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February 17, 2015

Zumba: An Unexpected Weapon

This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, or symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist when needed.

By Dallas Rising, a former The Emily Program client and woman in recovery

My eating disorder, like so many others, loves numbers. It loves everything from calories to weight to clothing size. But the numbers it really gets worked up about are numbers associated with exercise.

When my eating disorder was at full volume, it would make unending noise about “exercise numbers.” If these numbers didn’t grow (as opposed to the smaller set of numbers that I wanted to shrink), my eating disorder would pummel me with horrible self-image beliefs and I would feel the need to punish myself in order to appease it.

It won’t come as a surprise, then, that part of my recovery plan was to cancel my gym membership.

Years passed with nothing but the occasional yoga class or a trip to an indoor climbing space. I had pretty much given up on the idea that I would ever have a healthy relationship with exercise again. But then I discovered martial arts. And a love affair with Muay Thai developed.

I love Muay Thai. I love everything about it. But this isn’t a story about Muay Thai.

Without going into details, a number of complications arose and I ended up making the choice to leave my martial arts school. It was and still is, almost embarrassingly painful. You may be like me in that part of the function of your eating disorder is to help you not need people or things in your life. If we need, our needs may not be met and that would be unbearable. I don’t know if I need my martial arts training, but one could argue I need the things it gave me access to is a sense of strength, confidence, joy, challenge, community, a routine, and focus.

Losing all of that has been an incredibly hard blow. I’ve tried other schools, but they don’t cut it. I needed to find some healthy way to move my body. Yoga is great, but I wanted the high-energy, fast-paced movement I was used to.

I learned about a free Zumba class being offered at Powderhorn Park, near my house, on Monday nights and decided to go check it out. The classes are free because they’re sponsored by an organization called Out In The Backyard, whose mission is to promote health and well-being in LGBTQA communities. The class is held in a gymnasium and the participants are the definition of diverse. Different races, ages, genders, body types, languages spoken – and we’re all there sharing in music and dancing together. Plus, the two teachers I’ve had there are both curvy women who model a healthy relationship to their bodies and exercise.

Zumba isn’t a replacement for my martial arts training. But it’s been a giant help coping with an emotionally trying winter. There’s something about being in a music-filled room with people I wouldn’t get to interact with otherwise, all of our bodies moving along together and a woman leading us who smiles and cheers us on for an entire hour… My eating disorder doesn’t stand a chance in there.

Get help. Find hope.