“How bodybuilding and weightlifting helped me recover from orthorexia”

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I was a dancer for 14 years – everything from tap to jazz to hip hop, with a primary focus on ballet – so I considered myself extremely active. I also dabbled in softball for about four years. But movement has not always been easy for me.

I was born with an extremely rare respiratory disease in which my airways close and narrow over time, which in turn severely impairs my breathing and speech quality. I have had over 80 surgeries throughout my life to maintain a stable airway. I was never able to truly excel in any form of physical activity due to exercise-induced exhaustion and respiratory issues. Despite all the medical difficulties, I remained active in the dance and performed to the best of my ability.

My journey to strength began when I started working on the front desk of a gymnasium four years ago.

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As mentioned, I was a ballerina for over half my life and had a so-called ballerina body (long and lithe, if you will), and I hated it. I was thin, largely due to genetics and an overly active lifestyle. People always felt the need to comment on how tiny I was, telling me to “eat a burger once in a while” and embarrassing myself to the point where I was engulfed in self-loathing.

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I wanted nothing more than to feel muscular and strong.

Not just for cosmetic purposes, but I wanted to gain strength as an act of direct defiance against my tiny airways that controlled how much physical exertion I could do, or at least Told I myself could do.

My college football player boyfriend tried to take me to the gym with him and showed me the basics of lifting, but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t gaining muscle or weight – I was just sweating and exhausting myself.

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At the time, I was also struggling with orthorexia (or a fixation on healthy or “clean” eating) – I wasn’t consuming the amount of calories I needed to gain weight because I was so scared ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce or identify. When I started working the gym front desk, I was surrounded by personal trainers, certified nutritionists, and all the muscular women I so desperately wanted to emulate.

All of these people quickly became very good friends, and that’s when I started to take my goals of becoming muscular and strong seriously.

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I started working with a trainer who taught me the importance of calculating macros, lifting heavy weights and sleeping well.

My fears and misconceptions about “unhealthy” foods and general gym anxiety were eradicated as I trained under progressive overload (meaning you keep adding more weight/resistance to as you get stronger) and a calorie surplus program (eat *more*!), and that’s when I started to see Major results.

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Now, a typical exercise week for me looks like four to five days of lifting with two to three rest/recovery days. My workout split is one push day (chest/triceps/shoulders), one pull day (back/biceps), and lower body (quads one day, glutes and hamstrings the next). I incorporate incline stairs on a treadmill for cardio and/or warm ups depending on my breathing.

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My most impressive strength feat is my dumbbell bench press max: 100 pounds for two reps. When I started in 2018, I couldn’t even press the bar!

I am most proud of my progress in muscle gain and definition. Now, whenever I get the chance to wear a sports bra or tank top to show off my arms, I take it! I am constantly in awe of the muscle definition I have gained and how strong I look.

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One specific goal I was pursuing was to add strength and size to my quadriceps and hamstrings (I’m glute dominant), and I achieved this by lifting heavier weights than I would expect. ever wanted and eating with a calorie surplus, focusing on high carbohydrate and high protein meals. I now eat enough and know what my daily macro goals are in order to continue gaining muscle weight. I could literally talk for hours about the impact good nutrition has had on my gains. Getting enough carbs, protein, and fat to fuel my workouts and replenish the energy that was spent was the biggest change.

I also focus on rest, recovery and sleep. I have to remember that strong muscles are built on rest days. I strive to incorporate enough rest and recovery time between my workouts so that I can go into each session fueled, recovered, and focused.

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I’m always pursuing new goals, but I’m grateful every day that I’ve advanced physically and mentally from where I was.

I am blown away that I can squat and lift weights on a platform in the middle of a busy gym with heavy weights, proper form, and little to no anxiety.

If it hadn’t been for my personal trainer, my community of co-workers and fellow weightlifters at the gym, and my gym rat boyfriend, I never would have started training properly and doing some progress. I would have continued the HIIT and bodyweight workouts that left me dripping with sweat, while living on too few calories and wondering why I wasn’t getting ripped off.

The confidence and self-esteem I gained through strength training has literally saved my life in more ways than I can even count.

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