Lessons from Personal Training in ED Recovery

June 16, 2023 Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

In a previous article, I wrote about feeling anxious about starting my first session with a personal trainer. But now that I am two months into the program, I have to admit there are many clear benefits to working with a certified professional who knows much more about fitness and nutrition than I do. It has been a challenge, but under her instruction, I am slowly learning how to create a balanced relationship with exercise. I can even see myself building stamina, resilience, strength, and athleticism. Here are some of the lessons from personal training that also help me out in ED recovery.     

5 Personal Training Lessons I Find Helpful in ED Recovery

  1. It's about the quality of a session, not the quantity of repetitions. Before I started working with a personal trainer, I thought it was normal to do a minimum of 50 repetitions for each exercise in a workout routine. But my trainer disagrees—in fact, she rarely assigns more than 15 repetitions at a time. This is hard to acclimate to, but instead of fixating on the arbitrary number of repetitions, she encourages me to focus on the correct form, the physical sensations, the muscle contractions, and the amount of resistance. Despite what I used to believe, it is possible to be efficient and achieve results with fewer repetitions. 
  2. Fitness doesn't equal thinness—the two should not be conflated. When my eating disorder is in control, I associate exercise with my outward appearance. If I remain small, then the workout was a success. If I notice any bloating or bulkiness afterward, then I obviously need to put in more effort next time. Even as I type those sentences, I recognize the toxicity of this mindset, so thanks to my trainer, I am learning to re-frame that inaccurate definition of fitness. Although my first impulse is to measure the outcome based on how thin I look, she challenges me to think about how healthy, energetic, vibrant, and capable I feel.   
  3. The body talks, so be patient with its limits and listen to its needs. Both my partner and I love to hike—it's one of our favorite activities to do together. But he has been healing from an injury for several months, which has considerably impacted how often we have hit the trails so far this year. I still prefer intense, strenuous activities, but as I watch my trainer continue to help my husband ease back into shape, I can also see the value in slowing down. It's beneficial to set a methodical, intentional pace and make rest a priority. 
  4. Change does not have to be immediate—progress is incremental. My trainer is aware that I am not much of a breakfast person. So during our most recent session, she asked if I would be willing to increase my protein intake in the morning. But she also emphasized that if I do not feel quite ready to make this adjustment, we can incrementally work towards it. As someone with her own eating disorder history, she knows just how overwhelming nutritional shifts can be, and I appreciate that she never tries to rush or pressure me.   
  5. Being humble and coachable matters, both in ED recovery and life. This personal training journey has shown me that I am not the leading fitness authority I once believed myself to be. An eating disorder can cause inflated superiority to take root, but this process is teaching me a lesson in humility. I do not have to feel shame when I need assistance, instruction, motivation, or encouragement—I can simply ask for it. I also do not have to pretend that I know everything—I can accept my trainer's advice or feedback graciously. After all, I hired her to coach me (not the other way around), so I might as well listen to her expertise. 

Stay Tuned for More Personal Training Lessons in ED Recovery

After just a couple of months, I am already noticing a balanced, positive shift in my habits around exercise. I realize that hiring a personal trainer is a financial privilege that not everyone can afford, so I want to be mindful of this fact—and I do not want to prescribe it as a one-size-fits-all solution. But this caveat aside, it has been beneficial for me, and I hope you will come back in the future as I share more lessons from personal training in ED recovery.     

APA Reference
Schurrer, M. (2023, June 16). Lessons from Personal Training in ED Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 20 from

Author: Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

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