Thursday, May 11, 2017

Physical Activity in Recovery

Recently, a reader contacted me to weigh in on physical activity among those with compulsive exercising and/or disordered-eating tendencies. I figured my thoughts might be useful to others:

1) Usually, if someone can't do something without it becoming obsessive/addictive, it's time to stop it for a while and regroup.

2) Those in recovery who begin or resume an exercise program will need to increase their intake to fuel their bodies. Dietitians can help with this.

3) I've found that some people have to cut out exercise as they know it and define things in a different way - i.e., choosing something that hasn't been triggering before. Often, an activity (e.g., a yoga class) that is different AND has set parameter involved can help. Some of my patients can't exercise on their own but can stick to a predetermined number of classes/week (and respect the time limits of these classes). 

4) Accountability is useful. Honest reporting to a therapist - setting intentions and then figuring out what worked and what didn't - is a valuable tool. Checking in with a therapist, or a friend/family member, before/after a workout can help (in the addictions world, it's called "book-ending").

5) If all this fails, and every single effort turns into compulsive or disordered exercise, then I'd say it's more unhealthy to exercise than not and recommend abstaining, at least until something else is in place (e.g., medication, a significant course of therapy, etc.) Exercising to the point of injury or illness  - or in a manner which threatens treatment gains - is disordered, and if it can't be done in a healthier way, it needs to be tabled in the name of health/recovery.

You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at