When I was in treatment, my case manager and the rest of my team liked to play a super fun game called “When Will Gwen Hit Monitored Walk?” I’d been in residential for almost a month, enduring meal plan increase after meal plan increase, and my BMI had risen a whopping one point, not enough to be considered “medically stable” by my insurance company. In order to go on a slow, mindful, 20-minute walk around the hospital grounds, your BMI had to be at a solid 18.5; to put it mildly, I was a bit shy of that mark.
When I was stepped down to partial, I was still pretty much couch-ridden. Until the scale reached that magic number, if I did anything more exhaustive than walking from my bedroom to the kitchen and bathroom, I was required to drink an extra Boost (my all-time favorite plasticky liquid nutritional supplement). I’d drive around town in my Subaru, chowing down on Luna bars and watching enviously as “normal” people all around me went for their afternoon run. I was quite literally being fattened up, Hansel-and-Gretel-style. God, I hated every second of it. I desperately wanted to go sledding and ice skating and all the other things people do in the winter, but even doing my Christmas shopping at the mall required me to drink an extra 64 ounces of Gatorade.
It made sense. At my worst, I had been eating far less than a thousand calories a day and still running between 5 and 10 miles every morning. The physical exertion was causing my body to start digesting its own muscle, including my heart, and I could have gone into cardiac arrest without a single warning. But as various systems in my body began to regularize, I began longing to join my mom for her morning power walk and compete in the local road races. I missed the feeling of my muscles working together to do something extraordinary. I missed running.
Fortunately, I have been able to maintain a relatively stable, healthy weight for the majority of the summer. Both of my doctors, at school and at home, have begrudgingly cleared me for exercise. And today, while I was out for my afternoon walk in the gorgeous August sun, I decided to do something terrifying. I picked an endpoint about five hundred feet in front of me, pushed off, and ran.
Damn. It was harder than I remembered. I mean, granted, I couldn’t get much of a rhythm going in 500 feet, but I can only describe what happened as semi-coordinated tripping. Exhausting, semi-coordinated tripping that left me with a stitch in my side and a frightening tightness in my chest. It took a couple blocks of walking to recover from that son of a bitch. I guess I’d forgotten that running was hard. That it hadn’t come naturally to me the first time, and that it wouldn’t this time either.
Hard or not, however, it reminded me of something. It reminded me of how powerful my body can be. Sure, right now it’s pretty worn out from trying to repair all the damage I’ve done. But I remember breaking a seven-minute mile and passing the seven-mile mark – before everything started unraveling. I remember what it feels like to be proud and strong. It was fleeting, but I remember it. The moments when I was too tired to hear ED screaming about what a failure I was and took just a fraction of a second to appreciate what I was finally able to do.
Running became, eventually, about the number of calories I was able to burn. But it didn’t start out like that. It started out as a quiet morning energy-booster. A way to experience the world before anyone else was awake. A way to release the stress and frustration I’d inevitably built up over the previous few days. Feeling the pounding of my feet on the pavement forced my body to create a pattern of movement that was steady and strong and synchronized, like every part of me was governed by my heartbeat.
I’ve decided I deserve to feel that again. In the past ten months, I have become stronger mentally than I ever thought possible. I have grown in so many ways; I’ve learned to appreciate moments and people and experiences. I figured out that the size of the fight I’ve got inside is bigger than anybody realized, including me. I’ve pretty much decided that I can do damn well anything I please, and ED can go fuck himself. Pardon my French. And I want to display my strength. I want my body to be as strong now as my mind is. I deserve to have an outside that accurately reflects the soul within.
So bring on the weight gain. I’m fully prepared to eat lots of extra peanut butter and banana sandwiches and drink protein shakes. I’m ready to lift barbells and look stupid doing squats at the gym. I’m even looking forward to the moments when my legs give out and I can’t do the last push-up, because you know what? that means I’m trying. On my worst days, I’m trying. And every time I put on muscle mass, I’ll be one step closer to squashing ED altogether.
I’m empowering myself, not my eating disorder. And that feels pretty amazing.