When recovering from an eating disorder the importance of the restoration of a healthy weight is the primary goal. This predominantly means a cessation of all exercise, and to an avid sports enthusiast, this can cause severe psychological trauma. Ultimately, is the exercise life threatening or will the cessation of exercise do more harm than good? It also depends on what the purpose of the mode of exercise is. It may be trail walking/running, out in the countryside, with a mindful element that is essentially improving mental health.
This is my soul filling exercise choice: there’s nothing better for me than to go on a long trail run amongst the trees and wildlife. Alternatively, it may be solely for burning calories and weight loss which may be detrimental to both my physical and mental health. I have done sessions on a cross trainer in the past to maintain fitness for running when injured, but ultimately I had to ask myself if the amount I did was truly necessary or that I was just trying to burn calories. I still don’t know the answer to that question. If one of the goals of recovery is healthy weight management then the exercise element still needs to be something you can do for fun, allowing you to become connected to your body and improve your mental health.
The form of exercise is also important. Strength building exercises are important for maintaining healthy bones. As someone who is of lower weight through nutritional deprivation, I am at higher risk of a reduced bone density as the nutrients are drawn out of the bones to ensure the body’s essential processes can be maintained. Strength exercises would best be done initially at body weight, and using a personal trainer to ensure that you are not pushing yourself beyond your limits.
I have found an amazing personal trainer who is also helping me to increase my nutritional intake to enable me to fulfil my trail-running-love dream again. One really useful tool has been us sharing photos of our meals and snacks. This allows me to see what is “normal” in terms of quantities and variations. It could be easy to fall into a comparison trap, but since she is a meat eater and I’m a pescatarian this is not the case for us.
Cardiovascular exercise, such as walking to get slightly out of breath, benefits the body as a whole but the energy used by the body will need to be replaced. After exercising, it is beneficial to consume food/drinks high in protein to speed up the repair of the muscle damage. I have been using a protein shot which is like strawberry yogurt as it’s easy to consume without filling me up.
Weight management is a complicated area and much more complex than just calories in / calories out. It essentially boils down to nutrients digested and energy expended by the body. Therefore, complications such as digestive disorders can complicate this equation. I have celiac disease, and after 10 years of misdiagnosis, my gut is not healthy. This means that I am now eating more of the foods I know are digested well and gradually starting to build in other foods; i.e graded exposure.
The most important part of exercise, is that it needs to be and enjoyable and self-compassionate activity, allowing you to connect with yourself, others, and the environment. For me, this is trail running and I will attend an event in Costa Rica next year. This excites me as it will be in the jungle and it helps my recovery as I know I need to build up my body reserves to be able to complete it successfully.