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Editor’s note: always consult a healthcare professional before making changes to your activity or eating disorder recovery plan.
⚠️Trigger Warning: eating disorders, exercise, body image
It’s not easy to figure out if you should start to exercise while in eating disorder recovery. Repairing a difficult relationship with food and your body is a process, not something that happens overnight. Maybe you’re starting at the beginning. Or perhaps you’re beginning to accept that all foods fit. It could be you are finally starting to make food decisions based on what you like and not what you feel you should do. These are all huge steps!
Exercise and Eating Disorder Recovery
One common sticking point in eating disorder recovery is how to deal with movement and physical activity.
What does it mean if I’m no longer interested in exercise? What does it mean if I am?
There are many reasons why exercise can be a positive and beneficial addition. Physical activity is proven to help with depression and anxiety*. It can help you expel extra energy. It can also be a positive way to cope with emotions and stress. Not to mention, it can be really fun.
Despite the benefits, it can be scary to think about exercise again if you feel it could be a slippery slope for you.
In eating disorders, exercise is often used as a tool for self-punishment and body manipulation. It can be hard to see past this, but there is much more to exercise for us to explore when we are ready. So how do we go forward?
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Moving Forward with Exercise in a Balanced Way
The short answer here is that there is no one correct answer.
It’s perfectly okay if you are not ready to engage in physical activity.
It’s perfectly okay if you never engage in exercise the way you once did. It also does not mean you’re back at square one if you start to include joyful, intuitive movement.
This might all sound a bit confusing, so I have outlined quite a few reflection questions for you below that I encourage you to take some time with.
Using Self-Reflection When Considering Exercise and Eating Disorder Recovery
I have written about self-reflection before because I truly believe it’s a powerful tool. It’s a great way to dig into underlying feelings, beliefs, and fears. When it comes to movement, it can help you identify if you’re ready for exercise and, if so, what you might want to do.
I love to put pen to paper and write this out. You can also use these questions as discussion starters in a support group setting or with a support person.
9 Journal Prompts for Exercise and Eating Disorder Recovery
Remember to approach these questions with curiosity and self-compassion and always consult a healthcare professional before making changes to your activity or eating disorder recovery plan.
- How has your eating disorder, and diet culture at large, narrowed your view of what exercise includes?
- Is there a specific movement, setting, or ‘look’ that we have been told constitutes exercise? How can we widen that view?
- When we expand this view of exercise, we open ourselves up to many other ways to move our bodies that feel good, comfortable, enjoyable, and rewarding (not punishing!).
- Why do I want to include physical activity?
- Why do I feel that now is a good time to start?
- Would including exercise in my life be a good way to care for myself with the utmost respect and loving care?
- Would including movement feel good in my body? Would I feel cared for and supported? Would it negatively affect the way I see my body and food?
- Would entering a fitness center or similar environment be triggering and uncomfortable?
- What type of movement do I enjoy? In what ways do I like to move my body?
We often hear about exercise as something we simply ‘must do’ but are not typically given the space to think about why we might want to, how it might fit into our eating disorder recovery, and in what types of movement we might want to engage.
Diet culture does not allow for these questions and consistently pushes us to do more.
By giving ourselves the permission and space to make these decisions for ourselves, we are actively rejecting diet culture beliefs.
As you think about getting back to exercise while in eating disorder recovery, let your “why” be the guiding light. You’re still learning to trust yourself and your body, and no matter where you are, you’re doing great!
Exercise will be available to you when you’re ready.
- Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 6(3), 104–111. https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v06n0301
- Schuch FB, Stubbs B. The Role of Exercise in Preventing and Treating Depression. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2019 Aug;18(8):299-304. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000620. PMID: 31389872.
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Olivia Cupido is a registered dietitian and founder of OG Nutrition in Toronto. She is passionate about helping others foster healthy relationships with food and their bodies. Olivia helps her clients return to the importance of connection, culture, enjoyment and self-care in food and eating.
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.