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.