Tag Archive | exercise

What Does Recovery Look Like?

The second in the series of three questions I am asked the most is:

“What does recovery look like?”

Answer: Wow! I have changed my answer to this question over the years. In my opinion, recovery is a highly personal “picture”. Recovery to one person will look differently than to another. I’d love your answers, in addition to my own!

In my opinion, recovery doesn’t mean being a perfect eater. Recovery doesn’t mean having a preconceived body size. Recovery doesn’t mean eating to be a certain weight or size.

Recovery means consistently not using food behaviors to cope and communicate your needs and desires, because you have developed more effective healthy ways to cope and express yourself.

Recovery means never dieting.  That’s right! You can never diet again. This is such a challenging area for many people. So very often, clients say to me “Normal people diet. Normal people manipulate their bodies. Normal people overexercise. Normal people use diet pills. How come they can do these things and I can’t?”

“Normal” people don’t have a mental illness where any or all of these behaviors are symptoms of the illness, and when engaging in these behaviors are expressing symptoms of the illness and thus making it worse.

It is not “normal” to do any of those things. Just because something is common, doesn’t mean it is “normal” and it definitely doesn’t make it good or right or healthy or something to aspire to. In my opinion, recovery means not restricting, bingeing and purging, using other substances (diet pills etc), compulsive exercise behaviors, or any type of harmful behavior (even “mildly”).

Once you have an eating disorder, you are VULNERABLE to all things that “normal” people engage in related to food/exercise. That isn’t your fault. It is simply a side effect of having an eating disorder.

Even when you are in a healthy place in your recovery, certain behaviors will still put you at risk. Dieting, for example, is the number one behavior that triggers eating disordered thoughts and can be a catalyst sending you right back into your illness. So you can never diet again…ever. Recovery means redefining “normal”.

How does exercise fit into recovery? Again, remember that you are vulnerable. Exercise (even if it has never been a part of your illness) can be tricky. Everyone knows that movement is good for people. When you have a history of an eating disorder, you have to be attentive to the purpose behind the desire to exercise. If you are healthy and you exercise, you have to be cautious that the purpose doesn’t switch from being healthy to “feeding” your illness. Be honest with yourself and set healthy goals for your exercise. Make sure it doesn’t take on a level of importance where it becomes a “job” or a “behavior”.

Recovery means having a peaceful relationship with food. Food is an essential part of life, but when you are in recovery, food doesn’t occupy all your thoughts. In recovery, you think about food in a neutral or positive way. You don’t have strict black and white rules regarding food, unless medically necessary.

Recovery doesn’t mean having a perfectly happy existence. But, your worst day well will still be better than your best day sick because you won’t be sick and your life will be REAL. Life has ups and downs. Life is difficult at times and joyous at times. Your eating disorder just makes life more difficult on every level, in every way. So, without it, your life ultimately will be less difficult. You will also feel all your feelings – the positive ones and the negative ones. Your feelings are essential, and feeling themwon’t kill you!

Think of all the things you cannot do because of your illness. You will have the opportunity to do any of these things, if you choose, when you are in recovery.  It is freedom.

Recovery means practicing different forms of regular, consistent self-care. Everyone has different ideas of how they can practice this. For some, self care involves having hobbies like reading, blogging, knitting, or doing crossword puzzles. Others like to have creative outlets like singing, painting, playing a musical instrument, or other art forms. Some like listening to inspirational music every day. Whatever you consider self-care, you need to do it regularly.

Recovery is whatever you want it to be. It’s your life. Define it. You only get one life, make it the best one it can be! It’s worth going for!!!


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Exercise? How much is too much?

Exercise is good for you, right???

No one would ever say “Don’t exercise! It’s bad for your health!” Well, there are definite advantages to exercising…production of endorphins, better sleep, better circulation, etc. Too much of a good thing though, can be harmful and/or life threatening.

This article illustrates the dangers of exercise addiction.

Remember, a “healthy” exerciser takes care of his/her body, knows how much is too much, and balances exercise with healthy eating and other healthy aspects of life.

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Vic Avon on FOX Focus: Male eating disorders

Click below to read the story on Fox 23 News
FOX Focus: Male eating disorders

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To Exercise or Not to Exercise? That is the Question!

Everyone knows that exercise is good for you, right? It increases your energy, helps reduce stress and anxiety, improves sleep, enhances immunity, lowers your risk of certain diseases, strengthens bones, etc. BUT, when you have an eating disorder, exercise is a complex, tricky issue that is often misunderstood and downplayed.

Depending on what type of disorder you may have, and your exercise history, exercise needs to be viewed and approached delicately, yet appropriately.

First, there are those of you who may exercise as a compulsion to appease your eating disorder. You may even think you like to exercise, but your eating disorder is guiding what you do, how much, and when. If you miss a day of exercise, your anxiety level is unbearable because your eating disorder makes the rules regarding food and exercise. You may also use all different types of activities as “exercise” because you are afraid to sit and relax. Exercise, for you, has lost its positive value and has become part of your eating disorder.

Then, there are those of you who may be like the sufferers mentioned above and whose weight is unhealthfully low. You may be exercising in a body that is in need of rest and nourishment, and does not need the stress that exercise places on it. Truthfully, if you are exercising in a body that isn’t well fed or healthy as a result of your eating disorder, you are hurting your body further. Unfortunately, you aren’t strengthening it or getting any of the health benefits that I mentioned above. In this case, you are much better off abstaining from exercise and resting your body until it is naturally stronger and better nourished.

There are those of you who have exercised only when trying to lose weight. Exercise has been completely linked with weight loss or dieting. Whenever you think of exercise, it may remind you of restrictive eating, deprivation, and as a means to an end. Your thoughts about exercise may not be related to the achievement of stamina, bone strength, stress reduction, but more in terms of weight loss and body changes. When you are on a “diet”, you are exercising, and when you are off your “diet” you are not moving and the thought of exercise is revolting. You have rarely, if ever, exercised for stress reduction. In fact, the entire subject of exercise causes you stress.

There are those of you who have never been much of an exerciser, before or during your eating disorder. It’s never been your preference and you like it that way.

There are many more scenarios than those mentioned above. Everyone has their own personal history with exercise/movement and needs to handle the issue with care, insight and support.

Ultimately, what is the solution to the exercise dilemma? First, it is imperative that you discuss the issue with your treatment team to understand the complexities of the issue and to determine if or how exercise is woven into your eating disorder.

  1. If you are in a body that is malnourished and/or if your eating is restrictive or you are using eating disordered behaviors that cause you to be dehydrated, you definitely need to have the permission of your treatment team before you exercise and you need to be medically monitored.
  2.  If you have been medically cleared by your team, then you must to be very careful and conservative with your choices of exercise, frequency, intensity and duration. You can re-address your goals periodically with your team. You want to make healthy, reasonable rules for exercise and keep your eating disorder from changing the rules.
  3. If you have exercised only during times when you’ve been on a diet, you need to be very careful and selective with the type of exercise you choose to do. You may be very “resistant” to exercise due to a number of reasons we won’t discuss here. You may not want to choose to do the types of exercise you had done in the past because they may remind you too much of those restrictive times. It would be a good idea to find a very therapeutic form of movement that feels “safe” and non-threatening because it cannot feel like you are doing it for weight loss purposes.
  4. If it is medically safe for you to exercise but you haven’t exercised in a while, it is better to start off at a reasonable level so that you can manage without getting injured.
  5. If you don’t like exercise, or have never exercised, then you may enjoy activities that are non-traditional forms of exercise or those that involve socializing like bowling, ballroom dancing, horseback riding, or martial arts.
  6. At the first signs of exercise feeling disordered, bringing up negative feelings, or causing injury, it is wise to stop, discuss with your treatment team and medical professional before you continue.
  7. If you don’t want to exercise, understand that there’s no “exercise police” to disapprove of your choice. If, or when you are interested in discussing it as an option, your trusted treatment professional will help you.

With my clients, I am very careful in how we approach the issue. My main concerns are medical safety, psychological readiness and preventing exercise from triggering or exacerbating the eating disorder. The forms of exercise I recommend the most are those that make my clients feel invigorated, but not body obsessed.

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