I’ve talked about stopping compulsive exercise. I get lots of questions on this topic, and requests to elaborate. Here is a little more information on how cold turkey played out for me. In this post I will focus on the obstacles to cold turkey. The things that scared me about it.
I stopped exercise and committed to stopping for as long as it took. Forever if necessary. Mentally I had a picture that I would stop exercise for at least a year, but ultimately as long as it took to recover. I was terrified, and relieved. Very relieved.
Things that scared me:
1. Free time
I used to spend hours either in the gym or out running. The prospect of all the free time suddenly not doing so would give me was daunting.
How would I fill that time? Mostly I was scared of “free” time as this would be more time that I would want to eat. I had perfected the art of being busy in order to quieten my hunger. I was very afraid of my hunger, and knew that creating time and space for it to be heard would lead to me wanting to eat a lot more.
Of course now I know that the answer here was to fill that time with eating. Which is ultimately what I did.
2. My hunger
Indeed, more free time led to more time where my mental hunger could come through. I was ravenous, and I could feel it more when I was less busy. The volume of mental hunger had always been there, but it felt a lot safer to be thinking of food when I was in the gym — somewhere where eating food was not a threat.
Being hungry when at home was torture. I knew it would be. Thankfully I got to a point where I surrendered to that hunger and allowed the food I wanted in the quantity that I wanted.
3. Losing my level of fitness
What a joke, by body was knackered. But yes, I was very afraid of losing all the “fitness” that I had earned over the years of thrashing my poor body on the roads, treadmills, stair climbers, and bikes.
I know now, that despite apparently having the energy to work out extensively each day, that this energy was only there because my underweight body was desperately trying to migrate. I also know that putting strain on a malnourished body is the opposite of health. My poor body was actually trashed, but the high pain threshold that anorexia provided me with, and inability to feel how tired I really was fooled me into thinking I was fit and strong.
4. Losing my “gym bunny” identity
For some reason, my gym identity felt important to me. I think it was just another thing that my fear used to come up with a “reason” for me not to take steps to change. Who cares if someone goes to the gym or not? Well, when I had anorexia, I did care about that.
Now, recovered, I couldn’t give a flying fuck who works out and who doesn’t. My brain doesn’t filter that information as important anymore.
5. Gaining weight
Despite wanting to gain weight, I still had the anorexia-generated fear of weight gain. Of course.
6. Nothing changing
I was scared I would lose fitness, eat a load more food, and nothing would get better mentally.
7. Everything changing
I was also scared of what things “getting better” would look like. That was a me I didn’t yet know. My malnourished brain was suspicious of change.
I’ll give you a hint: it all worked out just fabulous. Turns out, everything changed for the better.
8. Losing my job
I worked in a gym as a personal trainer. I had to quit work in order to stop working out. I hated my job. I hated walking up and down the gym floor scouting for potential clients and offering people free trail training sessions. But I was still afraid of losing my job. I liked my gym job as it allowed me to keep moving and when I wasn’t working with clients I would try and sneak onto a stair climber (working out while on duty is not allowed in most gyms) so mostly I was afraid that losing this job would mean I would have to get another, less active, job.
Looking back, it is incredible to me how my desire to move addled my brain. I can’t think of anything I would rather do less than work in a gym 24/7.
9. Losing my gym “friends”
By “friends,” I mean the people who I paid me money to try and help them suppress their bodyweight via restriction and exercise. I was lonely enough that my gym clients were closest things I had to call friends. I was also attached to some of the other gym staff, because these were the only people I ever saw.
That’s quite sad, isn’t it.
10. “Unidentified” fears.
These were the biggest overall source of fear for me. No real identifiable reason. Just fear. Now I put this down to anorexia being a migration response, and the fear being generated about stopping moving being a survival fear.
How I overcame these fears
I don’t think I did really overcome these fears. I just got so sick and tired of listening to them go over and over in my head that I started to ignore them. When you ignore thoughts, and give them less mental energy, they get quieter. It is rather like you close the lid on them, and then you start piling mattresses on top of the box so that it becomes harder and harder to open.
Once I know a thought process of mine well, and I have identified it as one that I don’t want any more, I can usually get a warning feeling when that thought is about to come up. When I get that warning feeling, I mentally padlock the box.
Have you ever done this when you are trying to get to sleep at night? You are lying there, and you have an exam or an interview or something planned the next day that you know if you start thinking about it you will never be able to get to sleep. And it is tempting to start thinking about it, but in your semi-sleepy state you are able to recognize that those thoughts are coming and block them. You feel them starting up, but catch them early enough to stop them becoming fully formed thoughts. You squash them before the evoke an emotional reaction. You push them away mentally, and are then able to drift off to sleep.
And you probably know also, that on the times when you have been in that situation and you have not pushed those anxiety thoughts away, you spent the whole night awake fretting.
This mental process of pushing thoughts away and not getting emotionally involved with them is hard to do, but essential to do when you are in recovery from anorexia. The book I am just about to publish “Rehabilitate, Rewire, Recover!” attempts to fully explain and give tools for these mental processes and the rewiring of thoughts.
But you don’t need a book to work out how to do this. Obviously, because I worked it out and I didn’t have one! This type of thought control is something humans have been doing for years. You just have to practice it.