Recovering from an eating disorder requires a lot of unlearning and reframing. You have to reframe your relationship with food and your body, and then comes another big challenge… reclaiming exercise. If exercise was only a means to a smaller body or a punishment for eating before, it can seem impossible to start working out again without those ideas coming back up to the surface. While reframing exercising can be a big challenge, you are not alone. Exercise is challenging to almost all people who have recovered from eating disorders, and with a little work, many survivors of eating disorders have found a way to move their bodies and reap the benefits of exercise without triggering old habits and thoughts. As you move forward in your exercise journey after eating disorder recovery, here are some things to consider.
Before we get into any other tips, it is important to know that you don’t have to figure out exercise, food, and your body all at once. If you are new to eating disorder recovery and feel like you have to unlearn all of your disordered beliefs around exercise on day 1, take a step back and focus on the basics. Take all the time you need to learn how to fuel your body properly before adding exercise on top. There is no rush, and your mental health is the most important thing!
Next, when you are working on your recovery and exercise journey, having trained professionals on your team is a great idea. This can be your therapist, a dietician, or a body positive personal trainer. There are likely to be thoughts or concerns that come up around movement that you will want to process with someone else. Working with someone who understands your unique journey can help you reclaim exercise in a safe environment.
Remember when you were a kid and running around on the playground or playing a sport at PE felt like fun instead of work? You probably didn’t even realize you were exercising when you were climbing into forts at recess or swimming with your friends. That’s the feeling we want to bring back when we say “movement that brings you joy.” When you are deciding what movement to try first in eating disorder recovery, start with something that excites you. This could be roller skating, taking a dance class, or going horseback riding. Even if what excites you most if taking a long walk with friends or your partner, you can’t go wrong.
Explore how this new movement makes you feel. How do you feel when you do the movement? How do you feel after? Along with revealing new skills and strength you didn’t know you had, exploring new types of movement can also help you explore new hobbies and make new friends.
When choosing activities to try, it’s important to remember that just because you loved an exercise before recovery doesn’t mean you will love it after. If you were an avid cyclist before recovery, you may find the activity triggering or upsetting now because it
causes you to compare your old skills to your new ones. If you try an old exercise and you find yourself having thoughts like “I should be better at this” or “Why can’t I do what I used to do?”, it may be best to take a break from that hobby for a while. Be sure the exercise you choose brings joy and celebration, instead of comparison and guilt.
Reclaiming exercise after eating disorder recovery can be a challenge. If you’re looking for a place to help you rediscover the fun of movement in a safe environment, be sure to check out Clarity Fitness. We can’t wait to meet you!