Member Stories: How I Overcame Anorexia and Exercise Addiction

My story began in 2011, and in a way that is slightly different than you’d initially expect or assume when the topic of a gym or exercise gets brought into the conversation. At the time I joined FFC, I thought I became a member because my ‘crush’ was also a member. This was the perfect excuse to spend more time together (yikes, *cringing hard*) However, what I quickly realized was that the underlying reason I joined FFC was far deeper than a 4-month crush that my naive 21-year-old self wanted to admit.

For the first month, I was slave to the elliptical machine, the bicycle, the treadmill — really, anything that I could monitor the amount of calories burned on a second-to-second basis. There was an unspoken (but consistently abided by) rule that I couldn’t leave the gym unless – at the very minimum – an hour of exercise was completed. Looking back, I’m pretty certain my younger and gym-obsessed self didn’t actually enjoy it. That being said, I would never miss a day of the gym; it was an obligation I began to resent and yet couldn’t do without. It was a dependency I had built.

Uncovering the Cause & Exercise Addiction

Let’s backtrack for a moment here to get a fuller picture of what was really going on at the time. At 15 years old, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. To shorten a rather long story, I was placed in treatment, was discharged after a month at a ‘restored weight’, and yet I wasn’t recovered. I was nowhere near recovered. Anorexia itself isn’t solely about the food, or one’s body weight: rather, these things were “tools” I was using at the time to avoid what I was actually feeling and experiencing. So, somewhat ‘inevitably’, I relapsed during my freshman year of college.

By the time I joined FFC, I had also decided to recover on my own this time, free of treatment. I was overcoming the ‘food issues’ that had been at the foundation of my life for the past 5 years, and was able to gain about 20 pounds on my own. And yet there was a new obsession beginning: control over my body’s movement (exercise) and what it looked like. Exercise became my replacement to food restriction.

Resisting the Routine

I walked into FFC Gold Coast at about 90 pounds, still extremely malnourished. I was scheduled with Jeremy, one of the trainers who I will forever be grateful for (THANK YOU). On the day of our ‘free consultation session’, he walked me right past my ever-beloved elliptical, and to an open area near the free weights. We used only my body weight to perform squats, lunges, and tested my mobility.

In my head, all I could remember thinking was: ‘this isn’t doing enough. How many calories is this making me burn? I feel like we only worked out for 15 minutes total. Guess I’ll have to do more right after. This isn’t ENOUGH.’

However, the other side of my mind (the rational side), said that something about the session was empowering. It was scary and filled with uncertainty, but empowering enough that I decided to give up my usual routine. It didn’t happen overnight – rather, over the course of a year. The most common goal we hear upon joining a gym is to lose weight. My goal transformed into one of weight GAIN. And so I did: FFC helped me gain 25 pounds through exercise. In other words: FFC was part of what helped me gain my life back.

My words make it sound somewhat simple. It was far from: there were days of doubt, of wanting to relapse back to a life of obsession and of routine. And yet, the strength I built – both emotionally and physically – kept me pushing forward. I cannot fully explain in 2 pages, much less even 50 pages, what it’s like to feel alive within your body after it was destroyed and disrespected for so long. I cannot completely describe the amount of joy I find in movement: and this time, not for its purpose of burning calories, but rather for ADDING strength and power to my life. I can’t express the appreciation I have for a gym that provided such a safe space for the growth I experienced.

Related: an FFC trainer weighs in on the argument for weight lifting and why it will help you create a more well-rounded routine.

Recovered & Rewriting My Story

FFC will forever hold a special place in my heart. It is where my body changed, evolved, and transformed. It is where my MIND transformed, where I overcame exercise addiction, I rebuilt the relationship I had with my body and exercise, and where I continue to maintain such a healthy mindset around exercise. It was part of nearly every stage of my recovery. Its floors and walls hold painful conversations, fear, joy, and excitement. It witnessed my initial spoken goal of “toning my body” (AKA, maintaining my exercise addiction), to my recovered self saying, “I’m just here to feel good within my body.”

Our bodies are truly incredible; they are the vehicle to everything that we do. While I understand every individual has a different goal upon walking into a gym, I am hopeful that at the foundation of it is to show our bodies the highest level of respect that we possibly can.

There are days I want to lift weights and feel like a strong, mighty little badass. Other days, my body is craving slower movement – or no movement at all! In both cases: my body knows exactly what it needs. My role is just to listen and honor it. Exercise was never meant to be an obligation, an addiction, or a source of control over our bodies. Rather, it’s one of the greatest ways to show ourselves respect, compassion, appreciation, and to find the joy in movement.

Our bodies are truly incredible; they are the vehicle to everything that we do. While I understand every individual has a different goal upon walking into a gym, I am hopeful that at the foundation of it is to show our bodies the highest level of respect that we possibly can.

Post written by FFC Gold Coast member Nicole Ness.

About Nicole

Nicole is 27 and was born and raised in Chicago. She currently works as a behavioral therapist in private practice – and loves absolutely everything about it. Outside of the therapy office, Nicole would bring her yoga mat everywhere she goes if she could, could eat sushi for every meal (and sometimes does), and is borderline obsessed with traveling and experiencing new cultures. Her most recent trip? Bali, Indonesia, where she completed 200-hours of yoga training. She also will talk your ear off if you see her at FFC – so let this be your warning!