Developing a Healthy Relationship With Exercise

By Salina Grilli, LMSW

The health benefits of exercise are undeniable and run the gamut from heart health to stress relief. However, if you are in recovery from an eating disorder, exercise is a tricky subject. Often times reincorporating exercise triggers old thought patterns and behaviors, so proceeding with caution is vital. So what can you do when you feel ready to reincorporate exercise? How can you tell whether it is coming from a disordered or healthy place? 

Here are some helpful suggestions:  

Work With a Treatment Team
I cannot stress this one enough. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to reincorporating exercise into your recovery-oriented life. It depends on many factors including your history with exercise, progress in recovery, and your thoughts/feelings about exercise. As such, it’s highly individualized. A treatment team (i.e. therapist, nutritionist, and/or recovery coach) can help you create a structured plan that takes into account your recovery. 

Start With Mindful Movement
Gentle yoga and walks outside are great way to start adding movement back into your life. The focus should be on being present in the moment and enjoying the experience. 

Avoid Tracking
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but stay away from any tracking devices that measure your output. We all know how much the eating disorder thrives off numbers and calculations; so just don’t give it fuel. 

Keep It Social
Rather than going for a walk (or other activity) alone, make plans with a friend. This adds to the experience and shifts the focus to social connection, rather than exercise.

Find a Recovery Oriented Activity

When incorporating exercise into your recovery, I would avoid starting with any exercise that you did when you were actively engaging in eating disorder symptoms. Try something new.

Also, it is important to find an activity that is recovery-oriented. If you are taking a workout class, research the class and instructor beforehand. I cannot tell you how many classes I’ve walked out of (or just never gone back to) because the instructors fed into toxic, diet-culture. Doing research won’t prevent you from walking into a toxic, diet-culture filled class, but it can help you weed out overt offenders.

Stay Mindful
We all know how sneaky the eating disorder can be, especially in early stages of recovery. If you notice a disordered thought, practice reframing so that it reflects your values. For example, if you notice your mind going to a place of ‘I should do more,’ reframe by saying something like, ‘This is enough for where I am at right now. I am enjoying spending time with my friend and feeling connected.’

Salina Grilli is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.