The therapist I saw during my years in graduate school would marvel at how I turned everything into a competition. It doesn’t matter what, I made it a competition in my mind in order to be the best…to be perfect.
Here I am, years later, a little–okay, a lot–less competitive.
However, all that has started changing.
I joined a local gym in the fall and struggled to maintain a healthy focus while getting back into something that was once used as a tool against me by my eating disorder. My thoughts quickly changed from having a healthy focus to an eating disordered focus rather quickly. While I wasn’t spending an excessive amount of hours in the gym, I was severely restricting my food intake in combination with exercise; making my sole focus weight-loss. Within a few weeks of joining the gym my behavior started to raise red flags with those who are close to me. My track record of easing back into the gym is definitely not good.
Therefore, when I signed up for the Ruck to Remember 60 to 60 event taking place over Memorial Day weekend, I knew I needed to start with my head in the right place. The event is a 60 mile ruck march where I’ll be carrying 40 pounds on my back. While it takes place over three days, it will still be physically and mentally demanding. I had considered signing up for this event for several months, but feared training for it because of the eating disorder’s ability to grab ahold of my brain in the gym. That, and the last time I did a long ruck march was when I was in the Army very sick with an eating disorder, and ended up stress fracturing my pelvis from overuse and stress on weak bones. Needless to say that was a less than pleasurable experience. So, how to tackle training while keeping the eating disordered thoughts at bay?
Reach out. I’m training for this with a former Army instructor, turned friend, who will also be participating. Accountability for training. This instructor was with me when I got injured during the ruck march before and hung back with me at my painfully (literally) slow pace because I refused to quit. Next, I e-mailed my former dietician to ask for help and guidance with the nutritional side of things. I concluded the e-mail with, “I know this sounds like an eating disorder horror story…” Nutritional guidance for endurance training. Finally, I found a training buddy here in Charleston. A former Army infantryman has decided to run with me at 0400 in the morning (or in the afternoon, if I’m lucky) before he goes to work. I’ve surrounded myself with accountability this time around. Of course, I strive to be honest with TJ about everything, including the moments when the desire to hit the gym may not be motivated by healthy factors.
Instead of turning this into a competition with myself to be perfect or to lose weight and burn calories, I’ve turned this into a competition with myself for something good. This is a competition to prove when I am healthy I can do more and be better than I ever was when I was sick. I look back on several occasions when I was in the Army and find myself grateful nothing worse than a stress fractured pelvis happened to me as a result of the eating disorder. Now I am out to prove to myself that training in a healthy body–a body that is far heavier than it was at any point during my time in service–can serve me better than my sick and broken body ever did. For once I am taking my need to compete and putting it toward a recovery mindset instead of an illness centered one.
During my two years of treatment for the eating disorder, I learned to embrace mindful, slow exercises such as yoga and slow walking. While these exercises are fantastic for the mind and my healing body, I appreciate their place and purpose, but there is something deep inside that yearns to leave everything I have on the pavement. The Army instilled in me the need to compete with myself and I want to train with a purpose for something greater than just me. Participation in the 60 to 60 event does just that. It gives me a greater purpose and a reason to, once again, leave it all on the gravel. My body is healthier and more nourished than ever before, as is my mind. By the time Memorial Day rolls around I will be ready to participate, and my focus won’t be on calories burned or weight lost, but rather the lives that were lost protecting the freedoms we enjoy in this country.
I can already see a difference in how I treat my training times now versus six months ago. Having a designated purpose for training makes all the difference to me and my recovery.
With Body Love,
PS In case you are wondering, yes, the featured image is of me in 2007 during some Army training. Here is another (that is me in the front):