Eating Disorder Recovery: Heal Your Relationship with Movement

A question we often ask potential new clients in our intake calls is about their relationship to exercise. We ask: How closely do you associate exercise with weight loss? We find that it’s quite common to have a challenging relationship with exercise when you have disordered eating.

Consider your relationship with movement as a spectrum. On one end is having an obsession with exercise, and on the other is a strong resistance to exercise.

Where do you fall on that spectrum? If you find yourself on one end or the other and would like to exist in a more moderate middle ground—where you’re led by intuition more than punishment or avoidance—here are a couple of tips to move in that direction.

Find your “why”

Start out by reflecting on this simple question: “What forms of physical activity would I like to do?” If there was nothing holding you back, what activities would you like to engage in, either on a regular basis or even just to try out?

Be creative and consider that physical activity isn’t just sport. It can include self-massage, stretching, gardening, cleaning, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

In your head, in your journal, or with a friend or therapist, consider what draws you to each activity. How does it make you feel? What are some specific aspects of the activity that you are drawn to? If it’s a team sport, maybe you enjoy the synergy of working together with teammates.

Maybe you enjoy the “ping” and “bounce” sounds of a tennis ball getting hit back and forth. Or the feeling of adrenaline after running. The feeling of freedom on the dance floor. The calm at the end of a yoga class. The extra time to mentally “arrive” and acclimate to a place when you park farther from the entrance.

If your thoughts turn to how the activity may affect the look of your body, acknowledge and allow those thoughts, but continue to explore other reasons you enjoy doing it. The goal here is to connect with the feelings and sensations that the activity brings you while you are engaging in it—not how many calories it might burn.

Reflecting on specific details you appreciate about an activity can give you a “why” for engaging that is not so focused on your physical appearance.

Before doing the activity, remind yourself of some of the things you appreciate about it. For example, if you enjoy hiking, you can say: “When I hike after work, I love being able to see the sunset from a beautiful vantage point. I also like how it’s getting easier for me to walk up that hill without getting out of breath. It makes me feel strong.”

Make time to make it happen

For those who are on the resistant side of the spectrum, setting aside a specific time each week on your calendar for exercise can be helpful to create the space to cultivate exercise as a habit.

It’s not so important to exercise in that time slot every time. It’s about building space in your schedule so that you are able to have that dialog with yourself on a regular basis: Would exercise feel good right now?

Just as with intuitive eating, it is important to be flexible. Give yourself permission to consider whether you truly feel like that type of movement is what your body needs. Maybe you need a rest day today—especially if a part of your body is feeling sore or tired. Maybe there is another activity that sounds better.

Intuitive movement and intuitive eating are fantastic areas to explore no matter where you are on your journey to heal disordered eating.

At Evolve Wellness Group, we have clinicians available to work with you who have experience helping clients heal from eating disorders through a variety of techniques, including movement therapy.

If you are struggling to heal disordered eating or would like to improve your relationship with movement, we invite you to get in touch for a complimentary 15-minute intake call.