Like a 1980s throw back, the pavements are scattered with joggers, clad in fresh neon Lycra. Gyms full of frantic activity. Personal Trainer’s, like tour reps, guiding uncomfortable newbies, as the gym stalwarts look on resentfully, impatient at having to queue for machines they’ve come to call their own.

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Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

Me: I resist the magnetic pull of these sports, though my head aches for the hot, dripping sweat of impossibly intense cardio regimes. With every advert for a new workout,  I remember the hours spent pounding the treadmill, ever harder, ever faster. The high of running on empty, breaking through pain. The cycling, competitive climbing, rowing, bench press, skipping, weights…

… and actually, I hated it. Although I’ve always been fit, at 5ft 2″, I’m not a natural sportswoman. Don’t get me wrong,  I used to enjoy a cycle, climbing, a good walk, but in those days, it was a pastime, not a regime.

Why then?  Why did I endlessly punish my body with ever-increasing levels of cruelty? Why ignore the aching, the fatigue, the pain?

Ask the Anorexia.

Without wishing to sound too extreme, I want to warn anyone who has been lured into fitness regimes and fad diets this January.  Being healthy is all well and good, but making it a mission can make YOU a slave.

I write as one of the many who ironically start out flexible and end up rigid.

My illness began with a gym membership, a health kick. I had given up smoking and just  wanted to stay healthy, get fitter. That’s ok right?

But as I was running faster, and swimming stronger, and lifting heavier; the illness was very slowly, very quietly, creeping up behind me.

I had started toning up, losing weight, shaping up. I pushed my regime. Then I noticed that I felt guilty if I ate something ‘unhealthy’. Before too long,  I couldn’t HAVE anything unhealthy UNLESS I’d worked out. I pushed myself harder. I lost weight. The numbers started going down. I pushed myself harder. Then I could only eat on gym days… Before I knew it, I was too thin to exercise. I had the frame of a seven year old girl.

But I was thirty.

And trapped.

Over a decade later, I am still flying round the same old cage. There isn’t a bar which I haven’t beaten and broken my wings on.  I know every trick and trait of my captor and yet I can’t break free.

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I hate the January burst of diets and slimming aids and gym memberships, and new

fitness plans. I avert my eyes and ignore the call…

I know that for most, it’s a positive thing. But I write to make the case that we all need to be careful that a hobby doesn’t become unhealthy. This is especially pertinent if you’re prone to perfectionism, highly competitive and have struggled with eating problems / body dysmorphia. It’s fine to get fit, but be aware that Anorexia and other EDs thrive on seemingly ‘good’ initiatives. Be aware that these illnesses are clever, and pervasive. They take your brain prisoner…

And if you’re reading this thinking you’re immune, think again; because eating disorders tiptoe past your rational mind. You can’t OUT THINK them.

If you’re worried someone is developing an eating disorder or becoming obsessive about their diet, TALK to them. Be gentle. Suggest they talk to a professional. Be aware that they might not believe they have a problem. It’s crucial that they know it’s not THEM that you appear to be so against, but the stranger who is controlling their behaviour.

If it’s your intention to change your habits for 2019, try not to buy into the media hype. The diet and exercise industry cannot and should not promise you a new and sparkling existence.