This is another section of Love Fat that didn’t make the cut. This section describes the mental anguish that I was in when my eating disorder was pushing me to exercise for a minimum of six hours every day. In the book, I have just come back from another run:
One March evening, I dragged my body yet again up the stairs to my flat after having run a solid two hours. Exhausted, hungry, and miserable, I leant against my kitchen counter having just returned from my fourth run of the day and downed a pint of water.
It was that day, and that moment of that day that I actually allowed myself to think “I fucking hate this. I hate running. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it!”
Allowing myself to admit that was a really big act of rebellion. Huge. Think big like the time that you first told one of your parents to Fuck Off—if you ever did such a thing, and I sincerely hope that you didn’t. If, for example, you ever had been brave enough to tell one of your parents to Fuck Off, then that is how big a rebellion this was.
I’d just admitted to myself that I hated running. Now, running was something that I did a lot—I ran for more hours in a 24-hour day than I slept—so the notion that I was spending so much of my life doing something that I detested was disconcerting to say the least. Why would I constantly do something I hated to do at will?
Because you are bat-shit crazy, that’s why! Well what other explanation could there be?
And, in the same way that swearing at a person such as a parent is kind of scary—especially after one has just done it and recoils with horror over what one has just said—as soon as I had thought those rebellious thoughts, I wished I hadn’t. Darn you truth! Words cannot be retracted once spoken, and thoughts cannot be unthought.
Rebellion from what exactly? Those days I didn’t know. These days I know that I was rebelling against the disease that was squatting in my brain, imposing on my thoughts and desires and pretending to be me. Anorexia is like a parasite, and it thrives off starvation and exercise—or anything else that causes the host to go into a calorie deficit. But like I said, I didn’t know that then.
I sat down on my kitchen floor and curled my knees into my chest, burying my head between them. Shit, I hate this. I hate having to do this. I hate running all day every day and I hate that I cannot stop.
I couldn’t stop. Nope, even after I had admitted to myself just how much I fucking hated running, I couldn’t stop. It didn’t make the blindest bit of difference, because my eating disorder didn’t give a shit about what I wanted or what I thought.
In a way, it made it worse. At least when I was pushing myself to exercise for six hours a day before I had sort of been on board with it—or at least my eating disorder had talked me into thinking that I was running out of will. Now I was spending six hours a day running and fully conscious that I was not acting out of free will. That was torture.
“Why didn’t you get help?” I hear you ask. When I was suffering from anorexia, nobody had heard of the exercise-based version of the disease. Nobody was looking for it because it wasn’t a thing. I was very alone in that time, and couldn’t even imagine trying to explain it to someone:
“Hi Doctor … so I have this problem. I cannot stop running…”
My body hurt so much. I was so tired. I was so bored.
Bored of putting on my trainers. Bored of running up and down the same old tracks day in and day out. Bored of the music that constantly looped on my Walkman (yes, Walkman—there was no Spotify then). Bored of running so long that my body would pull up and dry heave.
I was genuinely getting to the point that I was bored of living in the most serious of senses. As far as I could see it, there was only one way that I would ever get out of running.
Thankfully, I did get out of running. But it got worse before it got better. For someone with an eating disorder, there is a really fine line between a healthy exercise regime and an obsessive one. It took me a good five years of hard and honest recovery to get to a point where I could bike, or run, or do any type of cardio without my brain clicking back into eating-disorder mode.
It is however possible to make a full recovery from anorexia. And treatment options have changed drastically in the last couple of years so that now the exercise component can be addressed also. There are plenty of resources out there for sufferers, and because we are talking about these things openly they are being recognised—solutions are apparent.
While I do exercise often now, I tend to stick to bodyweight-based strength stuff rather than cardio, and the thought of running for more than thirty minutes quite frankly makes my stomach turn.
I love the fact that I can run for ten minutes and then call it a day. It is wonderful to be able to work out without making an invidious comparisons of my level of exertion, and if my body asks for a day off it gets it. For a person who used to run for six hours a day and still not consider it enough, that’s a really big deal.