Posted on February 1st, 2021 in Eating Disorders, Mindfulness
Written by Lauren Harding

Exercise can be a difficult thing to navigate during eating disorder recovery. I often find that clients struggle to differentiate between whether they are truly exercising for enjoyment or if they are exercising with eating disorder motives. There are a few ways to first identify if you have a dysfunctional relationship with exercise, and several steps to take in order to find balance and make peace with it once more.

A few questions to ask yourself:

Do you feel anxious or guilty missing a workout?

Are you preoccupied with a certain exercise routine and struggle to be flexible with your types of movement?

Does how much you exercise influence what you eat or vice versa?

Does your exercise dictate how you feel about yourself?

Are you exercising to burn calories or to look a certain way?

Do you struggle to skip a workout, even if tired, sick, or injured?

5 ways to find balance and make peace with movement in recovery:

  1. Let go of old beliefs. Be open to building a new relationship with movement. If you were exercising for calories or for time before- come up with a different motive such as moving to feel alive, or to feel strong, or to get more energy.
  2. Bring curiosity to movement. Think about why children move their bodies. Typically, it is because they are playing a game, or chasing a friend, or spending time outside. Find new activities that are fun and challenge any of the “have to’s” and “should’s” that are often connected to exercise. Be willing to try new things and find something that truly brings you joy.
  3. Listen to your body. If your body is tired- rest. if your body feels like going on a walk and being in nature- listen to it. Be kind to it. Work with your body and not against it. Be mindful when you move.
  4. Create a safety net. Typically with eating disorder recovery you have a meal plan to help you to navigate building a natural relationship with food again. This takes structure, practice, and patience. It can be the same with exercise. An example of this would be to come up with some structure around movement such as doing a dance video for 20 minutes a day, or playing tennis twice a week, or stretching and going on a walk, etc. Work with your treatment team to establish a safety net as you heal your relationship with movement. Eventually you will be able to listen to your body and move intuitively again.
  5. Be honest with yourself. If movement is triggering for you talk to your treatment team. If you are acting in accordance with the eating disorder self then movement automatically becomes a recovery sabotaging behavior. Ask yourself if this is helping you get closer to your recovery goals or farther away from them?