A couple of days ago I wrote a post about the Covid-19 pandemic that is sweeping the globe and the impact it might be having on those with eating disorders. That post included my more general thoughts about how difficult this period of time can be for someone with an eating disorder but that it could also be used as an opportunity to move ahead in recovery.
For so many of us with eating disorders, one side of the illness that is powerful and disabling and which, when not addressed, enables the illness to keep a strong hold on us, is compulsive movement and exercise. I have written several posts before on this topic.
Having had massive compulsive exercise and movement issues over the entire length of my years with an eating disorder, I know first hand just how distressing and yet powerful the urges and compulsions to move and exercise can be… to the point you will do everything you can to avoid anything stopping you from carrying out your movement or exercise rituals and routines.
I never thought that I would overcome my own compulsions, so I am constantly amazed and so grateful that my compulsions have now reduced to a minimum. But getting to this point was the most difficult process I have been through (although definitely worth it!).
With the current global crisis following the Corona-virus outbreak, many of us are currently finding ourselves with more and more restrictions placed on our movements by our governments. Many nations now are placing their citizens in complete lockdown, attempting to prevent people leaving their homes unless absolutely necessary and in those countries not at the stage of such extreme measures yet, it might not be long before they are.
If this had happened at the time when I still had huge compulsive movement symptoms or exercise addiction, I know that the eating disorder that plagued me would have been in overdrive at this time and I would have been at breaking point.
Therefore, I know that there are so many people out in the world today with powerful eating disorders who are finding these times intolerable in ways that those around them could never understand…. and if that is you, I do understand but please know you will be ok and you will get through this.
In this post, I want to urge people with compulsive movement symptoms from dangerous eating disorders, to use this time of lockdown or self isolation, not as a torturous time of survival but as a time of opportunity to break some of the miserable compulsions that make your life hell.
One way to completely break compulsive movement and exercise and perhaps one of the best ways is to go cold turkey.
Could there be a better time to cold turkey your exercise addiction or movement compulsion than now when the opportunities and temptations to be out moving and exercising are extremely reduced?
If you have an eating disorder that is currently causing you high distress, skin crawling anxiety, irritability, tears, irrational thoughts and feelings of panic because you cannot perform your normal movement and exercise routines, take this time to stop and reflect on that.
Let this be a time to really face some hard home truths.
It is not normal to have extreme emotional and panic responses to not being able to go out in the usual way that you would – sure normal people might be a bit pissed off that their freedoms are reduced right now but they are not experiencing terror, panic and high distress. If you are – that is not normal and that is a sign that this is something that needs addressing and not tomorrow but now.
Stop convincing yourself that those movement rituals or exercise habits are safe and ok because they ‘give you permission’ to eat or because they ‘calm your anxiety’ or because you are ‘not a low weight’.
Those excuses are all eating disorder bollocky lies. You don’t need permission to eat, you can eat even when you have spent all day and every day on your backside; exercise is blatantly not calming your anxiety when your anxiety sky rockets when you cannot move for a few days and eating disorder recovery is about repairing and rewiring a messed up brain… which if you have exercise compulsions, I am sorry but your brain is messed up and it does not matter what your weight is!
So perhaps it is time to take this period of lockdown as a chance to face this exercise and movement business head on.
Cold turkey the movement and stay indoors eating and sitting on your booty.
And beware the trap of the whack a mole game springing into action at this time… I am sure there are many ED brains currently coming up with incredible alternatives to the usual routines, just to ensure you keep moving in any way you can – Don’t fall down that rabbit hole!
Don’t start compulsively standing and moving in the home instead, don’t start visiting the shops as often as you can just to be moving when you don’t even need to buy anything.
Instead, stay in, stay sitting, keep eating and eat more than you ever normally would.
Break the movement rituals and compulsions because this is a wonderful opportunity the world is giving you to do that. Show your brain that a fear response to being sedentary is not appropriate and let your brain learn that a link between how much you eat and how much you move is completely unnecessary because you can eat and rest and the world won’t end when you do.
Don’t expect this to be easy – it might cause panic, fear, irrational thoughts and tears but I am willing to bet that deep down, deep inside, in a place that you might not even be willing to acknowledge at this time, you really really want to rest and let your body heal and you really hate the compulsions that plague your life.
So, know that stopping and resting is right and this opportunity to be in lockdown is a perfect opportunity to really make progress into overcoming this powerful and deadly illness. Use it!!