How Weight Lifting Helped Me Recover From My Eating Disorder
I never had an eating disorder growing up. I never believed there was anything inherently wrong with larger bodies.
But in my mid-20s, I started dating a guy who’d make comments about other people’s bodies being “too big,” even though they were no such thing.
When he broke up with me suddenly, saying he wasn’t sure if he was attracted to me, I was heartbroken. I started comparing my own body to the people he had singled out. I couldn’t help but assume there was a connection, and restricting my food was an immediate impulse.
I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I lost weight. And then one by one, people began to validate the weight loss—including my doctor. Though my body had never been categorized as “overweight” before, it was clear to me that people thought a smaller frame was more ideal.
I made a decision to see if I could get really, really “healthy.” At first I felt super in control, but my food rules became more and more restrictive, to the point that they turned into downright phobias. Very slowly, I started realizing I was ruled by my rituals around food.
My weight loss led to physical symptoms: I lost my period, I was really cold all the time, and I started having a lot of digestive trouble and problems going to the bathroom.
As I stopped being able to restrict as much, I started to compensate by exercising more, and throwing up when I “slipped.” It was only a matter of time before other people started to notice. My boss confronted me at work. The dean of students at my college also pulled me aside to talk about it.
It was clear I was no longer “really healthy.” Now I had something that was controlling me, as opposed to me controlling it.
My first step toward getting well was to join Overeaters Anonymous. I also had an eating disorder specialist, a therapist, and a primary care doctor—a whole team helping me. It was six months before I started thinking about going into recovery, but it took five years to get any traction.
But I never truly got well until I started lifting weights. I was introduced to weightlifting through CrossFit. For the first time in my life, I was doing workouts that were not focused on how many calories I burned. I used to be a seriously compulsive exerciser—I’d go on an elliptical or treadmill until I burned a certain number of calories or did a certain number of miles.
With lifting, which I now do at my new gym, Liberation Barbell in Portland, the only numbers people really focus on is how much weight we're lifting. I stopped throwing up because I needed to fuel my workouts if I wanted to get stronger.
If weightlifting had given me nothing but an incentive to stop being bulimic, that would have been enough. But weightlifting introduced me to so much more than that. It introduced me to seeing women who lift, who have all kinds of bodies that I appreciate and respect. These role models changed the way I felt about my own body. I no longer wanted to be the smallest person in the room—I wanted to be a strong person in the room.
Still, I had to learn to accept that my body was going to get bigger to do those things. I had moments when my body changed in ways I didn’t expect or appreciate, and I thought, “Should I quit?” No way. There was something in me that liked lifting more than the eating disorder voice in my head telling me to lose weight. I wanted to be strong and empowered, and I had literally never thought about that before.
When you make strides in your strength, watch yourself improve, and watch yourself get stronger, it’s nearly impossible to go out into the world and be meek. Lifting made me physically strong and emotionally buff. I can handle challenges that are physical and emotional. I’m more likely to speak my truth and take up space.
Above all, lifting weights taught me that we don’t have to hate ourselves. Our bodies need not look a certain way for us to be valid as people. We are worth so much more than how we look. And besides, a life of dieting and restriction is fucking boring.
Words: Lacy J. Davis, as told to Rebecca DeRosa