Strong Not Skinny: Lifting Weights in Eating Disorder Recovery

The first time I attended yoga I was fifteen years old. I was the youngest person in the class by at least ten years. I started to practice yoga amidst eating disorder recovery, as I attempted to leave behind excessive exercising, and build strength instead. Strong not skinny is my greatest mantra. And it really did make a difference. It started with yoga, and the more I went, the more I built not only strength but confidence in myself, my body, and my abilities. Within three months, my hands could rest flat on the floor with straightened legs, I could downward dog with heels down, and I attempted my first headstand. I felt the most confident about my body that I had for years. I also felt a part of a community, as my local gym had a wonderful atmosphere and even more wonderful instructors.

It wasn’t unaccompanied by its own set of anxieties though, especially as I built muscle in new places, and mistook it for fat – particularly around my glutes and calves. But my stomach was lean, not concave, and I had kick ass obliques. I was proud of how far I had come, especially because of where I had been.

Yoga was just the beginning of my strengthening journey. After that, I started to do Les Mills classes – Body Balance, Body Pump and CX Worx. They are all set to music, and are high energy, high impact classes. The more strength I built, the more empowered I felt.

When I moved away for study, I could no longer afford the gym. I continued to do yoga, but doing it by myself to a YouTube video once a week, or cycling through all the sequences I could remember, wasn’t the same at all, and not nearly as rewarding. There was simply no encouragement involved. As I lost strength, I felt worse. My depression got worse. And it had an impact on my eating disorder too (lots of things did, but this was just another contributing factor). As I lost muscle, my metabolism slowed down, and I fasted more often, and for longer. Which only precipitated binge eating and the compensatory behaviours that followed, and so the cycle continued.

Twenty eighteen is the year I returned to the gym, and to Body Pump. Already, after four weeks of being back in that sweaty, empowering environment, I’ve noticed the difference. Not only do I feel leaner and stronger (and a little sore too, which is encouraging), but my metabolism has begun to increase again as muscle mass returns. Muscle memory also helped with this.

This is why I encourage people trying to lose weight, or struggling with disordered eating, or tried to lose weight and slipped into disordered eating, to reduce their cardio, and pick up some weights.

Because it’s far better to be strong than to be skinny.

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The headstand shots and above photograph were taken in Nepal 2016; on hillsides, mountain tops, roads and bridges, in the cities of Kathmandu and Pokhara and in the Annapurna Mountain Range.
Other image credit to Rupi Kaur