Hiya, friend! It’s Hannah here. Having an injury taught me so, so much about food, my body, and physical fitness. Whether you have gone through an injury or not, I hope some of the lessons my injury taught me resonate with you. This post has been on my mind for a while, so I’m exited to be sharing this post today!
I suppose that I should preface this with how I got injured in the first place — looking back, it’s a story that may make you laugh. Last June, I turned 21, and to celebrate, we went out dancing at a place here in Boston. I’d never been to a bar/club before in the US because I was underage, so it was a brand-new experience for me. My friends and I were having a lot of fun dancing when all of a sudden, I felt something POP and move in my left knee. I didn’t think much of it — at the time, it didn’t hurt, it just felt a little strange, so I thought that it would go away in a little while. I was quite wrong. The next morning, I woke up with a super swollen knee, and it was decently painful to walk places (and we walk everywhere here in this lil city). I was fortunate enough to be seen by an orthopedic surgeon at Brigham & Women’s; when the MRI results came back a few weeks later, we learned that I’d torn the meniscus in my left knee. Sooo yup. I went out as a new 21 year old for the first time and tore my meniscus. How FUN. It was not the 21st birthday wish that I had had in mind, but I had to roll with what life was throwing at me.
In August, I had my meniscus repaired by that same surgeon. The care I received was supportive and truly wonderful; I recognize that such healthcare (and insurance) is a huge privilege that not everyone is able to access, and I constantly remind myself just how lucky and thankful I am to have had the medical treatment that I did. After some crutches, six weeks of wearing a brace (that literally felt larger than my body), six months of physical therapy, and a few follow up appointments, I’m happy to say that my knee and I are much, much better. Soooo thankful.
So okay, maybe you’re thinking, “where does the food and body image stuff come in?” Well, I experienced this knee injury right on the cusp of, what I believe, was the final part of recovery from 3+ years of disordered eating. I do not if I’d go as far as to say that this knee injury is something I am undoubtedly grateful for, BUT I honestly can say that I am thankful it happened because in hindsight, it helped me to fully heal. This injury was the catalyst to letting go of any remaining disordered eating patterns I was struggling to break free from. I didn’t think I’d ever say that – let alone this time last year when I was relatively new to IE & HAES, hadn’t torn my knee yet, still was working through disordered eating patterns, and had never had an injury before. But it’s true. This knee injury helped me tremendously with making peace with food, exercise, and my body. Throughout the whole process of getting hurt, having the surgery, and recovering from that, I learned a lot about eating, food, physical fitness, and body image – some of which I hope may be applicable for you too.
Being able to walk is such a gift
I was on crutches and in the brace for the first couple weeks, which doesn’t seem like a long time, but when you need to go anywhere (bathroom, get a snack, let alone leave the house or do stairs), being on crutches is TOUGH. Really tough. I’m sure some of you have experienced this, and man do I feel your pain. I completely took the ability to walk for granted all my life up until this point because it had never been something that I wasn’t able to do. Once I wasn’t able to walk with ease — on flat surfaces, on campus, for exercise/movement, or up the five flights of stairs in my apartment building, I realized just how wonderful the privilege to walk is. It made me think a lot about how our society is pretty ableist in many ways and caters to a super-abled population — even my college campus proved to be a difficult place once the little stairwells here and there weren’t an option.
(This grocery cart at Stop & Shop though…that was so fun)
Our thoughts are powerful
Surgery can feel really scary because it’s something that isn’t in your control — I was a patient, I went under anesthesia and that was that.
Because I felt the fears of surgery coming on from the day we decided to go through with the operation, I committed to having an optimistic attitude about the whole thing (or as optimistic as I could be). I would write down and repeat in my head “my knee is healing, healthy, and strong” all the time — while walking places, at physical therapy, before bed, when I woke up…before surgery and during knee recovery, I was telling myself this statement and, very soon, believing it too. And I think this really helped me. Not only with any fears I had about the situation, but also with recovering from the operation. The doctor said that I should be able to start putting weight on my leg within two weeks of the surgery, depending on how everything was going. A week after the surgery date, I was starting to walk! Now, maybe that was my body doing it’s thing and being fabulous, but I do believe that our thoughts our powerful and I think the positive vibes and thoughts I was putting out there did have some impact on my ability to start walking early (and, in turn, have a successful recovery overall).
Eating less is not “good” and eating more is not “bad”
I don’t know if this has happened to anyone else, but post-surgery my hunger levels/cues were different than normal for a few weeks — including the types of foods I wanted. The only thing that sounded good most days following the operation was this one type of smoothie, along with yogurt and popchips here and there. My hunger cues were different during this period, and I learned that that was okay. That it was okay that I was craving different foods and being hungry at random times and not hungry at others. I really, truly embraced the fact that eating to fulfill my satisfaction & satiation cues is most important – it wasn’t helpful to judge myself for the kinds of foods or the times of the day or night that I wanted/needed to eat.
Nothing bad happens when I can’t exercise
Sure, it was different not being able to exercise and move in ways that I enjoyed before I hurt myself. I definitely missed my walks and my yoga classes. But during knee recovery and even before knee surgery, the worst thing I could’ve done for a period of time was squats and running and deadlifts…and even yoga would’ve been not good. I had to recognize that what was best for me in this time frame was not rigorous exercise, but rather a very gentle approach to my everyday. What helped me was remembering that if I did engage in a form of exercise that would then hurt my knee, I’d be back to square one and I’d have to recover/go through the whole process all over again (potentially). I wanted to protect my knee from that, so temporarily I took a break from movement so in the long term my knee would be healed and ready to rock and roll again.
Numerical values of exercise are irrelevant
And that’s totally fine. I remember when I first started to be able to walk again without the crutches and then without the giant brace. I’d go for less than half a mile and be so floored and so proud or I’d run for five minutes and the same thing would happen – happiness like crazy. I wasn’t happy because I wanted the exercise to change my body. I was happy because I wanted to move my body and engage in some activity purely for the fun of it, and my body wanted to as well because I wasn’t feeling pain. It didn’t matter if I went outside or to the gym for 10-20 minutes. It taught me that time/mileage/intensity and definitely calories don’t matter. If we can move our bodies in ways that we enjoy and in ways that make us happy without pain that’s what matters. The numerical values do not matter.
Listening to our bodies is actually so helpful (surprise!)
And now I really understand why people tell us…”listen to your body.” It’s because when we do, when we really truly listen for a while, amazing things can happen and we can heal. When I’d be in physical therapy or a yoga class or on a walk and my knee would start to bother me (I had bad tendinitis for a few months following surgery) I had to learn to stop. To go home, and to maybe take an ibuprofen for the inflammation, and elevate my knee and put some ice on it. The worst thing I could do would be to not listen to my body — to stay at the gym and “push through the pain” because that never seemed to work (go figure). Because I did listen to those signals from my knee when it was irritated, now I no longer have any tendinitis. I’m able to get through a yoga class without knee pain in any of the lunges, and I can go for walks/runs usually pain-free. Of course, if it flares up, I stop, and I know that in this way, I’m treating my body right by respecting it and giving it the love and care it deserves…the love and care that all of our bodies deserve on a daily basis.
I hope you enjoyed this little roundup of some lessons that I’ve learned (thanks to a torn meniscus) — I turn 22 in a month, so here’s to hoping that no injuries make its way into this new year! I know it’s not easy to go through an injury situation. If you’re in that right now or if you’re healing from anything, I’ve been there and I have so much love for you. You can do this!!