Book Review: Diary of an Exercise Addict
Peach Friedman’s 2009 memoir, Diary of an Exercise Addict hit me like a ton of bricks. I was perusing my library, as I often do, when the title seemed to jump out at me. I pulled it off the shelf and it’s this little skinny book with the back of a naked woman on it. It took me completely off guard. The woman in the picture was hauntingly skinny. She looked of bone and sinew… but it’s the way she held herself, as if she was proud. As if she knew she looked… beautiful. Or thought she did at least.
The book itself took me a bit to get into. I don’t know if it was the writing style or if I was just frightened of the topic, but after the 1st third or so I all of a sudden couldn’t put the book down. The author, Peach, uses a diary format to delve into her mindset as she struggled through the onset and then recovery of anorexia and exercise bulimia.
I had never heard of exercise bulimia. I had no IDEA there was a category of illness that involved too much exercise. I mean, we are all told to exercise right? We are told, “move as much as possible, push yourself, fight the pain, do more more MORE!” But Peach portrays the frightening side of getting too caught up in how much, how often, how hard, how long.
Her tale really brings to light a horrifying juxtaposition between taking care of yourself and being addicted to eating “right” and exercising. And the scariest part for me was that in every page, in every description that Peach offered… I saw myself. Or at least what I could be. What I am capable of. And it frightened me.
Let me tell you a little story. My story. My struggle. My constant journey.
It begins as many stories do, when I was much younger. I started struggling with my weight around the age of 8. After a move to a new state and issues making friends, I pushed my feelings aside with food and cartoons. I never consciously did it, I just really liked tv and really liked eating. It’s not until now I can see it as a way to cover up my fears and feelings of inadequacy. From there my weight fluctuated quite a bit due to puberty. I played, or attempted, sports throughout these years, but I hated competition and was very clumsy. I wasn’t good at soccer, basketball, tennis, gymnastics, you name it I tried it. I remember going on my first official “diet” in early high school. I lost about 20 pounds and felt amazing. And everyone complimented me. I thankfully (and I really mean THANKFULLY) found this great book about weight lifting for adolescent girls. It really helped me. And that’s where I first discovered my love of exercise. But life got crazy, changed, and the weight was back on in just a few years. During my tumultuous teenage years I decided to become a vegetarian and put on quite a bit more weight (gotta love them carbs!). From there I did some exercising (discovered my love of yoga!) and on and off dieting. But what I most remember is a constant awareness of my weight. And my body. And what my body was and was NOT. It’s the constant thought process of how I look, what I can and cannot wear, what I can and cannot eat, what I can and cannot do. It’s a nagging, a bugging, that pesky gnat buzzing around your head. It will just NOT GO AWAY!
Then I met my husband.
I remember thinking… he will never like me if I’m not skinny enough. He won’t be attracted to me. Won’t think I’m pretty. Won’t ever want to date me again. Fear froze me. In fact he had to make the first move and set up our first date. I thought he was way out of my league. He was gorgeous. Athletic. Fit. And soooo out of my range.
But then we went on our first date. We talked. We ate. We went on a 2nd date. We talked. We held hands. 3rd date. We kissed. And never once did my weight come up as a topic of conversation. Never once did he tell me my body wasn’t perfect just the way it was. Never once did he find me inadequate because I didn’t do sports… or even understand sports. I mean seriously, I just don’t get it. 😉
No, he never told me my body wasn’t exactly as it should be.
But that doesn’t mean the voices went away. I didn’t find this amazing man who loved me for me and then all of a sudden my life changed. Sorry gals, it doesn’t work like that. I was/am too broken, too frail, have too much luggage for some man to just whisk all that away. But he did do one fabulous thing for me (other than loving me unconditionally)… he introduced me to running.
I can’t say I loved it right away. I mean, I only did it cause it was his thing. He ran. He coached running. He lived running. He breathed running. So I ran. I tried it. And it was one of the hardest things I had ever done. But I kept doing it (love is silly that way) and in doing so, I found my love for it. My passion. My desire to push my body to the limit, to see how far and how fast I can go. In a few short years I ran several half marathons, a marathon, trail races, etc. I was hooked.
And see, that’s where it gets tricky.
The phrase I will most remember from Peach’s book is when she is writing about the times when she would tell women that she used to have an exercise disorder. That she couldn’t stop exercising. And do you know what they would tell her? Over and over again? Women of all ages, abilities. They would say, “Gee, I wish I had that problem.”
Now just think about that for a minute.
Really think about it.
It wasn’t just one woman that told her this. It happened over and over again. That means this idea was not just harbored by one woman, that instead it was the ideology of many women. Pervasive throughout our culture. That women everywhere are unhappy with themselves, with their bodies, wishing dreaming hoping to look different, be different, feel different. What are we doing to our women to make them like this? What are they absorbing that makes them feel this way? What has made ME feel like that? Why don’t I like my body? Why do I dream of being thinner? Why am I not proud of all the amazing things my body does and instead can only focus on the cellulite on my thighs, the roll around my hips, the pooch on my tummy, and the flab on back of my arms? Why are these the focus of my attention and not my big beautiful brown eyes, my larger than life smile, my body that can sway to a beat and whip out a burpee like no other??
What do we torture ourselves? And now that I’m aware of it, I see it EVERYWHERE!!!
Be thinner! Be younger! Have more muscle! Have perfect hair! Have perfect teeth, nails, eyebrows, skin, long legs, tight abs, flab-less arms…. and on and on and on it goes. It makes me dizzy!
How sick are we that we can’t just ENJOY our bodies? Do you know how amazing these bodies are? They can run through grass, splash in waves, climb trees, dance, pray, sing, laugh, hug, kiss, create HUMAN BEINGS!, hold, cuddle, caress, jump, wiggle, seduce, push, pull, lift, haul, snuggle, shake, bounce, reach, LOVE. These bodies were meant for love. These bodies were meant to hold love, offer love, and be loved.
So you know what? You know what I say? I say let’s do the best we can for our bodies. We only have one of them. Let’s find something we love to do as often as it’s enjoyable. But let’s also try something new- something out of the box. Let’s push our bodies to grow and learn and conquer fear, but out of a place of love and acceptance. Let’s eat whole nourishing foods. Let’s eat heaping salads with mounds of fresh veggies. Let’s put butter on our sweet potato and honey in our tea. Let’s cheat every once in a while without all the guilt and drama. Let’s stop counting and calculating. Let’s live as we were meant to live; full of joy. Our lives our so short. Just a blip on the timeline. Let’s not spend one second more worrying about what other people think of us, what size our clothes are, or what our weight is. Let’s rejoice in what our bodies can do and relish in the idea of learning new things. Let’s celebrate our successes as well as our failures; for they are the only way to learn. Let’s become partners with our bodies, instead of fighting them at every bend. Let’s learn to listen to our bodies and become in tune with what they really need. This is our life. To live as best we can. Why waste anytime in a place of anger, resentment, fear, or anxiety.
In the past 2 years I have worked really hard to lose about 30 pounds. It started out quite fast. I was diligent about what I ate. Worked out religiously. But it got to a point where I wasn’t enjoying my body anymore. I was just angry at it. Pissed. Why couldn’t it let me eat that cupcake? Why did it make run that extra mile? Why did it hate me so much?
But I’ve come to a point where I realized, my body is not my enemy. My body is merely the tool I have to experience the world. Yes, I want to feel comfortable in my body. I want to feel confident in my body. I want to know that my body can handle anything that I want to do. But you know what? I don’t have to fight my body to get there. I don’t have to struggle with guilt and anxiety every time I eat a piece of pizza. Will eating pizza and ice cream all the time make me comfortable in my body? No. I’ll feel sluggish and sickly and I won’t be able to do all the fun stuff I want to do. But is pizza and ice cream ok to eat some of the times? Absolutely. Life is meant to be relished, enjoyed, embraced.
And you know what? My body is pretty darn amazing. And so is yours.
Love and joy,