Physical activity offers many benefits such as improving physical health, reducing the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, and boosting mood1, 2. However, disordered eating often impacts one’s relationship with movement by making it excessive or punitive, and many individuals struggle to exercise in a way that supports their recovery. While incorporating mindful movement into recovery can be challenging, it can also offer healing, empowerment, and connection. 

Mindful movement is strongly tied to intuitive eating, a practice that involves listening to bodily cues and is often beneficial to those experiencing disordered eating3. Similarly to hunger and fullness cues, the body also provides signals around movement and rest, and paying attention to these cues can help individuals decide if and how they choose to engage in movement4

Here are five tips for healing your relationship with movement and incorporating it into your recovery. 

  • Ask yourself why you’re doing it. Consider the motivation behind your desire to exercise. Are you exercising to change your body or burn off calories? Will you feel guilty if you don’t exercise? Are you exercising because it improves your well-being and makes you feel better? Knowing your motivation and shifting it from compensation to joy can improve your relationship with movement. 
  • Find what type of movement feels joyful. Some people enjoy forms of movement such as cardio or strength exercises, while others find joy in recreational sports or outdoor activities. Additionally, exercising with a friend or a group may be more fun than exercising alone—group fitness classes can be a great way to do this. 
  • Be willing to set limits. Setting limits can help prevent excessive or disordered exercise. If you are unwilling to stick to limits or push your body beyond what feels comfortable, reconsider your motivation. 
  • Don’t be afraid to take breaks and rest days. Pay attention to your body’s cues about needing rest, and remember that there is nothing wrong with taking days off. Allowing your body the time to rest can also help prevent excessive or disordered exercise. 
  • Set recovery-oriented goals. Consider goals unrelated to body size/shape/weight or calorie expenditure. It is also essential to practice flexibility around these goals and offer yourself grace if you don’t meet them. 

While these tips can help you evaluate your relationship with movement, it is important to remember that engaging in movement may not be appropriate for every individual at every time4. Consider working with a registered dietician or primary care provider to explore your body’s readiness for movement and learn how to properly fuel it. 

References 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, August 1). Benefits of physical activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm\ 
  1. Department of Health & Human Services. (2015, September 18). Exercise and mental health. Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/exercise-and-mental-health 
  1. 10 principles of intuitive eating. Intuitive Eating. (2019, December 19). https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/ 
  1. Frazee, H. (2023, July 10). Things your body is telling you about your movement needs. National Alliance for Eating Disorders. https://www.allianceforeatingdisorders.com/movement-needs/ 
  1. Green, L. (2021, February 18). 7 Ways to Heal your Relationship with Exercise and Movement. SELF. https://www.self.com/story/heal-relationship-with-fitness 

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By Katherine Matthes  

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