Coaching and Fitness After an Eating Disorder

After more than two decades living with an eating disorder and most of the time “accepting” that it was just a part of me, not necessarily fighting it, not even particularly tortured by it at times, complacent, really, it finally occurred to me that I simply cannot approach fitness or health in the same way as “normal” people who aren’t affected by eating disorders might be able to. I’ve tried. And tried. And tried. And I’m FINALLY done and on the other side.

For me, fitness, nutrition, and “health” is a rabbit hole. Starting out to “be healthy” easily spirals out of control and ultimately backfires whenever I try to take a conventional approach. It’s a slippery slope and quickly becomes all consuming. I spent years trying to embrace this problem and use it for “good” by channeling my obsession with food and body control into coaching. Since I was already fully preoccupied with it anyway, why not try to “help” others learn how to do the same? As a bonus, maybe some day I’d even be able to “heal” myself if I just practiced fitness hard enough! (It also didn’t hurt that diet culture– masquerading as “health”–is a 63+ billion dollar industry to capitalize on.)

I eventually had to come to terms with the fact that in order to ever be able to fully recover from my eating disorder and STAY in recovery, it would take a totally different mindset and approach than what mainstream fitness culture espouses. I am okay with that. I had to explore, examine, challenge, and ultimately overhaul a few really deeply rooted beliefs surrounding fatness, fitness, and health.

I think it’s GREAT that many people can approach health and fitness in a balanced way and use it to enhance their lives, not BECOME their lives. I have had to accept that I am not one of these people. I don’t WANT food, training, and my body to be the ONLY thing I’m able to think, do, or obsess about anymore. I don’t want praise and validation for outcomes of a mental illness, and I don’t want to promote the same behaviors that led me down a destructive path to others in the name of “health” and “fitness”.

And so, in alignment with my new beliefs and values–which have shifted dramatically after starting down the road of recovery–I’m no longer willing to mask my disorder with “fitness”. I’m no longer willing to sell services, practices, and ideals rooted in oppressive diet culture and fatphobia.

In order for ME to be well, I have questioned and rejected a LOT of mainstream cultural ideas, beliefs, and practices around fitness and “health”. I have shifted my niche to primarily coaching women who have recovered or are recovering from chronic dieting, emotional eating, binge eating, food and body preoccupation, exercise “addiction”, disordered eating, or full-blown eating disorders. It’s more common than you might think! (Huge cheat meals? Jars of peanut butter with a spoon? Boxes of cereal? Guilt and fear over skipped workouts? Striving to uncover abs? Sounds very familiar to me.)

My revamped approach is not necessarily limited to this specific group, however, especially as I’ve become hypersensitive to just how problematic a lot of conventional ideas about diet and exercise are these days. Diet culture is inescapable: pervasive fatphobic attitudes and beliefs give way to rampant body dissatisfaction and varying degrees of disordered eating, particularly in the health and fitness scene. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear a disparaging comment about someone’s own body or guilty lamentation over a perceived dietary failure. It’s sad to witness. And I want it to stop!

That said, I’m not going to be offended by people who don’t agree with me. It’s inevitable because I currently find a lot of mainstream fitness, health, and nutrition advice to be harmful to me and others affected by eating disorders, disordered eating, or those who may be predisposed to this.

PSA: dieting may be the #1 risk factor in the development of eating disorders. 

Believe me, I was CONVINCED I was a super healthy, strong, positive person and role model. Or so people told me. (Although, I have to admit it was a little difficult to reconcile the binging and purging…, as I said, I’d more or less accepted it was just how I was and had given up hope that I’d ever be able to change. It was a part of me–like nail biting. Right.)

If what I say doesn’t jibe with your idea of health, wellness, and fitness, chances are I’m not speaking directly to you.

…Or am I?

My words, experience, ideas, and beliefs may not resonate with the majority of people. In fact, they may make people angry or create discomfort. I’m cool with that. If my approach seems counter to what’s “popular” in mainstream fitness culture, it’s because mainstream “diet culture” is harmful to me and others like me. Rather than try to fit the mold of the perfect “fitness” guru and fall in line, I’ve come to terms with the fact that it does not serve me (or many, many, many others!) to follow mainstream convention and continue trying to “perform health” (thank you Kaila Prins for coining this phrase). I am far healthier letting it go and excited to help others let it go, too.

Yes, I still enjoy nourishing food and think it’s important. Yes, I enjoy physical activity and think it’s great when approached in a compassionate and non-draconian way. And YES, I feel the need to combat potentially harmful rhetoric and practices that most people unquestioningly accept as normal, harmless, or even BENEFICIAL because I’ve personally experienced and seen in others quite the opposite effect.

Perhaps this puts me in a minority, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that there are plenty of others who also don’t become healthier by yo-yo-ing through damaging trends in diet and exercise culture.

And so I strive to raise awareness and choose to take an intuitive eating, weight-inclusive, Health at Every Size approach in my coaching. #mentalhealthmatters