You may have read this week about Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Marjama coming out about a lifetime struggle with an eating disorder that included severe exercise bulimia. As a follow up to my last blog post on the importance of joyful movement, I want to list some of the signs of exercise purging, plus three more ways to incorporate joyful movement into your life as a part of eating disorder recovery.
Signs of exercise bulimia can be confused with our culture’s unhealthy obsession with getting ripped and fit as a sign of health. If you or someone you love is exhibiting these behaviors, it’s time to get help:
- Feeling debilitating fear when you are still or at rest
- Feeling extreme guilt if you miss a workout
- Refusing to eat if you can’t exercise to “burn off” the calories
- Conversely, exercising excessively when you believe you’ve eaten too much
- Exercising even if you are sick, in pain, or have an injury.
- Giving up other priorities in order to exercise, such as work, going to class, having fun with friends.
Joyful movement is a powerful antidote to exercise bulimia when combined with therapy, nutrition counseling and sometimes medication. Here are three more reasons you should exercise rather than for weight loss and burning calories:
1 Exercise can cheer you up
It’s important to think of exercise as a depression and anxiety fighter and a brain energizer, rather than a weight control method.
Another tip to help you keep up with healthy exercise is to focus on exercise as a way to lift mood and ward off anxiety and depression – then you will be much more likely to stay active your entire life.
Remember that exercise increases endorphins, which are a feel-good chemical for your brain. These are so much better goals to think about than losing weight and having the perfect body!
It’s not that I’m anti-medicine for mental health issues; I really think that medicine has its place, especially to help chronic depression or anxiety. But I also believe in using as many natural methods to fight anxiety and depression as you can, before you try medicine.
Exercise is by far the number one way, if you talk to doctors, to lift depression and anxiety, because it floods the body with endorphins. That’s very similar to what psych medicine does, and exercise can do that naturally.
This is another great reason to keep exercising throughout your life besides exercising for weight loss.
5: Athletes need more nutrition
If you’re an athlete, remember you need more calories if you’re playing a sport. This sounds like a no-brainer, right? This may seem obvious, but a lot of athletes actually under eat. I counsel athletes every year that are practicing hours and hours every day and they’re restricting their eating.
Many athletes are perfectionists and are not fully educated about their nutritional needs, even by their own coaches! They workout with the team hours and hours every day, often to keep a scholarship that they’re receiving, so they also have to keep up with classes. This kind of schedule increases stress and they can end up trying to cope with it by restricting, bingeing and purging, or compulsively exercising.
The stress can also create anxiety which curbs appetite. As a result, athletes can under eat, even though their bodies need more calories in order to perform well.
Remember you’re also burning calories when you use your brain. We burn a certain amount of calories just sitting and thinking. In fact sometimes I see a lot of patients during the day and I haven’t gotten up and done a lot of exercise, and I’m still ravenous because I’m thinking a lot.
You still need to eat even if you’re not exercising because you’re still burning calories just by thinking and existing!
You also want to watch out for compulsive exercise - it’s a form of purging. Athletes are more likely to develop eating disorders than the average person.
Consider having a nutrition coach as well as your regular trainer, who will make sure you get enough nutrients to feed your sport and increase performance in a healthy way.
Step 6: Move with friends
Moving with friends can be a motivator to keep exercise and joyful movement in your life.
Consider joining a team, or having an exercise partner, but make sure you’re doing something you both find fun.
Sometimes people get together to exercise because they feel they need to lose weight.
That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about doing something entertaining so the time just flies by because you’re having so much fun.
There can also be a lot of positive social effects to exercising with friends. Many studies show if you exercise with someone else you’re more likely to keep it up, and be happier.
At the same time, you want to try not to compare yourself to others. Make a pact with your exercise buddies to ban diet and weight talk from your time together.
This can be a real struggle.
If you have spent any time in a men’s or women’s locker room, you know you constantly hear people talking about how they have to go on a diet or how “fat” they feel.
Diet talk is all over the place - at the water cooler at work, in the locker room.
How do you deal with diet and weight talk around you? It’s not easy, because these may be people you really love, that you really want to spend time with, but they’re obsessed with food and weight and body image. It’s an enormous problem in our culture.
Here’s you can do to make a change.
First, you can tell your friends, “Hey, let’s make an agreement not to talk about diets together or about weight, because it just makes us feel bad. Let’s talk about other things that are meaningful to us”.
You can also say, “You’re beautiful just the way you are. I don’t want to hear you talking badly about yourself.”
The very least you can do is show them how you feel by not talking about diet and exercise, by excusing yourself politely from the conversation and walking away.
Over time people will know honestly not to talk that way in front of you. It takes time, but you will feel relief that you’re not around that kind of damaging talk.
Step 7: Stick with your good habits
Our last step towards a practice of joyful movement is to envision the practice of intuitive eating and joyful movement as a lifestyle choice that is a reflection of respect and love for yourself, and a commitment to lifetime happiness.
Do you want to go through life hating your body and counting calories and being in an exercise and weight loss prison?
I’ll venture to answer no for you; I’m almost positive you want to go through life feeling peaceful and happy in your body.
And you don’t want to live with a life threatening eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or orthorexia!
If you start to work on some of the practices I’ve mentioned here, you are going to end up in a very good place.
Ongoing acts of self-care are just as important as learning how to be responsible with money, being a caring human being, and being good at your job. Learning to love yourself and your body, and take care of it well for your whole life is as essential as working and providing.
And it’s an essential powerhouse in eating disorder recovery!
I hope that the tips I’ve been sharing with you will help you get there.
Stop using food and exercise as a series of painful quick fixes through dieting and forced exercise; these methods don’t work in the long term anyway and will make you sad. Just like saving pennies in a piggy bank every day, you may not see the effects of positive self-talk, joyful movement, and intuitive eating right away, but over a lifetime you’ll build a wealth of happiness, peace and high self-esteem.
You can do it!
Remember these tips for keeping up joyful movement and being fit for life:
- Exercise for fun, not for weight loss.
- Find activities that mirror ways you moved as a kid.
- Move to feel good, not to look good.
- Use exercise as a depression fighter and an anxiety reducer.
- If you’re an athlete, remember you need more food than a non-athlete.
- Move with friends to keep the fun going.
- Start to think of intuitive eating and joyful movement as a lifestyle choice.
- If you think you may have an eating or body image problem, get help from a professional!