Welcome to the “Yoga as Medicine for Athletes” series! Here you will find a new video and blog post each week that focuses on different aspects of yoga/body movement and its role in injury prevention and rehabilitation, as well as managing chronic orthopedic conditions. Orthopedic injuries and illnesses don’t discriminate, but those who have been in an accident, afflicted with an illness, have physically demanding jobs, the elderly and athletes/frequent gym-goers are most susceptible. Even still, taking the time to stretch, strengthen, and focus on your breath, alignment, and posture is beneficial and can improve the quality of life for anyone.
My passion for this work has formed through my own struggles with exercise addiction and disordered eating when I was a teenager. Nobody ever starts dieting or exercising with the intention of becoming extreme—one does it with the goal of becoming healthier and feeling better about oneself, and that is exactly how my story began in middle school.
I didn’t fit in very well in school where I was known as the “fat goth girl,” and didn’t have very many friends. From that age on, I began to believe my weight was what defined my worth and I wanted to do something about it. Both my parents supported my decision to go on a diet and my dad even bought me an elliptical that I could use in the basement. In the beginning, I used the elliptical machine for about a half hour a day and complemented that with a slightly lower caloric intake. After a month or two of this new daily routine, the same classmates that had once called me fat were now complimenting my visible weight loss and telling me how great I looked. So I kept going, and over time I would continuously increase my time spent on the elliptical and decrease my food intake. It was so subtle and gradual, I didn’t even realize once I was so deep into it that it was not normal to be on the elliptical for three hours every day, accompanied with only 500 calories a day—I was programed to believe that I was just being healthy. I didn’t realize that I had an eating disorder and exercise addiction.
Day-by-day, week-by-week, I’d restrict my calories even more, creating ridiculous and illogical dieting rules I “needed” to follow. Being “skinny” became the most important thing to maintain; I would plan my days around my gym and laxative schedule, and I became completely isolated. But eventually, I got into the mindset that I didn’t deserve to go out anywhere or have fun until I lost more weight. I was destroying my body, at that point I knew it but didn’t care. I felt like I deserved the pain, I wasn’t skinny enough so I needed to be punished.
It’s hard for me to believe that there are people out there who don’t grasp the gravity of exercise addiction and how it can even be deadly in cases. Sometimes, I shy away from coming clean about my battle with exercise addiction, not because I’m ashamed but because of the ignorant comments that I get when I tell people:
“Well, hey,as far as addictions that’s a pretty good one to have!”
“I wish I had that addiction!”
“It’s not as bad as being addicted to drugs or alcohol!”
My exercise addiction permanently destroyed my body. My exercise addiction took away my high school and college years from me. Just like any other addiction. Just like the alcoholic wastes years of their livelihood as a slave to the bottle, I wasted what is known as the “best years of one’s life” stunting the growth of my joints and tendons and making myself sick on an elliptical machine. Due to a combination of malnutrition and excessive exercise I developed arthritis and tears in both of my hips, arthritis and eventual tears in my right shoulder, and more. I wish to spread education and awareness of how grave exercise addictions are so that we can stop normalizing and even idolizing destructive behavior. Comparing exercise addiction to having great motivation prevents those suffering from this addiction to seek help.
So, many years and treatment center and hospital stints later, I live in chronic joint pain every day but I know that I am a survivor. I have learned that if I had the power in the past to make myself sick through exercise, I can use the power within myself in the here and now to use it to make others and myself feel better. No matter who you are or what your story is (we all have one!) I hope you choose to discover the transformative role breath and movement can have on your life.
In an effort to spread awareness about disordered eating and exercise addiction, I wrote a book titled "My Devil Twin". I hope that by sharing my story I can help others who face similar challenges.