Exercise and Eating Disorders

 It’s not always easy being an eating disorder professional and an athlete.  As I started thinking about writing a blog about my half marathon training (coming soon!) I had the thought that it’s a bummer I have to keep that part of myself somewhat hidden at work. The patients I work with are very sick and compulsive exercise is a common struggle for them, so personal exercise talk is pretty taboo, and understandably so.  When my patients ask what I do on the weekends I tend to play things down.  I say I went for a short hike when in reality I climbed a 14er.  A training run becomes a walk in the park.  A bike ride up Vail Pass a casual cruiser ride.  It’s not that I like lying, it’s pretty awkward actually, but it doesn’t seem appropriate to delve into my athletic adventures.  Exercise and eating disorders is a complicated subject.  While I fully believe my exercise is healthy, I understand how it would be difficult for patients to understand. But I do it because I love it, not because I am trying to change my body or because I feel like I have to.  I live for the adventure. I fuel myself properly before, during, and after my activities. Heck, the sports nutrition is sometimes the most fun part for me!  And I don’t stress too much if I miss a workout or if it doesn’t go as planned.

 
Why is exercise such a tricky topic with eating disorders?  I think it’s because it’s a healthy thing taken too far.  Sure exercise has health benefits, and it can be a great stress relief, but when it’s compulsive it can actually be detrimental to your physical and mental health.  And when it gets to that point it’s hard to cut back, so sometimes total abstinence is the way to recovery.  There is actually research about running and eating disorders that basically says it’s nearly impossible to recover from an eating disorder if you refuse to stop logging miles.  This all seems quite contrary to what we hear in the media about how most Americans don’t get enough exercise and this lack of activity is causing health problems.  I always have to reality check my eating disorder patients-are you more likely to suffer health problems from lack of exercise or the eating disorder?  I guarantee it’s the eating disorder.
So how do you know if your exercise is a problem?  Ask these questions:
– Is my day ruined if I don’t get in a workout?
– Am I working out because I feel guilty about food I’ve eaten?
– Am I eating enough to fuel my workouts?
– Am I avoiding spending time with friends and family in order to exercise?
– Is my workout routine interfering with my work, school, or other obligations?
A “yes” (or 4) doesn’t mean you have an eating disorder but it might be an indicator that you should further evaluate your exercise habits.  Remember, exercise should be enjoyable! If you’re forcing yourself to run on the treadmill but you hate it, not only are you creating an unhealthy attitude around exercise, but you’re probably not going to stick with it long enough to reap any health benefits.  Remember- balance and moderation are key.  Exercise is great if you are doing it for the right reasons and properly fueling yourself, but it’s also okay to cancel a workout in order to grab dinner with a friend, or because you are tired, sick, or injured. Be kind to your body.

Below is a link to a blog I was quoted in awhile ago about one woman’s recovery from an eating disorder and the role exercise played.  She has some good insight and is doing well with her recovery, but keep in mind this was just one woman’s journey.

http://blisstree.com/look/eating-disorder-recovery-exercise-personal-trainer-227/

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