There are many "side effects" to my new cycling hobby -- among which, I am proud to say, weight loss does not figure --, but I have been most surprised by the emergence of a sort of sensual pride in my body.

After a long ride, there is nothing that I like more than to spread out a few yoga mats on the floor, grab a bottle of lotion, put on my shortest shorts, and give my legs a deep massage. Do you know the feeling of hand over muscle? It is incomparable. Of course I'm tired, and sore, and maybe even a little sleepy, but I like those moments of leisure, when the hard job is done and I'm still eager for the next ride.

There is also the sensuality of the ride itself -- the feeling of wind on my face; the motion of my legs on the pedals; the total concentration that I have to employ to keep myself alert to the road and its dangers. I love riding fast, down hills and on the flats; I love the mental place where speed takes me, the feeling of flying (and fleeing?) on my two wheels.

In college, when I developed my eating disorder, I had an academic lifestyle that was almost devoid of any contact with my body or my senses. My days were spent in lecture halls, reading in the library, and writing papers; I heard plenty of speeches from professors about how to put our minds to the best use, but no one ever talked about our bodies. My eating disorder, with its intense preoccupation with food and my body, seemed almost a reaction to an academic world that denied corporeality and substance. Ironically, perhaps, I found that I had to go deeper into my body -- through yoga -- and pay more attention to food -- through cooking -- in order to give those aspects of my life their due. Massage helped too, as did music, and knitting, and no wonder: all of these were activities that allowed me to focus on the senses, instead of denying them as I once had.

Do you feel that there is a relationship between eating disorders and the senses? What does that look like, and what does it mean to you?


Kim said...

Ahh, I love that feeling of just being so connected to your body. I find it with yoga, baths, and massages (which reminds me -- I'm due to get a massage soon). I do think there is something about eating disorders and the senses. When I was in full-blown anorexia, I felt starved in multiple ways, cut off from the world, unaware of my body and its perceptions. That's the saddest part of eds in my opinion -- that detachment. I've been thinking lately of doing some kind of dance because, in the confines of my own head, I can dance ;) But, also, I think using my body in that way would make me more conscious and aware.
Cool post. Thanks!

ola said...

I wish I could someday write something like this! I struggle with lack of exercising and feel so disconnected right now, but it is part of my therapy rules. However I enjoyed this beautiful post! I used to run orienteerin and the feeling after good race when I just sat down with the map and recall the route in my head was so incredible.

And the college thing is so common. I have too much friends who are suffering with this "academic disconection". Even though lot of them are medical students, they (we) know perfectly how to cheat and ignore our bodies and minds. But sometimes it seems it is the only way how to survive in med school:(

Senses... i have participated in research about sensation of pain, it was significantly decreased in people with ED. I think I did lot of stress fractures because of it. And than there is the smell thing- I think that during restricting my smell was much more sensitive than now when I am eating properly.

(I am sorry for the messy comment, just random thoughts) Thanks for sharing this!

Kristina said...

Wonderful post!
I remember 10 years ago or so, a few months after I had experienced my once and only inpatient moment and was seeing my first (and last?) amazing therapist, I had my first massage. She didn't recommend it, but it happened that the massage coincided with that therapeutic moment, and it was such a strange and wonderful thing, to treat my body well, to pamper myself and to have another person's hands running over this body that I myself hated so intensely.
For too long, I think that I was afraid of all that was sensual. I felt greedy, constantly hungry, wanting more in every aspect of my life.
Now, I like activities that let me focus on my body, but in a healthy way. I love the ache in my muscles in bones after hiking, but I equally enjoy the feeling of being outside as I try to take in the views and the sensations that accompany camping and hiking.
And, yes, the paying attention to food. At times, I worry that I pay TOO much attention to food. "Is this another manifestation of the eating disorder?". But it has a different quality, in every way, and I'm embracing the focus on "food" now because much of the current focus has to do with what is fresh, what tastes good to me, what I am craving. Just like the focus on the body is not self-hatred, but on honoring my body, as much as I can at this point.

Ai Lu said...

Wow -- I am so glad to hear that this post resonated with the three of you.

Sometimes I feel conflicted when I write about how necessary it has been, for me, to re-establish a relationship with food and exercise, because for a lot of people who have had eating disorders, it seems like a nearly impossible task. Yet I believe that we CAN find new ways of relating to our bodies, to food, and to exercise, without those necessarily being pathological. And it sounds like the three of you are also reaching towards something like that. I look forward to hearing more about it from all of you!