When considering whether it’s a good idea to add or re-introduce exercise into the recovery process, it’s important to reflect on a variety of things. These include: a)what the motive is for wanting to exercise?, b) are we are in a physical state that can handle exercise?, and b) what our experience has been with it in the past? Is exercise something we have used previously as a way to compensate, burn calories, or avoid feelings, and if so, how does this relate to how we feel about it currently? What kind of exercise are we interested in trying?
Perhaps we view exercise as s a variety of methods of movement, all of which we enjoy doing, or maybe we long for structure and control and think we ‘have to’ exercise. Of course, being active can relate to wellness and an overall nurturing lifestyle, but it ultimately depends on our relationship with it. It can also be a hindrance to eating disorder recovery if we don’t recognize that exercise is sometimes used as a tool to compensate for something else1. Becoming more aware of how we feel about exercise and what drives us to want to participate in it can help us to discover whether it is something positive in our lives or whether it is something that is negatively affecting us. Our team here at change.creates.change created an algorithm as a starting point to guide you through the decision process.
Remember that this is just a guideline. In any case, it is important to discuss options with your healthcare team and decide together what is best for your individual needs. We might all need something different. Generally, it’s good to focus on movement that brings us joy, as opposed to a structured regime. Finding an activity that involves a group social setting can be beneficial to our well-being and foster connections, and also helps if we’re at risk of over exercising and in need of support from others, as well as a timeline of when it’s appropriate to stop.
Alternatively, participating in an activity with a friend or loved one that can help to support our needs might also be beneficial. We want to encourage listening to our bodies’ cues (such as when we are tired,) as opposed to exercising for prolonged periods of time. If this is something that is still difficult to do then perhaps you can establish a (short) time frame with your team and set a timer for when to stop2. It can also be helpful to focus on activities that are more mindful such as going for a walk outside in nature or practicing gentle yoga. Finding a variety of activities that are truly enjoyable is key, as well as learning to let go of the activities that aren’t.
It’s crucial to determine that it is medically appropriate to exercise before trying to implement any new activities. If an adequate body weight is not being maintained or signs of heartbeat irregularities are present, exercise should not be introduced as it can put us at risk3. We must make sure that we are cleared to exercise by our doctor and talk about it with our treatment team before beginning any form of physical activity. Additionally, we need to ensure that we are consuming enough calories to support exercise. Putting out more energy for movement requires that we put more in to fuel our bodies so we want to be sure that we are at a stage where we are consistently meeting our nutritional needs. Allowing others to help and support us in this process can enable us to create a safety net of trusted people that we can turn to if we need help. Overall, if iexercise is something that is going to be fun, like trying new activities or engaging in activities in a group setting, then this type of movement can be a good thing and improve overall wellbeing and quality of life. Just remember that every individual is different, and how exercise fits into our own lives is not going to be the same for everyone. Each journey is unique and should be treated as such.
1. Danielsen, M., Rø, Ø., Bjørnelv, S. (2018) How to integrate physical activity and exercise approaches into inpatient treatment for eating disorders: fifteen years of clinical experience and research. Journal of Eating Disorders, Vol. 6Retrieved from: https://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/pmc/articles/PMC6154924/#CR16
2. Cruze, R. (2016) How to find balance with exercise in eating disorder recovery. Retrieved from: https://www.eatingrecoverycenter.com/blog/2016/08/24/how-to-find-balance-with-exercise-in-eating-disorder-recovery-robyn-cruze
3. Murray, E. (2018) Eating disorder recovery: when can I exercise again? Retrieved from: https://themighty.com/2018/03/eating-disorder-can-i-exercise/