Acknowledging that I struggled with an eating disorder was not an easy journey for me. The realization wasn't even a product of self-reflection, but rather, it emerged during my intake appointment at Kaiser in 2018, following the mental turmoil induced by birth control. There, the doctor casually asked if I ever indulged in purging after eating. Surprisingly, my reply was a simple, guilt-free 'yes', without any hesitation. It felt strange yet liberating, marking the beginning of a journey I hadn't fully prepared for. Now, I find comfort in discussing my weight, food habits, and physical activity. My recovery has been aided by several strategies which I will share in the following discussion.
1. Understand the Importance of Fueling Your Body – Your body needs fuel to function properly and exercise can be extremely taxing on the body, so it is essential to give it the nutrients it needs. The first step in healing your relationship with exercise is to prioritize fueling your body with nutrient-dense foods. Make meal plans that include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats to ensure that your body is getting the nutrients it needs to support exercise.
2. Find Joy in Movement – Exercise should not be a way to punish or restrict yourself, but rather a way to enjoy moving your body. During recovery from an eating disorder, finding joy in movement can be difficult, but it is important to make exercise fun and enjoyable. Try different forms of exercise, such as dance, yoga, swimming, or hiking, until you find one that you truly enjoy.
3. Focus on the Benefits of Exercise – Exercise has numerous benefits for mental and physical health. It releases endorphins, reduces stress and anxiety, improves sleep, and can even increase self-esteem. Instead of focusing on weight loss or burning calories, shift your mindset to focus on the positive benefits of exercise.
4. Seek Support – Recovery from an eating disorder can be a long and difficult journey, but you do not have to do it alone. Seek support from a therapist, a support group, or a trusted friend. Working with a certified personal trainer or exercise physiologist who understands your goals and encourages positive behaviors can also be extremely beneficial.
5. Practice compassion – It’s normal to feel guilty or anxious when you skip a workout, or if you don’t feel like you did “enough”. It’s important to learn self-compassion and be kind to yourself. Do not punish or restrict yourself for missed workouts or not reaching unrealistic exercise goals. Treat yourself with kindness, understanding, and respect.
Healing your relationship with exercise during recovery from an eating disorder is a complicated process, but it can be done. Learning to prioritize fueling your body, finding joy in movement, focusing on the benefits of exercise, seeking support, and practicing self-compassion can help you build a healthy and sustainable relationship with exercise. Remember to approach exercise as a way to support and care for your body rather than punish or restrict it. With patience, perseverance, and support, you can find balance and happiness in your recovery journey.