When Exercising Goes Too Far
**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, or symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Farheen Ahmed is a second-year undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, studying Neuroscience on the pre-medical track. She is originally from Virginia and spends almost half of every year in Houston, Texas. In her free time, you can find her working at her research lab, volunteering for Rock Recovery, hanging out with her friends, or reading romance novels. Farheen struggled with an eating disorder throughout her high school years and can proudly say she is a recovered survivor.
In my childhood, I never was serious about organized sports and was never part of a club or school team. During high school, I picked up working out on my own and became obsessed with spin classes. I loved the feeling of working out and the feeling I got walking out of the studio. Pretty soon my workout classes became the center of my life, and I became obsessive about my workout routine.
As SATs and college applications rolled around my junior year of high school, my schedule became very busy, and I found myself missing workouts. On these days I began restricting certain “unhealthy” foods, and eventually restricted all types of food. I began living in a cycle where I had to work out to “earn” food. There is no denying that working out felt good and helped me relieve my anxiety; however, my obsession and restriction became very unhealthy, and my health began to decline. The less time I had to work out, the less food I ate, which resulted in less energy and more anxiety. Regardless of the time I spent studying, my grades began dropping due to the lack of energy and focus I had. I entirely stopped working out and began restricting heavily.
After recovering and changing the mindset of needing to “earn” food, I was hesitant to begin working out. Fear of spiraling into the toxic obsession with how many calories I burned or how many hours I spent on the treadmill stopped me from going to the gym. With the encouragement and support of my friends, I began working out less often and less vigorously. I saw a drastic increase in energy and strength in myself and felt like I was finally reaping the benefits of a healthy relationship with exercise without compromising my health through food restriction. I can now say that I can work out whenever I feel like it, and no longer aim to meet certain calorie or time goals.
I can now proudly say that I can maintain a healthy relationship by working out without changing my diet or avoiding certain foods. Transitioning from working out to “earn” food to working out to feel good has changed my relationship with exercise entirely and allows me the freedom to listen to my body and do what’s best for me each day. Some days it feels good to rest and others I feel like getting a good run in to release pent-up anxiety. Obsession with anything can become very dangerous and toxic, and breaking my obsession with working out has allowed me to change my relationship with exercise for the better.