How Much Should You Exercise While Recovering From an Eating Disorder


When recovering from an eating disorder the restoration of weight may be a primary goal. This often means a cessation of all exercise. To an avid sports enthusiast, this can cause severe psychological trauma.

Some questions about exercise

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 was I was just trying to burn calories? I still don’t know the answer to that question.

In recovery, exercise can still be something you can do for fun. It can allow you to become connected to your body and improve your mental health.

Many forms of exercise

Strength building can help maintain healthy bones. As someone who is of lower weight through nutritional deprivation, I am at higher risk of a reduced bone density. When your body is starving, nutrients are drawn out of the bones to ensure the body’s essential processes can be maintained. Strength exercises is best to be done initially at body weight. Using a personal trainer to ensure that you are not pushing yourself beyond your limits.

I found an amazing personal trainer who helped me increase my nutritional intake to enable me to fulfil my trail-running-love dream again. One really useful tool was sharing photos of our meals and snacks. This allowed me to see what is “normal” in terms of quantities and variations.

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 muscle damage.

Weight is much more complex than just calories in / calories out.

Nutrients are digested and energy expended by the body. Complications such as digestive disorders can complicate this equation. I have celiac disease. This means 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

Most of all, exercise should be an enjoyable and self-compassionate activity. It can allow you to connect with yourself, others, and the environment. I enjoy trail running and it helps my recovery because I know I need to build up my body reserves in order to enjoy it.

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