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Cultivating a Healthy Relationship with Exercise in Eating Disorder Recovery

Movement is almost as important as eating during eating disorder recovery. Note, I said movement, not exercise. There are countless benefits of movement including elevating mood, decreasing anxiety, improving digestion and strengthening bones.

One of the questions I often hear people ask is “will I ever have a healthy relationship with exercise?” People have all different relationships with exercise before their eating disorders begin. Many individuals were athletic growing up and played sports or were on dance teams. Others despised gym class and any amount of physical exertion. During the course of a person’s disorder, over-exercise might become a symptom. Alternatively, depression can result in lack of movement. In recovery, it becomes important to ask yourself what you honestly hope to get from exercise. Are you looking for one of the benefits listed above? Or are you looking for a way to control your weight? Be honest with yourself and your team, because you’re not going to have a healthy relationship with exercise if you’re using it as punishment for what you ate or in order to drastically change your body’s natural shape.

Another question I often hear is “how do I re-incorporate exercise into my life while in recovery?” Whenever you decide you’re ready to begin exercise in recovery, here are some tips for cultivating and maintaining a healthy relationship with exercise:

  • Make it Fun
    First of all, there’s no rule that you need to go to a gym in order to exercise. Maybe you’ve always avoided exercising because the gym just isn’t for you, and that’s completely okay! There are so many other ways to move. Check sites like Groupon to try out unique ways to exercise like rock climbing, pole dancing, kickboxing, or aerial yoga. Find something that you enjoy and your workout won’t feel like work!
  • Start Slow
    Activities like walking and yoga are considered “safer” activities in recovery. A good yoga class should also be a non-judgmental environment, which is a wonderful place to start. If you’re in a public class, make sure to focus on yourself and your experience in the class. Don’t look around at the other participants to compare bodies or flexibility or fitness. If this is still a problem, there are so many wonderful online yoga videos you can do in the comfort of your own home.
  • Surround Yourself with Positive People
    Do yourself a favor and unfollow fitness social media accounts and blogs if you find them triggering. Yeah, they’re always in the gym and their bodies are amazing and their food looks wonderful and everything is great, but you’re only seeing part of the story.
  • Set Your Timer
    Fitness classes are great because they have a set start and stop time. If you’re having trouble sticking to a time limit, schedule activities ahead of time for after your workout so you know when you need to stop.
  • Phone a Friend
    Working out with a friend will help keep you accountable. Make sure you have similar goals in mind beforehand. It’s not going to be fun to workout with someone who is constantly talking about her diet.
  • You Still Need to Eat
    Exercising makes many people ravenous. Conversely, it can also suppress your appetite. It’s important to plan a meal for after a workout session so you don’t get home and fear a binge or forget to eat. If you’re on a meal plan, it may need to be tweaked with the exercise in mind.
  • Stay Hydrated
    There are so many nice re-usable water bottles on the market. Bring your favorite one with you when you exercise and make sure you sip your water throughout.
  • Dress the Part
    Don’t worry about wearing skin tight spandex and just a sports bra if you’re not comfortable in it. Wear something that’s both functional and makes you feel good.
  • Schedule Time Off
    Remember, exercise is a form of self-care, but not if you abuse it. Your body needs to rest! We’re not designed to be on the move 24/7 and resting allows our bodies to recover and get stronger.

And lastly, but really most importantly, I’m a registered dietitian, but I’m not your dietitian. It is vital that you speak with your team before you begin an exercise program.

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