I’m going to share my thoughts on a tough subject. If you have suffered eating disorders or triggered from conversations on body image, please feel free to pass on this conversation. I’ve been writing these ideas for the past few weeks and I’m still hesitant to share. I want to preface this by saying I know this is a hugely sensitive topic and I am sharing my personal thoughts and experiences here.
About 16 weeks ago I suffered the first major injury of my life. I ruptured my achilles tendon while playing tennis. The recovery is a long, long process. Best case scenario is that it takes about 5-6 months to be cleared to start a run/walk program and another 2-3 months before doing high impact activities like tennis or soccer. For someone who has identified themself as an “athlete” since middle school and never taken more than a few weeks off from sports or exercising in the past, this forced slow down has been humbling and brought up a lot of issues around body image and eating for me.
I am sad to say just how much food and gaining weight was on my mind in the first few weeks after my injury. I remember around day 2 or 3 when I was pretty immobile, just lying around, and found myself thinking “well at least I can’t overeat right now” since it was pretty impossible for me to get up and carry food. As I became better on my crutches and then moved into a walking boot and lost the crutches, I found myself more and more thinking of ways to avoid heading to the pantry. If I wasn’t exercising, surely I shouldn't need to eat very much? I knew that was false. I knew I still needed calories just to survive, let alone to be fueling my body to recover and repair. As much as I knew all those things, it doesn’t mean that impulse to withhold wasn’t ever present.
Also with each passing week, I watched my body turn softer and softer. Muscle became less pronounced. When I could start adding “workouts” back into my day it was like moving my ankle side to side or doing a leg lift with my boot on for some weight. Eventually I was cleared to start cycling (with no resistance) and slowly adding in elliptical, weighted PT exercises, and walking our dog. But after 16 weeks, I am only just able to do a workout enough to sweat.
I think it’s not abnormal for these thoughts to creep in. We live in a diet prevalent world. You can’t open the internet without hearing of what diet which celebrity is following or the latest trend in fasting. And as an athlete, injury is devastating. I might not be a professional athlete but being active is a huge part of my life. Losing that is tough.
While these thoughts might not be abnormal, I think it’s easy for them to manifest into significant issues. I have developed some strategies over these 16 weeks to refocus my thoughts when I began to obsess over food or negative thoughts about my body became more prominent.
- I haven’t cut out any specific food groups. As I’ve been paying attention to injury posts in running facebook groups I’m a part of, that is one of the first behaviors I see someone sharing on how they “avoided” gaining weight while injured. One person proudly shared she quit all flour based carbs while she was recovering from a surgery. Another said she gave up dessert. I am not judging these folks but I know for me personally restricting is more an issue than indulging. So I have eaten as I always do and tried to listen to my hunger cues.
- If I found myself thinking a bit too much about food and weight, I would go to a resource of positivity. Often that was a book like Stacy Sim’s ROAR or Deena Kastor’s Let Your Mind Run or the podcast Maintenance Phase, of which I’m a big fan.
- I have followed my PTs recommendations on exercise. While I see lots of folks logging hours and hours on their bike and doing hard core strength workouts soon after their injury, that just hasn’t been in the cards for me. I listen to my PT on how long I can bike or do the elliptical. I will follow her recommendations when I can begging run/walking. I am building my walking distance the same as I would weekly running distance (10% rule). I am strict about getting in my PT exercises.
- No two recoveries from injury are the same. Maybe those folks I referenced above had their doctors sign off on that level of activity. It certainly wasn’t the case for me.
- Remind myself of the ultimate goal - which is to get back to doing all the sports I want and living active life. So while seeing my body get softer these weeks has been hard, I know in the long run I would rather err on being cautious in my recovery than take the chance on re-rupturing my achilles.
- Mostly I have tried to model behavior that I wanted my kids to see. Setbacks can happen but it’s in your hands on how you handle them. I hope if they recall this time in the future they remember a mom who worked hard to get back to her sports and playing with them, listened to her doctors, and wasn’t stressing over hours on the stationary bike or only eating salads at meals.
I hope you never go through an achilles rupture. But I will guess most of us will suffer some kind of injury in our lives, especially as athletes. In your recovery, keep in mind your goals and don’t let the fear of weight gain or muscle loss lead you to habits that are hard to recover from and set your path to recovery down a different road.
And if you need this further reminder:
You are Worthy
You are Loved
You are Enough
Just as you are (injured, softer, and all).