strength training

Fifteen hundred is my magic number, and the notebook on my left is giving me hints that I’ve got about a fifty-fifty chance of meeting it on a daily basis.

I won’t lie to you; this is my own personal hell. There’s a reason I’ve avoided this process for most of my adult life, because I was fully aware of what it would do to me. I am twenty-seven. If you count the eight years in which my eating disorder was most active, and the six years that have since passed, I have spent more than half my life learning how to evade the demon I chose to allow into my life.
I’m trying to learn how to look it in the face, because if I can look, I can learn to stare. If I can stare, I can learn to talk back. If I can learn to talk back, I can learn to swear back, and maybe, if I can stare and swear and kick, maybe I’ll have a chance of finding out what it’s like not to live with this on a daily basis.

I was on the phone rather late last night, and the deadly ugly seriousness of what I’m trying to do here couldn’t even form itself into words, but sometimes even the most obvious of statements can’t form into words in the single-digit hours.

I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in my life. Many intrinsically shy people never manage to find a supportive spouse or a nest of friends. I hung up the phone last night and realized that if ever there was a time to make a stand, now is it. I have a stable life, a spouse who is willing to stick by me, and friends who are willing to listen and support me through this process.

I’m beginning to understand the concept of strength in numbers. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s any other kind.

* * * * *

Twelve hundred calories is the first goal. Technically, it’s the bare minimum; Laura told me this morning that she would feel more comfortable if I consumed somewhere between 1500 and 1800 calories per day. Plenty of protein, since I’m trying to build muscle mass. Carbohydrates are fine, in moderation, but preferably greatly restricted after three in the afternoon.

Eating healthily, this can be boiled down into one simple statement:

I am eating All. The. Damned. Time. to try to get to 1500.

A lot of people hear the phrase “eating disorder” and don’t quite grasp its true essence. There is a vast, vast difference between not having the willpower to stop eating after the fifteenth cheez puff and an unhealthy, single-minded focus on food and its effects on you. You are continually aware of what you’ve eaten, what you haven’t eaten, what you should eat, everything you shouldn’t have eaten (for, oh, say, the past six months).

What scares me most about this process isn’t the exercise. I like the runner’s high that comes from an aerobic workout, and while I don’t like the immediate burn that comes from pushing myself to my limit in weight training, I am growing to like the awareness of the musculature of my body that I have after weight training.

What scares me is the continual need to think about food. Have I managed to eat enough today? Was it the right stuff? Did I manage to eat enough vegetables today? Did I take in enough protein to help my muscles rebuild themselves before my next weight training session?

Once crossed, the line between healthy concern and unhealthy obsession gets easier and easier to cross, and the awareness of the possibility rarely leaves your mind. I spent eight years on the wrong side of that line. Doesn’t take much effort to cross it at all.

I tell myself that this is the kind of obsession I need; that the kind of single-mindedness that once went into making sure that no one knew I had an eating disorder is the kind of single-mindedness I need to keep me on a healthy eating track until it becomes second-nature.

Often, in the gym, I look around at the women running pretty and wonder if it’s like this for them; if this is a shared battle or if I’m as alone in this fight as I’ve always felt.

But there are positives. I no longer shudder inside when I walk in the door of the gym; I belong in there as much as those who run pretty. The defiant twentysomething man in the white sleeveless shirt, the one who spends Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays either trying to bulk up his biceps or rip them from his arms, has his limits too. I’m not the only one who has to get up from the current machine-of-choice to stand up and take a breather between sets.

His limits are not my limits, but they are limits nevertheless.

* * * * *

I was actually fairly pleased with the results from week one. I’m trying to follow Laura’s suggestion of not checking my weight more than once each week, partly to give each week’s exercises time to work, and partly to avoid reinforcing the idea that the numbers on the scale are the only end goal that matters.

The first week saw no net loss, but the beginnings of a shift. I’m beginning to notice the beginnings of additional strength in muscles, especially in my arms, that didn’t exist a week ago.

I just have to trust that strength - not just physical, but mental - will come, with time.

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Chris's picture

I will always remember the first time I ever stepped foot into a gym and really, truely worked out. Was the first week of the summer before my freshmen year of highschool. I was going to play for the schools soccer team so I went to the gym to work out. One of the seniors was there, THE senior. Truely insane kid, I was actually the same height as him but he could have crushed me. He took me under his wing and taught me how to work out. After the first day - I could not lift my arms. I'm under the impression he probably pushed me just a TAD ;) too hard. I mean, is it ridiculus to expect a 120lb kid to spot someone benching 325lbs worth of weight? Nah... Reading your entries though about your struggle with this is actually somewhat energizing me to start back up on my workouts. Im at the age were I don't really need it but I know I'll regret it in a few years if I don't.
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