKE starving does. for a while. the difference is i don't have to be starving to have the happy endorphins and lowered anxiety. i am not supposed to exercise right now either, or at least not what i would consider exercise. three 15 minute walks a week at the pace of a toy dog DO NOT qualify in my book. neither would crocheting. for now it's medication. really difficult puzzles will take me out of whatever crap is going through my head but to say they would actually halt an anxiety/panic attack, i doubt it. i may just have to be okay with meds because whether i like it or not my mind is still attached and functions as a RESULT of what i do to my body. the only separation is in my thinking.

thinking of you with care.

Anonymous said...

I need my exercise endorphins to stave off depression myself, so I understand even though I'm not anorexic.

Two suggestions: the first is a cd (and there are downloadable mp3s as an option) at that's called Flowdreaming for Immediate Relief. It has these guided journeys that really help take your mind down a path away from anxiety or depression. I find them helpful.

Then there is this new age technique taught by Jennifer McLean where you get out a stopwatch and just vent OUT LOUD for a minute of all the worries and obsessive thoughts you're thinking and get them out.

Then you repeat out loud "I AM the quiet mind" three times, while you focus with your consciousness (don't look upward, keep your eyes downward with eyes closed) on the INSIDE of the crown of your head.

Listen to quiet music or something and just stay quiet and every time a thought intrudes, just say "quiet mind" to yourself and go back to being quiet. But the getting out the junk for a minute and concentrating on a point inside the head really does quiet those thoughts down. Try it!

hm said...

Mmmm... the above makes me think of a technique my yoga instructor uses sometimes... she calls it "throwing a fit." She has us lie on our backs and concentrate on tensing up every part of our body, our hands, feet, arms, legs, faces, abs, everything- then pound with hands and feet, shake head back and forth, etc, w/as much energy as possible- she says do it till you're exhausted and that happens after only about 3 min. I feel absolutely ridiculous doing it. But supposedly it helps relieve tension... maybe worth a try.

Charlotte UK said...

One technique I have learnt for extreme anxiety and to help me sleep is to lie on the bed and concentrate on tensing, then relaxing muscles one at a time, starting at the toes.

Word of warning, I have usually nodded off for a little doze by the time I get to the tummy. I have never managed beyond tensing fingers...

Carrie, the anxiety is horrible, really horrible and all encompassing. It seems there is little else except a big black ball of gloom and your mind can't see anything else. It does pass but the whole process is not without pain. Getting through it becomes easier with time. Not helpful, as this is the long view but it does get easier.

Am loving the whole Eeyore thing.

Anonymous said...

I think if one is busy doing things for OTHERS then one has less time to sit around and navel-gaze and think about eating or not eating all the time.
Help others-spend time with kids, abused animals, whatever-but get your mind off of yourself and your "problem" and then maybe, miraculously, it may go away!

wenlow said...


You are one strong woman and much stronger than ED.
One thing that I have found helpful for very painful and debilitating chronic pain that becomes ever increasing with each thought and my anger, is Mindfulness Meditation.

They are teaching us that distraction doesn't always work, but retraining your brain to be kinder and gentler to your body through mindfulness meditation, does change the gray matter.
It helps to take away all the shoulds, worries, of past and future, but to just accept the moment with more self-compassion.

Some great ones are Tara Brach's and they are short with lots of wisdom infused.

Anonymous said...

You referred to the repetitive motion of exercise. Do you play a musical instrument? If not, have you ever thought of learning to play one? I have started this recently myself and it is a most wonderful thing. First of all, it's soothing - it's MUSIC after all. It's highly rewarding to hear yourself make music. Once you get a bit of ability you can play the type of music you enjoy - thus you have control over what you are listening to, as well as the pleasure of creating it. Want to work at something? An hour of practice a day fits the bill quite well. It will tire you, in a good way, physically and mentally but yet not exhaust you. It will give you ritual, It will give you a sense of accomplishment. It will relax you like meditation. It will exercise your brain as you learn how to play different notes.

Katie said...

I just wanted to disagree with Cheryl. I love voluntary work, but it's not a cure for a biologically based mental illness. I usually shy away from confrontation, but the comment sounded judgemental and ignorant, and potentially hurtful. Maybe it was just worded badly.

Anonymous said...

Cheryl just doesn't get it at all.

hm said...

I reacted to that post too.

I'm choosing to believe (hoping) it was worded poorly, or perhaps a lack of understanding of mental illness. Volunteering/giving was presented as a simplistic way to make everything all better- simplistic wording can sound judgemental.

Yes, reaching outside of yourself to give to/communicate with others DOES relieve some symptoms and make one less miserable. But it doesn't cure mental illness. Someone who does not suffer from a mental illness probably would not understand this. After the volunteering, or the giving, is over, you still go home with the same struggles and mental noise that you had beforehand.

Further, it can be dangerous to give of yourself when you yourself are drained and struggling. I've gotten myself into that position too- over committing as a volunteer while in a fragile state, and then having to back out and let people down because I was not well and could not keep up with things. That feels really crappy.

When in the middle of a relapse, it is better to receive than to give. When you're drowning, that's a time to grab hold of something floating- not a time to try to rescue someone or to look around at who could use your time and attention. You have to save yourself before you can help others!

There is time for both giving and receiving. Neither will "fix" a mental illness. But both can help relieve the pain and distress of it.

I think, Carrie, you are doing an incredible job at finding the balance between giving and receiving. Your blog does wonders for those of us who are struggling. And you make yourself available for questions outside of the blog too, when asked. Anyone who has read your blog for a significant amount of time should know that about you.

But there are times when you're not up for taking care of the world and its ed sufferers- times when your ed is getting the better of you, and you need to sit back and let your readers support YOU. This is one of those times. Nothing wrong with that- it's healthy. It's balanced. :)

Carrie Arnold said...

To be honest, I do think Cheryl has a good point. It's very easy to get your head lodged in your own ass when you're struggling and lose perspective on things.

No, it's not curative, but it can be useful.

Katie said...

Oh yeah, I don't disagree with that - I've just finished a round of voluntary work with disadvantaged children and I work for an ED charity too, and I think charity work can be a big boost to self confidence. It was just the tone. Particularly the suggestion that your "problem" might go away if you just think about the children. Little bit patronising? I'm not trying to pick a fight, I just really hate the implications. It sounded like an echo of "Why won't you eat when there are starving children in Africa".

Anonymous said...

Carrie -

Could going for a brisk 30 minute walk help you to feel like you aren't being sedentary? If you are walking on an even, flat path, and not too quickly, you won't be burning the kind of calories that running or uphill walking burns. I do this almost daily to avoid overexercising on gym machines, and at the same time it really really helps to quiet my mind, my obsessive thoughts, and my anxiety overall. Not sure if you are at a point or not where you are able to limit your walk to 30(ish) minutes, but it's a suggestion nonetheless. Good luck finding an outlet for your anxiety - I, too, struggle with this daily!
- Alli

Bulimiacounsellor said...

Hey Carrie,
I've only just had a chance to read your post. I really liked what "Anonymous" said about the flowdreaming CD/MP3 download and writing the thoughts out.
This is the type of work I do with clients to work on a) calming the mind and b) beginning to heal the disconnect between mind and body so they are not always at odds with each other.
At the moment, you need an alternative to exercise that provides you with the calm or "empty head" time. Distraction (e.g. crochet) will only go so far, but working on being able to calm the anxiety in your body, and still your mind, is something you will be able to continue doing long term.
Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

I have so health problems right now that have stopped me from exercising. I think sometimes just getting an equivalent amount of sunshine helps since sunshine is an antidepressant. I had forgotten how much my runs increased sun exposure. Sometimes, flying a kite or just doing something else outside, helps.

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean. Forcing myself to be sedentary makes me feel like I'm slowly growing fat (even though I probably haven't gained more than a pound in the two months of recovery). I've taken up light weight lifting, which is relaxing and not at all addictive for me. Plus, it makes me temporarily realize that eating more means getting my physical and mental strength back, even if also means my stomach is jigglier like it was before the illness.

Yvonne Madden said...

Hahaha,good read and hell - I can relate!Dunno what wass but the cross-trainer was my baby,my go-to easy fix that lulled me into a nice numbness.The longer I exercised the nicer the calmness,the greater the numbness...It was the only thing that kept me sane after I ate ( or binged in my case). MInd over body,body over mind.I go through periods where one takes priority over the other but they're always competing.. The joys!

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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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