depression

Exercise Bulimia: My Story Of Exercising To The Extreme

A powerlifter trained two hours a day. A runner ran up to 15 miles a day but always ran a minimum of 6 daily. A group exercise instructor taught Bootcamp and Spin five days a week.

Sounds like a routine schedule for those three individuals.

What if I told you it's not three individuals but a 21 year old girl. She did all of these activities on a bag of popcorn, an apple, and a bowl of oatmeal daily. She used exercise as a means to "purge" her body of the calories consumed.

No one said anything to her because she was just doing what an active girl did.

Even when bald spots began forming on her young, feminine head.

Bald spots were real in 2008 y'all

Bald spots were real in 2008 y'all

Or when she cried on the scale at powerlifting competition weigh ins.

Not even when she refused to eat in public after running a race and avoided all public mirrors and pictures.

In fact, no one said anything to her until she was injured in a bicycle accident. A bicycle accident that shouldn't have happened. The girl had already lifted for hours, ran for miles, and taught classes on a near empty stomach. Thinking she was fat and needed to burn off the calories of her daily apple and oatmeal, she mounted her mountain bike for a road ride. She was clipped by a purple van, flung over it's hood, and thrown across the pavement.

I made a collage of the accident because why not. 2008.

I made a collage of the accident because why not. 2008.

 

It wasn't the fractured hip and cheekbone, busted blood vessels in her eyes, or missing fingernails that caused anyone to notice her disease. It was being witnessed immediately after diagnosis of her injuries trying to do sit ups in the hospital. She was convinced her 117 pound frame was going to gain weight because she hadn't exercised in two hours (since the accident).

That Girl Was Me

I was diagnosed with exercise bulimia and was included in the statistic that 13.5% of elite athletes suffer from some form of an eating disorder.

I can hear you now, "Wait, what eating disorder? You just exercised a lot."

Unfortunately exercise isn't always good for you. I'll wait for you to lower your eyebrows and close your mouths at that metaphorical bombshell.

In my pursuit of a perfect body I ruined my own. By training excessively, improperly fueling my body, and never taking rest days, I had done irreparable damage. My L3, L4, L5, and S1 vertebras in my back (pretty much the entire lower half of my back) were permanently bulged and I am now prohibited from performing high impact movements and sitting for long periods of time.

 

So what happens when exercise becomes such an obsession that it derails training and causes more harm than good? How do you know when you, or someone you love, crosses that line and suffers from exercise bulimia?

Exercise Bulimia

Bulimia can affect 4.7 million women and 1.5 million men during their lifetime but it's rarely mentioned in the fitness community. Most individuals, especially athletes, want to be stronger, faster, and look better naked. Usually no one bats an eye at how often someone exercises; that can't be considered a disorder can it?

Learn the warning signs and symptoms of exercise bulimia (or excessive exercise), effective approaches of tactful intervention, and how to seek appropriate treatment for yourself or your friends so you don't have to suffer as long as I did.

The Basics

Exercise bulimia is a subset of bulimia, a disorder characterized by the inflicted individual's need to "purge" calories consumed. Rather than the "traditional" vomiting or use of laxatives, exercise bulimics use excessive exercise as their purging outlet. A majority of individuals suffering from this disease have underlying depression or anxiety.

Warning Signs & Symptoms

Not every symptom or warning sign will be as extreme as some of mine.

Exercise bulimia can be a subtle and sneaky disease manifesting in behavioral and physical conditions. Most individuals suffering from it will "appear to be normal bodyweight" so it's important to notice any behavioral changes.

Below are some common warning signs and symptoms to look for if you think you or a friend may be suffering from exercise bulimia:

            Behavioral Signs & Symptoms

·       Excessive exercising regardless of health, injury, and weather

·       Attending the gym three or more times a day

·       Refusing rest days

·       Skipping class, work, or social functions if they did not exercise that day

·       Avoiding social functions where food is involved

·       Hyper focusing on calorie intake and output

·       Exercising for a very specific amount of time or until the calories consumed have been burned

·       Reducing caloric intake drastically if unable to exercise that day

·       Fearful of gaining weight if they do not exercise that day

·       Feeling extreme guilt or anger if unable to exercise that day

·       Being uncharacteristically defensive if someone suggests they exercise too much

 

Physical Signs & Symptoms

2011 CrossFit Relapse

2011 CrossFit Relapse

 

·       Hair loss

·       Dehydration

·       Osteoporosis

·       Stress fractures

·       Chronic joint pain

·       Heart complications

·       Loss of  menstrual cycles in females (exercise induced amenorrhea) resulting in potential reproductive system failure

·       Weakened immune system resulting in frequent or prolonged sickness.

2013 Running, CrossFit, powerlifting competitions every weekend relapse

2013 Running, CrossFit, powerlifting competitions every weekend relapse

Regardless of whether the warning signs and symptoms are behavioral or physical, perfectionism remains at the core of exercise bulimics' need to purge through exercise so their actions and thoughts will mirror that.

2015 restriction and binge relapse. Exercise bulimia doesn't mean you are skin and bones (or muscles). You can be "bigger" as well and be unhealthy in your thoughts.

2015 restriction and binge relapse. Exercise bulimia doesn't mean you are skin and bones (or muscles). You can be "bigger" as well and be unhealthy in your thoughts.

Intervention Approaches

If you are reading this article and have even the slightest concern for yourself or someone you love, then something isn't right. You need to address the issue before it escalates any further. However, what you say to someone who may be suffering can either push them to relapse or recovery.

            Confronting Yourself

·       Carefully evaluate how often you have been training, why you've been training, and how you've been feeling using the checklist above.

·       Confide in a trusted friend about your concerns. A support system is vital in your recovery.

·       Seek out a general practitioner, therapist, or psychiatrist to talk to and work through your recovery. I know from experience this is the hardest thing to do but I promise you it is worth it.

·     

            Approaching Others

·       Approach a nutritionist or professional with any questions you have before talking to your friend to ensure you handle the situation tactfully. I recommend Constance Shelby of Perfect Fit Nutrition.

·       When you talk to your friend, do so in private. Keep your tone comforting and conversational. Do not judge, berate, or make fun of your friend. This can cause them to be defensive and spiral further into their disease.

·       Do not ask them to keep a food log. If someone has an eating disorder this is the worst thing you can do.

·       Do not talk about their body weight or appearance (good or bad); focus on their behavioral patterns.

 

Treatment Options

Typical treatment options may include therapy sessions with a trained professional. Since exercise bulimia is typically associated with depression, anxiety, or trauma, those underlying issues need to be addressed so the individual can recover. The severity of the disease within the individual will dictate whether they will receive in patient or outpatient therapy. If caught early, most individuals will receive outpatient treatment in a therapist's office. Individual or group therapy sessions are typically available.

Individuals with exercise bulimia have an unhealthy relationship with food and calories. Working with a licensed nutritionist or dietician to help improve their relationship with food is crucial in creating long term success and recovery. Learning about food and why your body needs certain nutrients goes a long way in that journey.

Medication may be prescribed if necessary but typically would be used to treat the underlying diseases that contributed to exercise bulimia (depression, anxiety, PTSD).

Monitoring of exercise habits may also occur. Seeking the advice of recommended personal trainers or professionals with experience in eating disorder is beneficial to instilling a healthy relationship with exercise. Learning how to balance healthy exercise regimes and having that progress monitored and can help form safe and long lasting recovery.

Conclusion

I spent years in recovery, found a nutritionist, and activities that didn't require me to obsess with my weight. For years I had to avoid Fitness magazines and things that made me feel inferior.

Working in a fitness facility hindered my recovery but that took me years to figure out. If you look on my Facebook timeline you'll notice an absence of photographs from certain time periods. That's because I was in relapse; I was injured or had gained weight (easy to do once you stop restricting) and was ashamed of how I looked.

Happy and healthy (on left) with friends at a restaurant in 2017

Happy and healthy (on left) with friends at a restaurant in 2017

Luckily I've been able to find balance in the last few years. The thoughts to purge my body of calories are very few and far between. I just don't act on those thoughts anymore.  Instead I take my experiences and use them to work with my own athletes and those struggling with eating disorders and exercise bulimia.

Teaching my youth lifters how to have a happy mindset with their bodies because I finally have one myself. 2016.

Teaching my youth lifters how to have a happy mindset with their bodies because I finally have one myself. 2016.

Exercise bulimia is a silent disease undetectable by the uninformed eye. Yet society does not have to be silent about fighting it. Dialogue not only opens doors but can save lives.

Being silly in a dressing room this week. Happy, healthy, and beyond the exercise demons.

Being silly in a dressing room this week. Happy, healthy, and beyond the exercise demons.

If you feel like you or someone you know is suffering from this disease, in any form or fashion, then please speak up and say something.


 

 

How To Kill Your Passion 101: Weightlifting Edition

Step One: Use It As An Outlet

When I started Mississippi Barbell years ago, it was my metaphorical baby. I don't think anyone will ever understand how much sweat, tears, and our own money went into starting the program. Not to sound like a martyr but starting an organized sport in a state that didn't have it was very hard. It's still hard.

I was going through some rough transitions at the time we started it in 2013 (2012 if you count before we got the club sanctioned). And in the periods that followed. Ending law school, relapsing an eating disorder, injuries, mental illness, sexual assault, going broke, and lots of failed (and toxic) relationships.

The club, and the sport, was my outlet from all of those things. I used it to ignore those issues or as a means to channel my frustrations. It also became something I could control (that wasn't my eating).

More than any of that it was my (self-imposed) job. Networking, book-keeping, fund raising, meet directing, recruitment, seminars, social media, website... I spent hours upon hours working on it all. Don't get me wrong I had help from my business partner along the way but it was my choice to do A through Z.

But when you spend 5 hours on Christmas Day re-working a website and schedule sessions at all waking (and non-waking) hours of the day, you have a problem. Or you are on the fast track to burnout. Especially if you keep that pace for 4 years.

Step Two: Don't Ask For Help

Asking for help isn't my strong suit. I've gotten much better at it the last ten months though. But that was only spurred because I had a giant mental breakdown after a trauma, quit my job, and was having suicidal thoughts. Whoa, we just took a giant turn here didn't we? Don't freak out: they were just thoughts. Never actions. I'm medicated and see a professional.

CALM DOWN BABY BIRDS CUZ WE JUST GETTING STARTED ON THIS HELLACIOUS ROLLER COASTER.

When I was depressed, and injured (because why get massages to repair yourself when you've had chronic pain for over a year?), I didn't like going to the gym. It was mainly the depression but it was also burn out.

Not asking for help with coaching, social media, event planning only made matters worse. I'm also a perfectionist, an ENTJ, and inefficiency makes me rage. If I did ask for help (outside of my business partner), the help was denied, put on the back burner, or never came to fruition (looking at you Fundraiser Planner and One Guy Chicken & Steak).

My love for the sport, and my resentment, was beginning to build. There's only so much one person can do. It felt like the weight of the (local) weightlifting world was on my shoulders. I became Google and everyone seemed to just want free advice. Everything was being taken and hardly any one was giving back (note: this is NOT directed at my core group of gym friends and other clubs. You guys know who you are).

Step Three: Think National Recognition Means People Will Care

Fast forward and I started to hate everyone and everything. I hated myself. I hated that I couldn't make the Club more money. I hated that I couldn't get people more interested. I hated that no one (seemingly) cared.

After all in the last few years (and especially the last year) we had accomplished so much (see the full Mississippi Barbell history here):

  • We had been featured on USAW multiple times.
  • I'd been nationally published repeatedly.
  • We had the first kids and teams to attend National events.
  • International medalists.
  • WORLD CHAMPIONS.
  • Hosted the only USAW meets in the State (repeatedly).
  • Brought the sport to the Coast (thanks to my ride or dies at GPX, Gulfport Crossfit).
  • Sold shirts designed by local artists to help raise money.
  • Coached youth. Coached adults. Coached beginners. Coached advanced athletes.
  • Did things for free for so long (check out the Barbell history time line here).
  • Volunteered an entire weekend at a national event for a mentor where we had one athlete (seriously, the entire weekend' I absolutely do not regret this at all as it was a very dear mentor and I know how hard it is to staff events. It just occurred at a time where my assault PTSD was high and my medications were new).
  • It's not uncommon for us to coach athletes who aren't even ours at events if they ask for it or look like deer in headlights.
  • Offered our services to schools (I seriously wrote personalized emails, notes, and letters with brochures to every, single, school in our area. I sent over 50).
  • My favorite part is people name-dropping to other coaches across the nation in hopes of getting their foot in the door or getting a job. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind it. I only mind when you were an athlete who quit out of the blue (and didn't say anything to me) or were someone who has literally never spoken to me or attended any event I (or Barbell) hosted. Fun fact: Coaches message other coaches about you. And we speak the Truth. But thanks for using my name and efforts without permission.

I just didn't understand why no one seemed to care. I wanted them to care because I cared so much.

But it was demoralizing and frustrating when I was putting my entire heart and soul into something only for marginal success. We were literally working at least 15 hours a week in the gym and about 8-12 hours outside the gym on growing it as well. Without getting paid.

Remember, I'm a perfectionist. I must be making a gazillion dollars and continuously improving to be a "success". Hilarious, I know.

Step Four: Call Set-Backs Failures

Recently things happened with our facility and we were left homeless with no notice. Our core group of supporters opened their doors to our gang to lift (thanks CF 601 and Res CF for that). I had to cancel a scheduled meet and an event because of it (which is something I DO NOT DO).

So to me, I had failed. I failed because no one seemed to care about what we were doing. No one understood (in my head anyway) Tyler and I weren't making money. No one understood how hard it was for us to balance life and coaching (for free because hey the little money we make goes to our athletes and their needs; grants weren't rolling in). What else do people want?

I got bitter. I'm still a little bitter. Is it because we don't have half naked people on our team? Is it because I'm perceived as a cunt? Yea, I said it. It's true though. Was it my fault we "failed"? Did I not work hard enough?

I can't answer those questions. I can't make people give two s**ts.

I sincerely wanted to step away from it all. I wanted to quit. I wanted to quit coaching. I wanted to quit the club. It wasn't fun. It was a bitter pill to swallow.

But all of these things were just momentary set backs and not failures. I am nothing if not persistent and I just needed a little break.

Step Five: You Ignore Who You've Helped And Disregard Your Successes

My turning point was when a local gym (CrossFit Flora) reached out for a private group weightlifting session. I was still bitter about everything. But as soon as I started coaching, the love and pure joy I get from it came flooding back. It energized me and encouraged me to push through all of this. Just with a much more level head and a set of checks and balances in place.

And guess what? MS Barbell still exists. We still lift. We still support weightlifting in Mississippi. We've had to move a lot in our small time due to space or rent issues. We haven't quit. Luckily I have Tyler who isn't injured and always on site. I kept the Youth program and train the kids in their parents' garage or gyms with our equipment. We have just had to adapt how we offer our "services" and that's ok. Two years ago we didn't have a Youth program.

I've had at least 4 people in the last six months (here and across the country) reach out to me for help in starting their own programs. From California to Florida, Mississippi Barbell had a hand in helping those programs get started. Not to mention the fact the reach my national publications have had that I don't even know about (is that egotistical)?

Meets still happen. Because we started them here. We still have our state meet set for June 3rd 2017.

Clubs still continue. When we started we were the first ones to exist. As of this publication there are five other clubs in the state.


TL; DR

Regardless, I'm like Cher or a cockroach. I'll never die (just on the inside). Since I won't die then that means the club will never die either. Nor will the passion for the sport. I've been lifting since 2003. You don't stay in the game this long if you don't sincerely care about it.

I stayed here after law school to start and run this program. I've had a lot of people chastise me for it. It may have been silly to do it considering i wasn't get paid. Do I regret it? Absolutely not. I just regret that I tried to make it mean anything to anyone else. What other people think matters in this day and age. You can't convince me otherwise. Social media is the Devil but it's a necessary evil. I quit caring about trying to make my own personal account anything for anyone else and I lost 50+ followers and set it to private. Don't want to see cat pictures or me doing karaoke? Don't follow me.

But when you have fallen down a million times, you dust yourself off. The Club, and the sport, isn't a way to make money or make a name for myself. It's a passion that we worked so hard to get started.

We'll never die. We'll just keep designing more and more alienating shirts.


Have You Killed a passion before?

What was it? Did you ever come back from it? If so, how?

Share your stories in the comments below along with any topics you wish to hear about as well.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Ten: What No One Tells You About Mental Illness Recovery

I've always been open & vocal about my eating disorder history. But I've also suffered from severe depression and PTSD. Today's Tuesday Ten isn't about Pure Barre but what real life recovery from mental health issues can look like. I still throw in some comedy gems so don't worry, you'll still get some lolz.

I had no idea what picture to put here. Recovery can be h**l so this picture with baby flames will suffice. Screen shot it and send it to your friends in a group text and make fun of me if you need to.

I had no idea what picture to put here. Recovery can be h**l so this picture with baby flames will suffice. Screen shot it and send it to your friends in a group text and make fun of me if you need to.


 

1. Talking (And Writing) Is Therapeutic

 

Everyone has their own way of healing. My illnesses love secrecy. I was hesitant to share my experiences at first because I felt like I would be stigmatized. But articulating your thoughts and issues can help. It can help yourself and more importantly, others.

I have depression. Some days I would wake up crying and couldn't stop. Other days I was perfectly fine. Some days I had all the motivation, others days I would lay in bed until 1:00pm unable to even sit up.

I was physically abused. That explains to some of you why I don't like hugs or I flinch a lot. I have worked on both of those things a lot this year.

I've been sexually assaulted. It took me a very long time to even open up about that to my therapist. I felt broken. It affected relationships. I had night terrors and would wake up screaming in my bed or at the front door. I still get triggered sometimes and I've cried in moments I "shouldn't have". But again, this too has improved considerably.

Dialogue can save lives. Talk when you are ready.

2. Medication Isn't Your Enemy

When I started regular, consistent therapy in May after struggling from severe depression and PTSD, I fought hard against medicine. I utilized behavioral and cognitive therapy but things weren't improving. Eventually I gave it a try and my life began again. Without getting into too much detail I realized, with the help of multiple doctors and friends, "Hey Amber. You really aren't insane. It's a chemical imbalance. Try it." I'm glad I did.

3. Animals Totally Help

I may be biased but my catdog helped me out tremendously. Having a pet forces you, hopefully, to get out of bed. Care about something. And the cuddles are awesome. Their love is unconditional and when you feel like you're surrounded by dark clouds, some days they can be the only light you see.

4. It Won't Happen Overnight

No spoiler alert there right? If you're like me you want everything done, or fixed, NOW. Patience is not my forte even if it is a virtue. Healing is a slow process. I'm still working on it.

5. You're Probably Going To Relapse

Debbie Downer, right? The world isn't sunshine and rainbows. Some days those dark thoughts, or dark urges, will creep up on you. You may not give in to them but you might. Does that make you a POS? HECK NO! You're human. The perfectionist in me had/has a hard time with this but my mantra has been, "Progress not perfection". Just get back on the horse. It's not over. It's never over.

6. There Is Still Stigma Attached To It

Should there be one? No. But there is, especially if you are dealing with a Mental Health issue. So much so that it can hinder recovery; some people refuse to seek treatment. I hung the phone up three times before finally making my first appointment. Don't be like me.

When you're ready, if ever, talk about your struggles with friends or family. It makes these issues more relevant and personal to that person thereby helping to eradicate that stigma.

7. Relationships Can Be Hard

Whether you were in one prior or if you start one after (or during) treatment. Personally, I felt the need to list my "problems" early on. I did it because I felt insecure. Eventually I realized the right person wouldn't see it as a "problem". After all, I was actively getting help. And eventually someone proved me right.

8. Pinterest Can Help

What a basic thing to say, right? But pinning on boards and seeing what other people had to say helped me. You can access my Recovery and Mindfulness Tools boards anytime you want. Most of the things I pinned can be used for many different disorders.

9. Don't Alienate Your Friends

Some days you want to curl into a ball and stay there. But try to keep your close friends at least informed. They care about you. They want to help. They may even make you laugh. They mean well and will understand. If they don't, then say "Bye Felicia".

10. It Gets Better

Is this cliche enough? But it is true.

I had some points where I thought if I died it would be better than what I was suffering through (I don't think this way anymore so don't blow my phone up). When things were very dark I cancelled all of my plans I ever made. I didn't even like the gym anymore. I cried in the bathroom and I cried between sets because I didn't feel anything but numb. Something I once loved so much and I felt absolutely nothing. I felt like a worthless failure because I quit a job and that just wasn't "Amber"; Amber never quits.

But I needed to take care of myself for the first time in my life. Really take care of myself. And I did so for six months were all I did was "recover". Seriously: I made that my job. Fortunately I had quite a bit of savings to help me get by (but I still stressed out about it every single day) and I know not everyone can do that. But I'm a workhorse---had I kept a full time job I never would have allowed myself the time to recover and get the help I needed.

Quite honestly I needed routine therapy (behavioral and cognitive). I needed those 45 minute nature walks by myself. I needed nutritional help. I needed group therapy. I needed to cry and express how I felt. I needed to face what had happened to me. I needed medicine.

I promise that while treatment and recovery isn't easy, it IS worth it. My self esteem now is the highest and best it has ever been my entire life. I had to hit rock bottom and crawl, scratch, and climb back up. It was so hard. But I did it.

Keep fighting.


Have you ever suffered from an illness or during your recovery process? What was the hardest thing you faced? Share your story below to help fight against Mental Health & Substance Abuse Stigma.

If you or a loved one needs help please seek out trained professionals. A good place to start is the National Alliance of Mental Illness. I'm always here to listen as well (but bear in mind I am not a licensed therapist or trained professional).