National Eating Disorders Association

Stories of Hope

Peach Friedman
By Peach Friedman

I’m sitting down to write this piece at 38 weeks pregnant with my second child, and when I reflect on my eating disorder (even after writing a whole book about it and spending several years working in the field) it’s sometimes kind of fuzzy. This, I think, is a good thing.

What I do know:
I used to hate my body, deny it of all pleasure, and give every ounce of my energy toward controlling my size and shape through restricting my diet and engaging in compulsive exercise behaviors. Now, I’m a busy mom and yoga teacher, and my energy goes toward a whole list of things I never even considered when I was sick. I can feel my baby boy moving around in my belly, and hear my 2-year-old in the next room babbling away, and more than anything else I feel blessed—blessed to have a healthy body, for sure, but also a healthy mind—one that focuses on things that make me and my family happy.

But how did I shift my priorities? Whenever people ask me, “How did you recover?” the best answer I can provide is that I got a lot of help, and I worked very very hard. I cried a lot. I dug deep. I challenged myself multiple times a day in ways that terrified me. And I asked for tons of help. Recovering from compulsive exercise was the hardest part for me. Even as I gained weight and stopped restricting, I couldn’t seem to let go of my need to work out excessively. My identity was so wrapped up in being fit, and being strong—who would I be without that?

I didn’t really want to find out, but I also didn’t want to be miserable any more, and I remember finally getting to a point where I figured I’d trade in one misery for another. I thought to myself, “Quitting exercise might suck, but it can’t suck worse than how I feel right now.” Being trapped in the disorder turned out to be the worst of it, because even as I struggled through learning to find balance, I began to have glimmers of hope and light that enticed me to keep working.

I studied to become a personal trainer. That might seem like the wrong thing for someone wanting to recover from an exercise addiction, but it was just right for me, because I learned that in the real world of fitness, more is NOT more! I learned how I was possibly permanently injuring my body by not taking rest days, and not cross training, and not always eating enough to fuel my workouts. Learning the science behind fitness lifted a huge veil of denial for me. Exercise is not better for you the more you do; in fact, working out excessively can have serious consequences. This discovery, coupled with some crippling injuries, finally convinced me to slow down.

I realized through all my hard work and personal research that exercise, just like eating, should be intuitive. It’s true: your body really does tell you when it wants to move, and how—you just have to listen! So I stopped following a workout “plan.” I dumped the idea that I had to exercise for X minutes X times a week. Instead, I put all my faith in feeling, or sensation, and let my body decide. What I ultimately revealed was a much healthier, injury-free, and still very fit body…but without any mental hang-ups. I could work out however I wanted, whenever I wanted, and rest whenever it felt good…and I felt fantastic! I let the voice of my body be louder than the voices in my head. And major healing began.

People ask me all the time what my exercise routine is like today. The truth: it changes. I love yoga—I teach several styles of yoga (vinyasa, prenatal, postnatal, kids yoga, yoga for those in recovery) and have found that my yoga practice has helped my body feel strong and supple, and helped my mind stay healthy and calm. I also love to walk. Long walks are calming and grounding to me, and this is something I can do with my little ones in the stroller. These are the two activities I tend to do the most, but I don’t have a regimen, and I don’t limit myself either. “Do you run?” Well sure, sometimes! If I feel like it! “Do you lift weights?” Not very often, but here and there I think it feels good! “Do you play sports?” My husband and I will hit the tennis ball around sometimes, if we get an afternoon together…

…and so on.

Taking the rules out of my approach to exercise has helped my mind and body feel stronger than ever. There is no right or wrong. When I talk to people in recovery now, I encourage them to let go of all their previous notions about what “counts” as exercise, and start from scratch. Instead I ask them to answer the question “What types of movement feel good? Why do they feel good? When you dance/swim/practice yoga/lift weights do you want to smile, or is it drudgery?” The best kind of exercise is the kind that gives you energy, freedom, and permission to pick it up and let it go whenever you like!

I think it’s worth noting that I know that I could not have fought this illness without the help from my treatment team and the support of those in my life who were willing to walk alongside me. The best advice I can ever give about how best to find your way to recovery is to ask for help. Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is to ask someone for a hand! Just like my little girl asks of me when she’s climbing on the jungle gym. She reaches for my hand and says, “I’ll help you.” Learning to accept help, to mother myself, and to be a mother to my children has been significant in my recovery. I know I’m never alone, and never have to be. 
Peach Friedman is the author of "Diary of an Exercise Addict." Also a yoga teacher and intuitive fitness specialist, Peach's approach to the moving body prioritizes awareness and pleasure, and guides women toward a balanced relationship with fitness that is void of guilt, fear, and punishment. In addition, Peach holds an BA in Writing from Naropa University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from California College of the Arts. She lives with her husband and two children in Auburn, Alabama.
 



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