Exercise During Eating Disorder Recovery

Today our Nutritional Therapist, Kaysha Thomas is answering the question “is exercise during eating disorder recovery okay?”…


We are continually hearing that there is an obesity crisis in the UK and that this is a situation which needs to be rectified quickly due to health implications and the strain/cost on the NHS. Schools and workplaces are repeatedly being encouraged to increase opportunities for exercise and movement throughout the day. But what is often forgotten is that these initiatives aren’t suitable for everyone.


It’s important to bear in mind that the benefits of exercise are not guaranteed, they are conditional. Every person is unique, so could we be doing more harm than good? Are we setting people up for more challenges and unhealthy relationships with their body? Today we’re sharing 3 core questions to explore when considering exercise during eating disorder recovery – one of the most common topics we get asked about over on our Instagram.


Have you checked in with yourself?


Sometimes exercise can become an obsession – frequency, duration, types of exercise or any combination of these. When new clients come to us and throughout the recovery journey, we establish what their relationship is with exercise and movement. This is something we encourage you to do too.


  • Do you exercise for strength, enjoyment and fulfilment?
  • Is movement used to rejuvenate the body or deplete and exhaust it?
  • Are you exercising to enhance your mind-body connection and coordination, or to confuse or disconnect from it?
  • Do you exercise for control, weight loss and punishment – to appease your unwell voice?
  • Is movement alleviating mental and physical stress or contributing to and exacerbating stress?


It is essential to explore how you currently relate to exercise; emotionally, mentally and physically as this will also determine its appropriateness at this stage of your recovery. Your decision to return or continue to exercise should be a decision that you make with your treatment team.


If you are currently exercising regularly, check in with yourself before and after each session. How are you feeling emotionally and physically? What are your energy levels? Are you staying true to the 3 mindful movement principles – exercising for rejuvenation, to enhance your mind-body connection and to alleviate mental and physical stress?


Are you moving mindfully?


Exercise should be for pleasure and positive mental and physical health. It is vital to focus on the connection between your mind, body and emotions before and during any exercise. By feeling, not just thinking about your body’s sensations during physical activities, you can cultivate a deeper body awareness. During exercise, we can tune into our breathing, the speed and strength of our heartbeat, how our muscles contract and release and our overall level of exertion. When we can ‘hear’ our body, the more attuned we are to all its messages – such as hunger and fullness.


Walking, cycling, yoga, climbing, Pilates, Aquaphysical classes/swimming and dancing are ideal activities for mindful movement. Paying attention to your surroundings, what you can feel/see/hear and being totally present in the moment aren’t just beneficial but create a more enjoyable experience too. Being in a class or group environment is usually more fun than being on your own and stops the temptation of going back into old ways of obsessive, exhaustive exercise sessions which punish your body. However, group situations could lead to comparison, so again, check in with yourself to find out what you need.


By shifting the focusing on the intrinsic pleasure of movement, you can enjoy the positivity and happiness that it brings. Movement can help you to connect to your body and feel a deep sense of gratitude. When this happens, it can be a healing part of the recovery process.


Are you getting enough rest and replenishment?


You see, to reap the benefits of exercise, you have to appreciate the effects of its physical demand. Exercise uses up nutrients and breaks down muscle tissue before it rebuilds us and makes us stronger. Therefore, the only way to truly reap the benefits of exercise is to support it with adequate nutrition and rest. For without this support, we are unable to rebuild and restore and we risk damaging our short-term and long-term health. Because of this, exercise during recovery is not appropriate if you’re not making progress nutritionally and your eating disorder symptoms and behaviours are worsening. There are times when the most self-caring thing we can do is not exercise.


Here at The Recover Clinic, we run a Movement Therapy Group as part of our treatment program. By participating in this group, clients can create a healthier self-image and a sense of physical freedom and safety. It is not a dance class and there is no choreography. As with everything in eating disorder recovery, the right thing is completely unique to you, but mindful movement is a principle that can and will benefit everybody.


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