Focusing on Fitness During Your Eating Disorder Recovery
Eating is supposed to be something that nourishes the body and provides sustenance, pleasure and social connection; eating disorders can alter how we perceive eating and how it makes us feel. Eating Disorders take everything that is good and right about nutrition and twist it.
In much the same way, an eating disorder can warp our perceptions of exercise. Engaging in regular physical fitness is imperative for keeping our bodies and minds active and agile, yet an eating disorder can turn fitness into an obsession. It can shift the focus from physical well-being to elusive, unattainable body image ideals or misleading conceptions of femininity and masculinity.
Both men and women who are in eating disorder recovery face a unique challenge: Learning all over again how to exercise not because they want to look a certain way, but simply because they love themselves, they love their bodies, and they want to practice good self-care.
This is a tricky matter, but by no means impossible. Consider some suggestions for maintaining an appropriate passion for fitness even while in eating disorder recovery.
Make sure you are ready: You cannot just dive into exercise the minute you complete an eating disorder treatment program. First, it is advisable to get a physical examination. Make sure you are physically healthy enough to endure some exercise. Also, speak with your therapist or counselor to make sure you are mentally ready to start exercising again. It may be that you need to give yourself just a little more time to recover, and that is okay!
Do not forget food: If you start exercising—and burning off calories—it may mean you need to eat more, something that can be triggering in and of itself. You do not want to fall into the trap of counting calories, so it is best to work with a Registered Dietitian to develop a plan for adding some additional calories to your daily intake.
Start slow: You do not need to run a marathon on your first day of working out. In fact, it may be better to do something relatively low-key and that incorporates body awareness / mindfulness to allow your body and mind to readjust to regular physical activity. Something like yoga can be a great first step.
Work out with a friend: Solo sports—like endurance running—can be triggering, and besides, every bit of support you can get matters when you are in eating disorder recovery. Try some group exercise classes, or at the very least enlist a workout buddy. Avoid solitary workouts if you can at all help it.
Set a time limit: There is no need to work out for more than an hour each day, if that. Set a strict limit on yourself to avoid making fitness into an unhealthy compulsion.
Your relationship to exercise should be grounded in self-love—in appreciation for your body and what it is capable of. Keep that as your focus and fitness can be a perfectly healthy way to move your recovery forward.