To talk about all the beneficial and amazing things weightlifting has given to me, it is necessary to talk about the not so great things that brought me there. A bit of a perfect storm in my late 20s landed me in the dark and very scary depths of an eating disorder. I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know how to get it. I was very lucky to find and be admitted to a new intensive out-patient program in my area. I was officially diagnosed with a binge eating disorder. Unofficially I was diagnosed with exercise anorexia and orthorexia, which are not diagnoses recognized by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM); therefore they are not “official” diagnoses.
The behaviors I experienced (and sometimes still do) as part of disordered included assigning judgement to food, difficulties with body image, eating large amounts of food, exercising as a form of punishment, eliminating entire food groups, obsession with “good foods”, and a fear of not having food available. This last one is fairly unique and part of the perfect storm I previously referenced. I experienced extreme food insecurity for quite a few years, which can later lead to disordered eating.
As I was working my way towards recovery I spent a lot of time in group and individual therapy. There were certain patterns etched into my brain that needed to be broken. On some days it was an all-out internal war, trying to create new healthier thoughts and behaviors. Even now, in my late 40s, I still struggle and have little relapses that need to be righted. I can recognize them more quickly and my tool box is much larger and much more easily accessed.
Part of changing behaviors meant changing my relationship with food. Nothing is off limits. No food is a “bad” food and no food is a “good” food. Food is fuel. Food is fun. Food is social. I am a person who really likes food. There isn’t anything wrong with that. For years I felt guilt about enjoying and eating food. On the same note, exercise is not punishment. It is not something I have to do because I ate food. I don’t earn food by exercising. I don’t do exercise activities I personally dislike.
For years, therapists suggested yoga as a way for me to increase mindfulness. I did yoga for years. Guess what. I don’t like yoga! I finally figured that out and I don’t do it. I do enjoy lots of sports. I’ve been a runner, a cross-country skier, a martial artist, a swimmer, a biker… The list could go on. Recently I’ve found my sporting true love. I am in love with Olympic weight lifting. It is a release mentally and physically. For me, it is meditative. When I am lifting weights I rarely think of anything else. I love to focus on all the nuances of the lift and the tiny adjustments I need to make in order to complete the best lift possible. When the movement clicks, it is like magic. The endorphins flow and I feel amazing.
There is a saying in lifting, “If the weight doesn’t scare you, it isn’t heavy enough.” Honestly, the weight I am focusing on these days is how much weight is on the bar, not the weight on the scale. I’ve learned to fuel my body so that I feel good. This means having enough energy throughout the day and making sure I have good sources of fuel to keep me feeling healthy. I know what works for me. It may not work for others.
In addition to finding weight lifting meditative and empowering I’ve also discovered a phenomenal group of supportive, body positive people. When competing in Olympic Weightlifting one must wear a spandex weight lifting singlet, much like the ones wrestlers wear to compete. I remember my first meet. I had the singlet and it was under a lot of clothes. I did my warmup. I was standing in the line-up area feeling very anxious about getting down to the singlet. All around me people of all sizes were shedding warm-up clothing and getting down to the business of singlet wearing. I took a deep breath and off the clothes went. Guess what? No one said a word or raised an eyebrow. As a matter of fact, after lifting I got nothing but a round of congratulations on my lifts. As I have continued lifting I’ve meet men and women of all sizes who are nothing but supportive, uplifting and kind.
I’ve used to be a person who literally hid at home eating food and didn’t go outside to exercise due to shame. Now I go to the gym 5 days a week, but without feeling obligation or like it is punishment. I go for the pure joy of it. I’ve found my fitness love and I’ve found my fitness home. Thanks to an amazing group of supportive athletes, a phenomenal coach (who took the time to learn about eating disorders) and gym mates I am free to be myself and be my best.
Amy Lesher is a small business owner. She has owned a developmental/behavioral pediatric clinic for 10 years. When she is not running a business she spends her time lifting weights and attending CrossFit classes. She competes in Olympic weightlifting and holds the Minnesota state record for the Olympic lifting total in her division.