How I cope with an exercise ban in anorexia recovery

Exercise is banned in anorexia recovery. This is the norm. I knew it was the norm going in.

My family, on the other hand? The idea of not exercising at all is as taboo as being gay. 👀

More specifically, “movement” is banned — but I’m autistic, and I stim.

The solution proposed by a nutritionist I hired some years ago to help me develop a meal plan based on my dietary and caloric needs was to overcompensate in my energy intake, so the stimming matters less.

That’s less of an issue for me. I stim.

What I struggle with the most is that I can’t dance in my semi-recovered body.

I knew my body before I began anorexia recovery. It was light enough to do the moves I wanted in the ways I’d learned in dance class, before I was diagnosed with this restrictive eating disorder.

I knew how my body moved and how to make the pain of weak muscles and bones hurt less. I’d adapted to dancing through the pain, because the joy I experience while and after dancing paid off.

Now, I have moments where I want to do nothing more than dancing. I long for the days when I can choose to move my body and it will move in the ways it should, rather than giving out.

Now, I want so bad to dance again and dance well, but I keep finding myself on the floor disappointed and screaming internally.

Blue tie dye shirt, selfie, slightly parted lips, hand on head

My eating disorder wasn’t a choice.

It was imposed on me by my caregivers, as was evident when they dismissed my eating disorder recovery boundaries — like no movement, eating pizza and my fear foods, etc.

The complexities of my resentment for them are reserved for my memoir. 💁‍♀️

1. I don’t exercise.

I can’t exercise outright. The most exercising I do throughout the day, everyday, minus the days I overestimate my strength and balance, is

  • Stretching when I wake up
  • Walking to the bathroom, kitchen, etc. in the house
  • Walking whenever I go other places

My impression of everyone who takes issue with this minimal movement is that, to them, it’s what they wish they could do…which is problematic thinking, because why not?

I wonder if they refrain from giving their bodies the rest they long for out of obligation, because it’s culturally inappropriate. I wonder a lot of things.

Yet, I never ask, because this topic is triggering for me.

2. I don’t take criticism personally.

I’ve learned to accept unsolicited feedback about my lack of exercising as other people projecting.

To them, I’m “lazy” and “on the road to obesity” because I spend most of my days sitting.

They don’t know what goes on in my brain and body. They don’t know that I used to wonder if every step I took would be my last.

They don’t know how much pain I used to be in, or how much my body hurts during recovery when I stress it too much.

They don’t know how tingly my body feels after I move it, how out of breath I am, or how I ache for days after dancing.

They don’t know how exhausting any bit of movement outside my regular is, how my body acts like it’s starving again.

They don’t know about the inflammation.

They don’t know how much this depresses me, how angry I feel about it, or how much I hate this eating disorder I never asked for.

They don’t know because they don’t ask or listen when I volunteer this information.

And so I post it here, on my blog, shouting into what is otherwise a void, because I long to feel less alone.

I long to feel less like a failure because I so desperately crave this thing I’m not supposed to do. Dancing was my lifeline; now, dancing is just out of reach.

3. I’ve developed hobbies.

I play The Sims 4 often. Raising toddler Sims is cathartic.

I watercolor paint, though this hobby is on and off. I love neurographic art, but Sharpies trigger my asthma and give me a migraine, so I’m left painting other things and I’m not into painting flowers. 💁‍♀️

4. I remind myself I WILL dance again.

I remind myself to eat, to nourish my body so it will one day be stronger than it was so I will dance better.

I remind myself that my body needs this — it needs to not dance — so it can recover.

I tell myself I will be a better dancer than I ever was ever could be before, after recovery.

I tell myself it’s 2024. Dancers on the internet have dancing careers without a degree, that it’s not to late for me if that’s the path I want to go, that my body isn’t “wrong”.

I emphasize that none of this can happen if I don’t allow my body the time, energy and resources it needs to recover.

And I hang onto that, like a rope thinning as I hang off the cliff of recovery. I let myself cry. I eat food. I sleep. I cry more. I ache and long for pirouettes and hip-hop and jazz.

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