Exercise can be a great tool to help you through eating disorder recovery, but my experience has shown me the thin, blurry line between healthy exercise and over-exercise in eating disorder recovery. In recent weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic and my mental health fall-out has revealed just how much of my self-worth has been wrapped up in my workouts. It was a sobering realization and one I vowed to change.
I had no intention of being someone who unrolls a mat in a candlelit room and chants, "Namaste," with my palms entwined at heart's center, but this is me nonetheless—yoga is now part of my eating disorder recovery, and I am thankful for the conduit of healing it's become. I have a long, complicated—and, at times, unhealthy—relationship with exercise. I am also an intense, feisty, and energetic person by nature which means that my workouts often match this intensity, but one exercise that I never imagined I would feel such a profound, almost sacred connection to is yoga.
For those of us who have or have had eating disorders, the feeling of a full stomach can be an extremely disconcerting sensation. Sitting after a meal while feeling full can cause anxiety and guilt. I've been in recovery for nearly a decade and I still sometimes struggle with feeling full, but learning how to be okay with being full was an important step in my eating disorder (ED) recovery.
Loving yourself through an eating disorder relapse is important because, if you have experience with an eating disorder, then you know firsthand that the recovery process is not a linear route. Instead, it's full of detours and obstacles, forward motions and backward stumbles. Sometimes there are victories, but other times, a relapse can occur—and when it almost inevitably does, the question then becomes: How do you love yourself through that eating disorder relapse?
Why wouldn't exercise have a place in eating disorder recovery? There's no denying that bodies are designed for movement. In fact, exercise offers health benefits that we need in order to thrive, both physically and mentally. Being active helps us manage stress, boost our moods and feel more energized. It redirects our attention off social media or smartphones, so we can be mindful of how our breathing deepens, muscles contract and bodies function. When used for balance, enjoyment and wellness, exercise is a positive lifestyle choice. But for those of us recovering from eating disorders, exercise could turn into a compulsion.
Eating trigger foods in your eating disorder recovery can feel terrifying at first. The reason the foods are trigger foods in the first place is because they cause anxiety and trigger the neural pathway to act on our eating disorder pattern, whatever it may be. Eating trigger foods as a part of your recovery can be a freeing process.
At some point in your eating disorder recovery, you will need to release anger. Recovery is an interesting process and it can also be tough. When anger comes up, it’s important to know how to handle it so that it doesn’t get stuck in your body and trigger eating disorder patterns (How to Channel Anger Constructively). Take a look at these helpful suggestions to help you release anger as it arises in your eating disorder recovery.
Art can be an important coping tool in your eating disorder recovery. Eating disorders thrive on rigidity. They tell us what to eat, what not to eat, how much to run, when we’ll starve, purge, or hide away from the world. Eating disorders are built on control and structure (Anorexia: A New Form of Control). Art can be flexible and fluid. Art can be wild, spacious, and free. Art can be what we want it to be. This is why art as a coping tool in eating disorder recovery is even more important to have on our side.
Each year, as the New Year rolls around, millions of us with eating disorders set our resolutions. One of the number one American resolutions is to exercise more, with gym memberships spiking in January and then waning soon after. Despite good intentions, many people’s motivation falls to the wayside with nothing more than a shrug. However, for those with eating disorders, resolutions involving our weight or bodies can make for a dangerous year (Are Your New Year’s Resolutions Aiding Your Eating Disorder Recovery?). Here’s how not to set a New Year’s resolutions with an eating disorder.
Everyone with an eating disorder believes in one, sacred lie. This lie is the superficial reason that the eating disorder started. This lie is the reason that girls and boys, women and men, will turn their lives into a confetti of chaos. This lie is the reason that every moment is rife with obsession or shame and the reason that we torture and destroy our bodies in unhealthy ways. It’s the reason we distance ourselves from our friends and family and isolate in our own personal hell. This is the eating disorder lie that destroys us