Breaking free from anorexia through weight lifting

Two students discuss the role their new exercise routine plays in their recovery.

Emma Frick, a sophomore kinesiology major, began weight lifting to build muscle after recovering from an eating disorder. | COURTESY / EMMA BORGSTROM

A few years ago, Emma Frick and Emma Borgstrom used exercise to break down their bodies.

Frick, a sophomore kinesiology major, and Borgstrom, a freshman kinesiology major, both struggled with anorexia in high school while running track and cross country.

As women in recovery, they have switched not only their sport of choice but their mindset when they work out. The two weight lift at Strength for Life, a gym in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, and now use exercise to build muscle and to connect their bodies and minds.

“Weightlifting is all about consuming more calories and building more muscle,” Frick said. “It’s a lot of listening to your body and being intuitive with your body.”

This past summer, Frick earned her personal training certificate through the American Aerobic Association International and International Sports Medicine Association. She now works with up to four clients at Strength for Life when she’s not taking classes at Temple.

“I draw inspiration from the people I train,” Frick said. “Watching them get to the point where they’re excited is very rewarding.”

She feels that same excitement and enjoyment in her own workouts.

“[Weight lifting] made me feel energized,” Frick said. “There’s a lot of creativity in it.”

Even though some women hesitate to lift weights because they fear it’ll make them “bulky” or “manly,” Frick said, that’s not the case, and the sport can be empowering.

One of the first major proponents of women bodybuilding was Abbye Eville, or “Pudgy,” an admired weight lifter in the 1940s. Eville rejected the social constructs that weight lifting turned a woman’s body “manly” and that only men could be strong, according to the New York Times Magazine, and is an inspiration to Borgstrom in her practice today, she said.

She worked her way onto the covers of magazines like Bob Hoffman’s Strength for Health magazine and wrote a column called “Barbelles,” for Strength for Health in 1944.

Emma Borgstrom, a freshman kinesiology major, squats in Temple’s STAR complex on Thursday. Borgstrom is in recovery from an eating disorder and uses weight lifting and nutrition to maintain a healthy lifestyle. | COURTESY / EMMA FRICK

Borgstrom is interning at Strength for Life while she prepares to take a personal training certification class in May. She helps run the gym’s social media accounts and is a volunteer and fundraiser for the National Eating Disorders Association. NEDA is the largest nonprofit organization that supports people recovering from eating disorders and it advocates for both mindful exercise, on a case-by-case basis, and nutritional counseling in recovery.

Weight lifting and nourishing her body with good nutrition go hand in hand, Borgstrom added.

“Your muscle needs fuel,” Borgstrom said. “Fuel your body.”

Hana Davis, a junior health professions major and the president of Temple University’s first nutrition club, is also a longtime proponent of the benefits of weightlifting. Davis has been weightlifting since age 15.

“Nutrition is something that relates to everyone,” Davis said.

Unfortunately, fad diets and warped perceptions of what a “healthy student” looks like can stand between students and their knowledge of good nutrition, she added.

“There’s too much false information out there,” Davis said. “It is more important to establish healthier lifestyle habits than indulging in those extreme [dieting] behaviors.”

Davis and Bergstrom share a passion for steering clear of fad diets and the idea of the “cheat day.” Rather than bouncing back and forth between “cheat days,” which Borgstrom describes as going from one extreme to the other, Borgstrom pursues a middle ground between diet and exercise.

“You don’t need an excuse [or cheat day] to eat something sweet,” she said. “If you want it, you can have it.”

Similarly, Frick likes to remind herself not to agonize over foods that might not fall into her weekly meal prepping schedule, she said.

“Taking care of myself can mean staying in on a Friday or Saturday night,” she says.

They advise others who are struggling with eating disorders to reach out for help and be honest about their urges.

“Be totally transparent,” Borgstrom said. “Opening up is the best thing that I’ve ever done.”

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