Talk about your feelings.
Do not exercise.
Looking back at my days spent at a treatment facility for an eating disorder, this list of things seemed to be the basic rules we were expected to abide by during our stay. I think it’s safe to say that any normal person would have a difficult time following this agenda.
Giving these five rules to a person with an eating disorder is a recipe for disaster.
Every night at 6:30pm, our daily program ended and we were set free to occupy our night however we chose, without supervision. I can remember spending many nights going on long walks; feeling like such a rebel. At the time, I knew walking excessively was not only against treatment policies, but it was also putting a damper on my recovery. So why did I feel the need to incessantly get my exercise fix?
As much as I tried to fight it, the scale never lied and the next morning, the treatment team could always tell who had obeyed and who had not. More times than I like to admit, I found myself in the non-obeying group.
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Countless studies have been done proving that staying physically fit is one of the best things that can be done for general health. Exercise has the ability to fight off disease, elevate mood, relieve anxiety, boost energy, improve sleep habits, sharpen concentration, the list goes on and on. So again, I was left questioning why taking a break from exercise is recommended during recovery from an eating disorder.
The number one reason exercise and fitness are prescribed in today’s society is for weight control. If I am being completely honest with myself, I wasn’t going out for walks because I wanted to enjoy the scenery or bird watch, it was because I wanted to burn calories.
Let me repeat that last part: my number one goal was to burn calories.
Walking was a way to control my weight; plain and simple. One of the most difficult things for me to accept during the early stages of recovery was that in order to be successful, I needed to let go of that control. After spending weeks arguing the benefits of fitness with my treatment team, I finally was able to see walking or any other type of exercise as a symptom of my disease.
As I continue to make progress in my recovery, I slowly receive tiny exercise privileges. For example, my current fitness allotment is two fifteen minutes walks per day. Eventually, I hope to be one of those people who can exercise for all of its wonderful benefits, but right now, I have to be careful. Fitness can quickly turn into an addiction or obsession, just like the eating disorder was.
It’s important to understand that changing old habits does not happen over night. If you think about how much time and effort goes into changing your eating habits during recovery, what makes fitness any different?
Like with any addiction, sometimes the best approach is to eliminate it completely from your life until you are in a more mentally stable place. Giving a recovering alcoholic one drink and expecting them to stop is nearly impossible, so why take the same chances while recovering from any other type of addiction, especially an eating disorder?
For many people with eating disorders, exercise is used as an avoidance mechanism; rather than actually feeling emotions and dealing with the root issues of the disorder, they are temporarily numbed, only to make things more complicated – just like restricting, bingeing, purging or any other ED symptom. Therefore, exercise needs to be carefully monitored before being reintroduced into daily routines.
This topic seems to be a frustrating one for many of us, but the good news is, this non-exercise period won’t last forever! For me, it’s just another motivator to continue to do well in my recovery.
With time and perseverance, exercise will be a part of my life again, but for now I’m perfectly content taking this once in a lifetime opportunity to be a lazy bum.
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The opinions and information shared in this article may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process.