I stare at my reflection in the tall mirror. Among the lined-up kettlebells, medicine balls, and yoga mats I hover tentatively, awaiting my first exercise as guided by my mother.
I’ve been here before in this room, this outfit, with this reflection. Only this time I’m determined to stick with using the gym.
Returning home after completing my first year of university had prompted me to reflect on my health status. I’ve had brief stints in the gym before, but after months of easy, student meals, takeaways, and nights out drinking I decided to try to focus on fitness again. This time I decided using the gym was no longer a question but a declaration with a full stop.
The reason I’ve decided to punctuate working out in this way is because I’m aware of how my mental health was impacted by my negative body image.
When I returned from university the problem I had wasn’t so much that I didn’t like how I looked, but more a case of me recognising that I felt unhealthy.
This was something completely new to me. Even when I was frighteningly thin and at my lowest weight I was unable to differentiate between appearance and health. Though somehow, sitting at the kitchen table voicing my concerns to my mother, I had reached a point where I could separate the two.
I’ve come to the realisation that a poor relationship with food can manifest itself in different ways. For me, I’ve swung from eating next to nothing to living off of a typical ‘student’ diet. Neither of these eating extremes were beneficial to my health.
My attitude towards food has now shifted. I’m focused on eating nutritious food to compliment my new gym regime. I actually care about my body now; I want to look after myself.
Of course exercising is just one element of that, but while seriously using the gym these past few months I’m already noticing an improvement in my overall mood, confidence, and the relationship I have with myself.
Though standing before the tall gym mirror my eyes occasionally wander to the curves of my thighs, the bump of my stomach, and my stretch marks, I’m now more open to celebrating these features. My thighs are strong and stretchy, with them I can squat, lunge, and perform the splits. My core engages to support me as I plank, V-sit, and pike on a stability ball. The stretch marks that stripe my legs are from the time I gained weight while recovering from Anorexia Nervosa; they act as a reminder of a time before when I chose myself over my distorted reflection.
The gym is exactly the same as it’s always been, as is my uncomfortably bright, pink top, but somethings have changed.
I’m happier in myself now. My goals are (for once) not aesthetically-orientated but rather revolve around the improvement of my strength, flexibility, and stamina.
After years of denying myself full ‘recovery’ with restrictive eating, negative mindsets, and cruel reflections, I feel I’m finally allowing myself to progress positively.
When you’ve had an eating disorder there’s always the possibility of a relapse. As I’ve experienced, it can be difficult to stay on the right side of health.
Society has shifting standards for the female physique. During my teenage years the feature I deemed desirable, through these standards, was a thigh gap. Now younger generations are surrounded by the ideals of having an hourglass figure with a ‘bubble but’.
My strategy going forward, and one that I hope will protect myself from a relapse, is to continue to focus on true health.
My eating disorder was about control and perfectionism. Being aware of these markers is helping me to avoid falling into old habits.
Reflecting on my journey so far has given me a new focus. To this end I’ve created an Instagram account as a place to track, share, and celebrate my progress in regards to both my mental and physical health.
Health to me is an ongoing, honest conversation with myself.
I don’t think that loving yourself is a choice. I think that it’s a decision that has to be made for survival; it was in my case.
Editors Note: This guest blog is from my daughter Saffron, who is studying Creative Writing at the University of Winchester. I invited her to share her experience of exercise and training, and how this is helping her develop a better relationship with her body. If you, or someone you know, is struggling with an eating disorder BEAT UK’s Eating Disorder Charity offers further information and support.