Wearing a gold 80’s leotard. Climbing a piece of silk 100 feet in the air. Punching until my knuckles bled. Eating beans that could have killed me. I’ve done a lot of stupid things in the name of health. I got into fitness for the dubious reason of dealing with a past sexual assault and the ensuing court case (nothing like actual running to help you run away from your problems!) so I suppose it only makes sense that my journey to health had a few seriously unhealthy pit stops.
Some of them, like my battle with orthorexia (an obsession with eating so healthy that you become unhealthy), I was very public about. I even went on TV (twice!) to talk about it. But there was a stronger force, an emotional rip tide, that was pulling me under right before everyone’s eyes and yet I still tried to hide it. I had a dangerous addiction to exercise.
I’ll wait while you finish giggling. It’s ok, compulsive over-exercise is officially the mental disorder that everyone “wishes” they had. Despite its apparent benignity, it can – and did for me – have serious consequences. I suffered everything from stress fractures to amenorrhea to depression to the final indignity of having to go to eating disorder therapy.
I haven’t ever ‘fessed up to this in public yet but my addiction was the reason I started my fitness blog. I needed an outlet for all the crazy. I read dozens of articles, books, studies, websites and, of course, blogs weekly and I needed a place to consolidate it all. I never thought anyone would read it. But you did! And it was a rush like no other. I lived for every comment, e-mail sign up, backlink and page view (stat crack!).
Best of all I found people who were just like me! People who were just as interested in the same arcane studies I was! People who also lived for the feeling of pushing yourself until you see stars, your hearing is deafened and there isn’t a single inch of you not drenched in sweat! Most of you were not exercise addicts. But I was. And blogging about fitness was like putting a meth addict in a cement garage with cases of Sudafed.
Eventually I had to come out on my blog. The health consequences had gotten too severe and even I couldn’t deny anymore that I had a problem. The support I got from all of you was amazing and to this day I get weepy remembering it. But every time someone – I have many an astute reader and friend – questioned me about the sanity of keeping up my fitness blog while undergoing treatment for compulsive over-exercise, I ignored them. My therapist told me I had to give up my blog, especially once I became pregnant – my health and the baby’s health were too important to mess around with, she said. I thought about quitting. But then my therapist left private practice for the prison system (is that not the saddest sentence ever?) and rather than find a new doctor, I quit therapy.
Unbridled, I exercised with such intensity that around my 8th month of pregnancy I found myself crying in the gym bathroom. There was blood everywhere. I tried not to panic. Had I felt my baby kick recently? I couldn’t remember. Huddled under the stairwell I called my OBGYN and confessed. The Gym Buddies tried to reassure me that it was all going to be ok – and in the end they were right. All the blood was from damage done to my urethra from the weight of my uterus bouncing off of it. Yes, I was peeing blood but that was good news because it meant I hadn’t hurt my baby or the placenta or anything else vital. It shook me up bad enough that I took a break from high-intensity exercise until the baby was born. (Healthy, gorgeous, every bit a miracle Jelly Bean is!)
The crazy, unfortunately, did not stop with her birth. Now, I didn’t have to worry about hurting her and I worried a lot about losing the weight. There were copious tears, arguments with my husband and lengthy conversations with my sister but I’ll cut to the chase: I quit blogging June 28, 2010. It was my 32nd birthday and I finally realized that I wasn’t going to be able to work through my mental issues and blog about fitness at the same time.
Clearly that didn’t last (or you wouldn’t be reading this!) but when I did it, I meant it. I barely touched a computer for a month and instead spent that time teaching myself to “eat intuitively” and by extension to “exercise intuitively.” I played with my children without trying to somehow turn it into a workout. I went on dates with my husband where we’d just sit. But after a month I had a realization: as much as I had needed to quit blogging, now I needed to blog again. This time, though, it wasn’t out of a desire to fuel an unhealthy obsession. This time it was because I deeply missed all my readers and blog friends who had become true friends. It was because I wanted to share my passion for health and fitness. It was because I love to write almost more than I love to breathe. And partly, it was so I could warn others about falling into the same trap I did.
Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2011. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everythingfor more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!