What I’m about to share might be contradictory…
Should you stop exercising in recovery? Not necessarily… hear me out on this.
Do the positive aspects of what you get from exercise outweigh the negatives in recovery?
Write down everything that exercise does for you including the ED motivations. This was my list;
- calorie burning and weight control
- it’s a rule, something I just have to do to feel ok
- muscle building (which was actually a joke as I look back as I wasn’t nourishing myself enough to build muscle)
- anxiety release
- feel good endorphins
- fresh air and time in nature to help ground me (if I go on a run)
Yours might look similar.
Ask yourself this question and answer it honestly…
“Would I still do the exercise I do if it didn’t burn any calories or shape my body in any way?”
The answer for me was yes. Which is why I didn’t stop exercising in recovery. I DID however do less HIIT and practised taking all the pressure off myself.
When I’d run I wouldn’t have a fitness watch or my phone tracking my minutes per mile.
I’d work out and not make myself finish if I really didn’t want to.
I’d use less weight and stop trying to get PBs every time.
I completely changed the relationship I had with exercise but I didn’t stop all exercise because it brought me so many other benefits AND actually enabled me to get used to my new bigger body.
Some people can’t exercise because they’re literally exhausted in recovery/have severe edema. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.
Those who have stayed very much in the anorexia for so long usually HAVE to stop exercising because their bodies have a shit load of repairing to do. My story was a little different.
Some people are unable to change their relationship to exercise and so continue with their compulsions and use exercise as compensation for eating. If this is the case for you then you must stop exercising. The same way that you stop purging. Use all that grit, determination and commitment you have within you to STOP DOING IT! You do have the power to stop.
Your brain is always watching you so train it to serve you in recovery. You trained it to serve you in the ED.
I’ve had a few clients who had previously worked with an ED specialist who didn’t allow them to exercise at all. Not even go on a walk. Whilst I recommend everyone take a month off exercise (not off walking, IF the walking isn’t compulsive) at the beginning of anorexia recovery and rest as much as possible, I am open to seeing where that client is at a month in.
If I can see that the ED is pushing for reasons to get back to exercise then I’ll deny it and set boundaries with how much the client can walk for. Walking in nature is beneficial to recovery in so many ways due to the grounding aspect of being in nature, fresh air and some GENTLE body movement to support digestion.
Deednig on how the client answers these questions will depend on what I recommend going forward;
- Why do you (honestly) want to exercise?
- Is it pleasurable?
- Is it flexible?
Exercise CAN help you to connect to your body, be IN your body and feel good IN your body. It’s not natural for someone to sit inside day in-day out and only focus on food. It’s like being with your fear with no break 24/7, which can actually be detrimental to recovery for some.
For me exercise (more in particular body movement) allowed me to think of other things than recovery. This was supportive and allowed me to open up to mind to other things than just recovery.
It helped to build my life back up and do normal things such as go walking with a friend or to a gym class.
Of course, I ensured I was always eating enough until my hunger cues came back and then I could just surrender to mental and physical hunger and unrestricted eating.
Everyone is different of course so it is important to work with someone you trust who is an expert in ED recovery and can support you through your personal recovery journey with food and with exercise.
So should you stop exercising in recovery?
IT ALL DEPENDS but the answer isn’t a hard no.