Eating Disorders

A Break From Exercise is Important, Too!

A Break From Exercise is Important, Too! | Libero Magazine

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Talk about your feelings.
Gain weight.
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.

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.


After Kelsi recovered from an eating disorder, she realized addiction is her core issue. Recovering from one disorder does not necessarily mean you are healed from another. Full recovery no matter what it might be takes time. As an addiction writer, Kelsi hopes to bring awareness to this taboo issue as it is often embarrassing for her and society to talk about. Join Kelsi on her recovery journey as she de-stigmatizes the shame involved in addiction.

SITE DISCLAIMER: The opinions and information shared in this article or any other Content on our site 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. Libero does not provide emergency support. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433 or another helpline or 911.


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  • I can completely relate to this post. I feel that the whole exercise topic was the most difficult thing in my recovery. When I was in treatment those were the rules and it was the hardest two months of my life. I love walking but, like you I used it as a form of binging. Needing to burn calories was all that was on my mind. Now a days, I use walking as a form of meditation instead and it's much better, but it took me a long time to get to this point and cutting out exercise all together can be hard but I think it's worth it, just like you have said in this post. <3

    • Yes, using exercise as meditation or doing it because it's enjoyable are all perfect reasons to exercise. I admire your current weight lifting and how you use that as a release, but also have found a balance with your food intake. That takes a lot of strength and dedication- you rock, girl! 🙂
      (Sorry for the late response!)

  • I can relate completely to this post Kelsi! I'm at the same place in my recovery as you, exercise-wise, so I'm here if you ever want support! Even though it can be frustrating at times, I'm really thankful that our treatment teams are limiting our exercise because it would be a shame to do all of that hard work nutritionally and then just get set back by falling into ED-fueled exercise.

    • Hey Jessica! Thanks so much for this comment. We might need to chat sometime about getting back into exercise, maybe even become "work out buddies" haha. Just as a way to stay on track. I'm really happy to hear you are on track nutritionally! Keep up the good work! <3

  • Thank you so much for this. I am in recovery from my eating disorder, and I too struggle with compulsive exercise. I am about to enter a treatment facility and will be unable to engage in physical activity, yet I know from past treatment how easy it is to 'sneak in' exercise-even while in the hospital. I realize that there are times when I do exercise for pleasure, but most of the time, it is another 'must' in my day. I know how painful it is to let go of control, but realize I have to in order to get well. I don't want to be controlled by my eating disorder anymore. The treatment program I am attending offers heart-rate monitors that can be worn to signal to your team when you are exercising. I have asked for one, and hope this will help me in my recovery. Thank you again for your article, and best wishes.

  • Thanks so much for the response, Marissa! At first it is really difficult to let go of that control, but once you do, it can be the most liberating thing you will ever experience. Allow yourself to trust in the process and take things day by day. Best of luck with the new treatment program! <3

  • Kelsi- this is a great post. I have been working with people struggling with eating disorders for quite some time now, and it's nice to see that progress can be made. We need advocates, like yourself, that have personally been through the struggles of trying to overcome this addiction. Thanks for your insight and keep up the great work!

    • Thanks Deanna! At first it was hard for me to share my story with the world, but it's quickly become one of the best parts of my recovery. Thank you for your encouraging works of support! 🙂