An Exercise Bulimic Goes to the Gym

exercise bulimic goes to the gym
Getting dressed is the first step. A pair of stretchy legging with enough substance to hold me in. A sports bra that still fits and a singlet with built-in support. I have boobs now that need restraining.

I put on my socks and sneakers. I look in the mirror and ignore the judging voice that says I look so much bigger than the last time I wore these clothes.

The gym is small and quiet. A resort gym where only the most dedicated fitness enthusiasts leave their holiday pleasure to get in a workout. There’s a woman on the elliptical reading a book and a man lifting free weights.

I put on my gloves and survey the available equipment. The multi-exercise weight machine seems a good place to start. Lat pull-downs were always my favourite exercise so I start there. The weights only have numbers so I take a guess at what I can handle. My guess is correct.

My body responds quickly to the familiarity of the exercise. I tighten my core and grip the metal bar that is like every other bar in every other gym. My breath synchronises with the effort and the release.

Cable rows, bench press with just the bar and pec dec are all completed with the burn setting in on the last three reps. As I pause between sets I try not to think the thoughts that used to accompany every trip to the gym. I avoid the mirrors on the wall. It doesn’t matter how I look — it’s no longer the point.

I finish on the treadmill. A power walk on an incline seems a good place to start. I have no idea how far or how long I will stay on this machine. My breath gets faster and sweat breaks out on my face. I turn up the music and enjoy moving with the beat.

Here I think about what I’ve eaten that day. My mind starts to tell me the adjustments I should be making to ensure this workout ‘matters’. I push the thoughts away. This is not about losing weight. This is not about looking better. I’m here to improve my strength and endurance so I can enjoy kayaking, beach swimming and hiking with less effort and for longer. After seeing my dad struggle to walk in his seventies I’m determined to be physically fit for as long as I can. It’s time to invest in my body so it works for years to come.

The number of calories flashes at me from the console. There is no way this machine knows what I’m burning. But I no longer care. I walk for twenty-five minutes without tiring. I’m surprised that I’m still quite aerobically fit.

As I leave the gym and head back to my room I wonder — not if I can keep this up — but how I can keep from obsessing about exercise all over again. Going back to the gym feels like the first hit of nicotine after not smoking for months. It’s a drug that whispers that more is better, that working harder will transform my body, that cutting back on my food will give me the body I once had.

But the body I once had belongs to the life I once had. A life I never want to live again. I am a different person now. I can go to the gym just to get fit and strong and resist the urge to overdo it.

I know I can.

But it’s still there calling to me at the back of my mind …


About KatieP

Embracing my midlife sexy while exploring modern love & relationships • Devoted to all things beautiful • Master of Arts in creative writing & non-fiction writing

27 thoughts on “An Exercise Bulimic Goes to the Gym

  1. I get the same thing. That dysfunctional little voice pipes up now and then, but it’s ignorable. My weight is heading downward at the moment, as I’m doing ‘Junkfree January’. I weighed myself and was pleased. Then I got the insane urge later to weigh myself again – to get an ‘evening’ weight, an ‘in clothes and shoes’ weight and started thinking that if I just tweak the diet a bit I could REALLY get some scale action. It just flashed through before I realised that these were thoughts I didn’t enjoy and that wouldn’t lead anywhere good.
    It’s quite a task to separate healthy eating and exercise from having the sole purpose of making one look a particular, predefined way, but I think it’s an important step.

    1. I’m adding the phrase “get some scale action” to my vocabulary — love it!

      I totally understand where you’re coming from but as they say “awareness is the first step to change”. If we know what’s going on we can’t be taken hostage by surprise.

  2. I totally get what you mean. it’s like me and dieting. finding the peace with doing something for your wellness and not a scale or number. it seems so simple… Good on your for working through it. 🙂

  3. Glad you’re back at it; hope it stays positive for you. I do totally get the whole back of your mind thing; I can relate from an alcholic point of view; like if I just tried to take one drink, all of those thoughts would be floating in the back of my mind.
    I pray you can keep it your own balance! Stay healthy! 🙂

  4. Yes, this is too familiar. I could never do the gym thing again. But once I found joyful movement (dance), it has been completely different. I think about getting stronger so I can dance differently, with more exploration, not so I look a certain way. (Of course, as you say, those thoughts are always there, whispering, but we get better at not acting on them, not giving them any real weight.)

    I only recently gave up on the gym completely. The repetition of the activities left too much space for that voice. When I dance, the voice simply ((poof)) disappears, as if it never even existed.

    1. I used to be a dancer a long time ago … I miss it. I’m intrigued by dance as a spiritual practice as well as a way to keep moving as I get older. Is there an online class/video you would recommend for DIY dancing at home?

  5. Dance as a spiritual practice, by its nature, seems to not fit the DVD format. As far as I have experienced…

    That said, I highly recommend the work of Gabrielle Roth. Read her book Sweat Your Prayers, and then check out her CDs. She does some voice guidance over some great tribal-like music. You can get very deep very fast with her stuff. 🙂

    And YAY for dancing! Now I only do something if its FUN. No more grunt work for this girl.

  6. As someone who sometimes exercised 5 hours a day in my 20’s, I TOTALLY get this!! Now at 40 and after a few years of coaching and coach training, I finally feel like I have a handle on what a healthy exercise regimen looks like for me. I still like to push myself during a workout but because I LIKE to work hard and lift heavy. I now workout an amount that feels good, (certainly not 5 hours a day! My God, how crazy was I?!) it’s no longer about constantly trying to make my body smaller AND the best part of all is that I have so many other wonderful and fulfilling things in my life now that exercise is no longer the only thing! I have much better things to spend 5 hours a day on now and I am soo thankful! Lovely and honest post Katie! Thank you for allowing me to reflect on my own journey!

    1. “I have much better things to spend 5 hours a day on now and I am soo thankful!” ~ absolutely!
      Me too. Thank you for sharing your story Lori x

  7. If I can do it then you can too :).

    Congrats on taking the first step. You’re different now. A different person, different body, different thoughts, different feelings which means a different exerciser too.

    Always remember “for the love of it” and if there’s no love fuck it ;).

  8. I’ve been in these shoes. I was terrified to go back to the gym in 2009 when I’d been so disordered only a few years before. I couldn’t imagine that I wouldn’t fall back into the old ways. But I didn’t. Each day I went to work out, I took it gently, limited my time on the cardio equipment until I felt I could handle it. And it worked. After six months, I could look at my exercise time as strengthening myself and investing in my old age. I’m so glad that you’ve put yourself firmly on the same path. The voice may never go away but you have a choice about whether to give in. <3

  9. I love the acknowledgement that “the voice” may never to away but that we can chose to not give ourselves to it! I still think I work out too much but every day is a day with more love for myself…it is a good place to be.

  10. My bulimia was of the “binge-and-vomit” variety, but I still totally relate. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that a super-lean body is not actually a goal that’s worthy of spending my energy on. Health and fitness, yes, but the kind of single-minded focus that obsessed me for much of my teens, 20s, and even 30s? No thanks.

    I like your “But the body I once had belongs to the life I once had. A life I never want to live again.” Amen–such a great way to look at it!

    I also love Justine Musk’s take: instead of striving for beauty (and society’s unrealistic standards for same, which of course get less and less achievable with every additional day you’re alive), let’s make a goal of being *fascinating.*

    Sounds a lot more fun to me! 🙂

  11. I feel like my problem is the binge thing, which in turn drives the over exercise.–2 very vigorous hours of aerobics plus weights every other day, then stretching, I used to exercise every day, but could no longer take it as I got older, too hard on my bod. (I’m not as young as is typical with this disorder, have struggled for some time.)

    Was a naturally thin person who somehow became obsessed with calories & needing to be the skinniest in the room.

    I guess my self worth is all tied up with havong a skinny, perfect shape = something I started out naturally gifted on & can just fucking run myself into the ground perfecting. Skinny now = pretty, perfect, as good as everyone else, in control.

    The binging is ruining my life and relationships. I just withdraw into myself after an oncident, become so depressed, despairing that I’m good for nothing & no one. I then pamic if I don’t get to the gym, & that too is ruling/ruining my life (and my husband’s, tho he doesn’t fully understand why). Have a beach house falling into disrepair because I can never get my act togeth er to go there (no gym).

    How did you ever stop the binging? I was much better for a few months (still counting calories & exercising, but eating whatever guilt free.) Then had a relapse for 3 months running. This week was the worst–two huge dysfunctional binges during which I felt driven to eat without really wanting the food & which left me feeling bloated, physically & mentally sick. Psychologically paralyzed, shellshocked the day following each one.

    Feel I need help. At least I don’t vomit. Sometimes wish I could, to purge calories & bad for me food, so as to feel momentary relief.

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