I am taking a short break from my mindfulness series to do a bit of a reflection. Three years ago I had my spinal fusion surgery. Reflecting over the past three years really makes me sentimental. Going into that surgery was terrifying. What if this? What if that? I had painstakingly gone through the process of finding the right surgeon for me and one who believed I would get back to my old self. There was no hesitation and his confidence allowed me to let go of my own fears and literally put my life into his hands. I cannot stress to you enough the importance of a second, third, or fourth opinion. And I cannot stress to you enough the importance of rehabilitation after the fact. Since my surgery three years ago I have once again competed at a national level, have had the ability to go on 12+ mile hikes, taken part in crossfit workouts that include Olympic type lifting, continued to do light gymnastics tumbling, have had the ability to be on my feet all day whether at a museum or other event, and I could name a hundred more. Pain free through it all! Of course I can get sore on occasion if I overdo it, but doesn’t everyone? I learned how to listen to my body. I learned patience and perseverance and vulnerability. I have since recovered from an eating disorder because this surgery allowed me to realize how much of a hold it still had on my mind when I was forced to give up daily exercise. I started graduate school and am on a path towards a career I am passionate about. I have grown so much as a person and I continue to strive towards what makes me truly happy. It was nowhere near easy, but it changed me as a person and really had an impact on my life that makes me thankful I had to go through it. If you are in the midst of a difficult situation in life, keep enduring. Take it that one day at a time and soon you will look back and realize things are for the better. Everything takes time.
No matter what sport or activity you are involved in, it seems that all goals are centered around numbers. Score, weight, miles, time, etc. My workouts and training are no different. In competitive jump rope most events are timed and the goal is to get as many speed steps or double unders in that set time frame. All I do in my head during an event and practice is count. Other people may count the miles they run or the number of goals in a practice (or baskets or yards or touchdowns)…you get the point. Statistics and numebrs are inescapable for athletes. This mindset has bled over into recreation as well. Miles on a treadmill, calories during a workout, laps in a pool. I remember my dazed and confused face when my psychologist asked me about how my exercise lined up with my values. Values? Besides being competitive and winning I was at a total loss. What did exercise mean to me without assigning quantitative values to it? I really thought it meant nothing. I mean without winning what was the point? And then on the off season when I was more entrenched in eating disorder behaviors, I also though the whole goal was the most calories burned, or miles ran, or minutes total. That one question threw me for a whole loop. I wasn’t let off easy either. This was one of those questions my psychologist let sit with me. And sit and sit. Can you answer this question off the top of your head? If not, I challenge you to sit with it for a while too. Because I want you to think about this on your own and have your own answers I am only going to give you one example from my own experience. One of my values in life is compassion. One of the reasons I exercise is because I am compassionate towards myself and want to take care of this body I have been given. I have compassion towards others and looking forward to my future I realize that exercise lines up with this value because I want to take care of myself so that I can have children one day and that I can live a long healthy life for my family. This made me think a lot about how some of the exercise I was engaging in was not at all lined up with this value. Running your body into the ground and punishing it for the things it didn’t do that day is not compassion. This whole question started resonating with me as I sorted out my values and realized there is a definite line between positive exercise and detrimental exercise.
To really get in touch with myself and my values, I had to explore exercise without the numbers. Explore what exercise really meant to my wellbeing. What does running actually feel like if I am not running towards a particular set mileage? What does it feel like to just lift weights without thinking about adding more or reaching a particular set for that day? What does it feel like to jump an event without counting or even knowing the end outcome? This took a lot of patience and effort on my part. It felt extremely out of place and uncomfortable for a while. In training it isn’t always practical to do this in a workout, but I would recommend trying this on your own. Go outside for a run without a tracker and try a new route where you don’t automatically know the mileage. How did it make you feel? What were you thinking about? Even just for a day, try to exercise without a goal centered around numbers. It is like intuitive eating is a way. Exercise because you genuinely want to and stop when you know your body needs a rest. This was the best way to get back in touch with my body. I couldn’t believe how out of touch I was until I started exercising to just exercise. Of course during training, it becomes about numbers again, but because of this practice I can always go back to my roots of why I do this. I make sure and take days where the numbers don’t run everything. You may be reading this and thinking to yourself I bet that works for some people but I could never do that. I thought the same thing. I have been involved with the crossfit community for a few years now and if I can foster this mindset in an environment that is all about the numbers, I have faith others can too. I was deeply entrenched in eating disorder behaviors and I have been free from exercise dependence now for over a year. I challenge you to take one day of your workout routine this week and let your focus be on how you are actually feeling. As exercise begins to shift in your life and it is lining up with your values, you can then start to use numbers as a positive experience and not feel controlled by them. If you have more specific questions about this or my particular experience and workouts, please feel free to leave a comment and also please let me know how this exercise without numbers goes for you!
I just returned from competing in my 12th national championships for USA jump rope. I have spent many hours in the gym focused towards this specific competition, but now coming home I wanted to start a blog series on mindfulness based exercise. The majority of people aren’t training for a specific competitive event and I wanted to share some of my experiences when I am in an off season. Even if you are a competitive athlete in the midst of training, I hope that you find this mini-series helpful to get grounded in your mind and body. A lot of the times those who are obsessed with exercise, as well as serious competitive athletes, get lost in the motion of training and repetition. The joy is often lost and people can have resentment towards their sport or desired exercise platform. I didn’t truly recover from the eating disorder until I addressed my exercise dependence and reconnected my mind and body. I hope I can at least get you thinking about your relationship with exercise and share with you some thoughts and tools that have helped me recover and continue to help me in everyday life. Be on the lookout for a new post each week on the following topics:
~Being mindful of numbers and even learning to let go of them completely. This applies to miles, minutes, weights, calories burned, etc
~Checking in with what your body is REALLY feeling before, during, and after exercise
~ Mobility, flexibility, and breathing
~Group or Team sports and exercise
~Exploring new exercise opportunities without judgement
~Mindfulness around physical transformation
~I will also spend a post talking specifically to those training for an event or competition and how they can apply mindfulness tools even during a time when repetition and many hours of training are required for a successful performance
I hope you will join me over the next few weeks and are able to put what you read into practice. My hope is that you will connect to exercise in a different way than you have before. It will be good for me to reconnect after a competition and continue to have a healthy relationship with exercise.
I am incredibly grateful today for the strength I have built during my recovery. March was a difficult month. I let the stress of school and life runaway with me and health fell by the wayside. I was ignoring hunger cues, pushing meals off until later in the day, and was consumed with negative thoughts. I was struggling through forced workouts and was always tired. It took a lot of effort to admit that I needed some extra reinforcement, but I met with my nutritionist who I hadn’t seen in several months and it changed everything. I didn’t want to go because I knew everything she was going to say and I knew what I needed to do to get back on track. Yet just the act of going and voicing where I was in life helped turn the corner. This past week is the first in a long time where I followed my plan the entire week. I was able to do this because I planned and prepared and put my health first. I ate more consistently and had energy for my workouts. I am training now and it is important to maintain that balance. I am trying new foods and ideas and the planning makes my week infinitely less stressful. I feel like I am breathing again. I needed to stop and write this down so that in the future if I have similar struggles I will know what works and what I need to do. Next week is a very busy week so I am going to plan over the weekend and am encouraged that it will be manageable.
Guess what? If you actually follow your meal plan and eat consistently throughout the day, you don’t get overly hungry or full and there is balance! While this may seem intuitive to most people, it is something I needed to be reminded of. Yesterday I followed my meal plan for the first time in a couple of months and I am working on showing my dietician that between now and in two weeks when I see her, that I can follow my plan and hold myself accountable. While I was proud of what I accomplished yesterday and what I am accomplishing today, it remains a difficult mind game. I feel a bit dismayed and the eating disorder likes to think I am a failure. Although I know my weight didn’t drastically change overnight, my body image is shit today. I am going to trust my body and my dietician and follow this damn plan for the next two weeks and see how it goes. I know it is likely some things will be discussed and adjusted at that time, but for now all I can do is try. More than half the battle with me is the actual planning. It is way easier to go about my day and ignore meals all together until later, so stopping to eat seems like a great annoyance. I realize though that actually planning things out ahead of time helps the day go smoother in the end. Like today for example, instead of restricting and putting off lunch or spending a lot of wasted time trying to decide what I should or shouldn’t eat, I have my lunch in the fridge and when my reminder goes off to stop and eat I will. No extra thought involved. I am also working towards increasing my water intake, especially on rest days because I tend to only drink a lot of water during workouts. I am writing this on paper so to speak in order to continue to hold myself accountable. I don’t tend to be vocal about when I struggle, but writing helps to keep me on track. Hope everyone else is having a great day and if you are struggling to stay on your meal plan know that you aren’t alone and we can do this. Just keep moving forward because you will never know the outcome unless you push. I have a feeling that staying on a plan will have a very positive outcome in my life especially mentally.
I have made it a priority to practice mindfulness in my recovery, especially in the area of exercise. I grew up a competitive athlete and my career has always revolved around numbers. Score in gymnastics, time in swimming, score in jump rope, etc. Any athlete strives to make a certain time, hit a certain number. It is an imperative part of winning. But what happens when those numbers start to control you instead of you controlling them? My self-worth became completely dependent on these numbers. Eventually these numbers that had been associated with training and competition were not enough. I found myself chained to a treadmill running x amount of miles or to burn x amount of calories. It no longer became about winning or having fun, just an all-consuming obsession. I convinced myself I was doing it for training. Doing it to win. Part of the lies of an eating disorder. I wrote in a previous post about how completely abstaining from exercise helped begin to change my mindset. I was forced to stop all exercise due to a spinal fusion surgery. This was a blessing in disguise and I really don’t know where I would be today if I wasn’t forced to stop. Prior to the surgery, although in pain, I pushed and pushed myself to exhaustion. I spent an entire World Championship in pain and had the worst experience of my career. I needed a change and after surgery is when I decided to re-enter treatment for the eating disorder. I knew if I rushed back into exercise I could permanently damage my spine so I gave up all control to my treatment team and started from scratch. As I began to heal and slowly started more activity, I went to a specific group for athletes with eating disorders. I really suggest finding a group like this for anyone who has a disordered relationship with exercise. I highly suggest if you are an athlete or struggle specifically with exercise dependence to seek out an eating disorder therapist who specializes in sport psychology. I was very hesitant with the group at first because I wasn’t sure how being in a room full of competitive athletes –who thrive on competition- could be a healthy environment. It turned out to be extremely healing. One of the first things that was discussed and practiced was mindfulness. And for mindfulness to occur, the numbers had to go. Running with no set pace or time or mileage. Jumping without keeping score and counting. With practice, it became more intuitive to just be. It was very therapeutic to focus on how my body felt, how my muscles moved, how my breath felt. I also branched out and tried other forms of exercise like yoga and more resistance training. I became very appreciative of my body and my strength rather than loathing workouts and forcing my broken self through repetition. Even if you are in the depths of exercise obsession, I challenge you to try a workout using mindfulness. Cover the numbers on a treadmill, run outside on new trail, whatever you need to do to separate the activity from numbers and to really focus on yourself. It has been a slow transformation, over two years, but I have been able to return to training for competition. I have regained control of the numbers which now hold a very different meaning for me. They represent my strength and leave me excited for the next challenge. There are times I still catch myself falling back into old patterns. When this happens I immediately go back to a few days of a new activity or more active recovery. It is a balancing act just like every other aspect of recovery. Through this group I was also able to gain a sense of peace with my competitive nature. I am able to appreciate other athletes for their strengths instead of constantly comparing myself to them. I have found an identity outside of my sport and love trying new forms of exercise. Gyms can breed negative competitive environments, but find people or a gym that fits your personality. I have found overwhelming support in mine and I promise you that you can restore your relationship with exercise as long as you don’t try to do it alone.
I am exhausted. Not in the bad – I can’t get out of bed, hate life kind of exhausted. The – I have been so busy out living life that I am exhausted. It is a nice change from the first. I am faced with a lot of work to get done because I have put that work aside for more favorable experiences. Yes I have deadlines, everyone does in life, but sometimes it is better to not spend hours being a perfectionist trying to get the perfect grade. I rarely used to procrastinate. I don’t recommend it all the time, but having to stay up later a few nights over the past few weeks was well worth it. All the little experiences from a super bowl parade to hiking with my dogs have made me genuinely happy. It has been awhile since I have done a gratitude list, but I really think it is important when things are going well in life to write things down to return to on those not so great days.
- Football. I am sad that the season is over, but finishing with a super bowl win was worth every up and down during the season. Football is more than just a sport to me. It brings my friends and family together. It also brings the community together and I know everyone will continue to celebrate well into the summer.
- Fresh air. My boyfriend and I took our dogs on a hike out around a secluded lake for Valentine’s Day. There is no other feeling in the world like getting outside and being surrounded by nature. I tend to forget how soothing being outside is, even if it is only for a few moments in the backyard. I am hoping to go snow shoeing for the first time in the next couple weeks as well which will be an amazing experience. I am definitely yearning for warmer weather too for more hikes and camping.
- People. Usually I am more of an introvert and a lot of people tend to get on my nerves, but lately that has been changing. I credit working with cancer survivors because I get to meet and interact with new clients on a weekly basis. It has really opened my eyes to how every one of us is truly an individual with unique talents and experiences. I have learned a lot through observation and really listening to people. When I stop to actually listen to someone and understand what they are saying I tend to have a more positive interaction. We all want to be heard, but it is rare to listen and remove your thoughts and judgements. I encourage everyone to practice empathy on a daily basis.
- Family. This really goes without saying, but I grateful every moment for the support and encouragement from those around me.
- My health. I am grateful that I can get out and be active and enjoy the things I love with the people I love. A lot of times we take for granted what our bodies actually do for us. There were times in my life where I could barely get around my house, especially after the spinal fusion, and now I am physically in the best shape of my life because I am healthy. For one I am nourishing myself and two I know when to rest and take it easy. Injury and sickness give me a very cut and dry perspective of how precious my health and physical body are to me. You only get one, take care of it.
What are one or two things you are grateful for today?