Healthy vs Unhealthy EXERCISE // Eating Disorder Recovery

In today’s post, I will talk about how to restore our relationship with exercise. What is a healthy vs unhealthy mindset and how to make exercise sustainable to maintain long-term so it supports your physical and mental health rather than making it worse. Hope you find it helpful! 🙂


Should you exercise in recovery?

For eating disorder recovery, in general, I recommend taking a break from exercise.

Because for physical recovery, besides eating enough, rest is the second most important thing.

If you come from a past of eating disorder then you have already been through a lot of stress.

Stress from not eating enough, from compensating calories either with purging or overexercising, doing different diets, and engaging in various eating disorder behaviors and that is all very damaging for the body and puts you in a starvation state.

And because of all this, you have compromised metabolism, digestion, maybe some of you have lost your period. Your organs and even your brain have suffered the consequences of malnutrition.  Your body is in a caloric depth when you come from an eating disorder.

And your body needs a lot of calories and rest to heal from this.

And with this state ADDING exercise that burns calories and requires more energy from the body, when you are already lacking it, it will just put breaks on the healing process.

Plus, exercise for many people in eating disorder recovery is also feeding the disordered mindset.

We first have to restore our relationship with our body and exercise before we can truly engage in exercise in a healthy way.

We first have to restore our relationship with our body and exercise before we can truly engage in exercise in a healthy way.

And whether or not you are ready to exercise really depends on the state of your physical and mental health and it’s all very individual. But take into account everything I just shared and make the best choice for you.

And please also read my book where I talk more about exercise.

Healthy vs unhealthy mindset with exercise

Exercise in and of itself is not unhealthy. Exercise by itself doesn’t cause us harm, but what really hurts us is how we do it, what focus and goals we set with it, and what relationship we have with it.

And people who come from eating disorders very often have a disordered relationships with exercise and fitness.

Maybe we were conditioned to focus mostly on some form of appearance-related goal with exercise.

  • Either to lose or control our weight…
  • to “look good” or “get toned”…
  • or even just seeing exercise as a way to “burn calories” or to “not feel guilty after eating”.

These can be very harmful messages and goals for exercise that pave the way to a disordered relationship with exercise and contribute to unhealthy body image.

All these messages also reinforce body objectification that is very important to change if you want to have a healthy mindset with exercise.

What is body objectification and how it interferes with our relationship with healthy exercise?

Body objectification is about valuing a human body or your body mostly based on how it looks.

We forget our value as a whole human being and we downgrade our worth to how we look.

Also, we forget to see our bodies as this amazing complex multi-dimensional organ that keeps us alive, that helps us move around in this world and is actually our home, and we judge our bodies’ worthiness based on how much we weigh and based on our size and appearance.

We see our body rather as an accessory to be looked at and not as a tool to be used to help us engage and participate in this world.

With body objectification, we dehumanize ourselves and see our bodies as mare objects. And this really damages our body image, contributes to low self-esteem and worthiness.

When we are doing exercise mostly for appearance-related goals and evaluating fitness mostly based on how we look then it is feeding the diet culture mindset that says our body should look a certain way to be “fit and healthy”.

When we are doing exercise mostly for appearance-related goals and evaluating fitness mostly based on how we look then it is feeding the diet culture mindset that says our body should look a certain way to be “fit and healthy”.

So unhealthy exercise is mostly focused on how your body LOOKS…

… and healthy exercising is mostly focused on how you FEEL in your body.

Next I will give you some examples of healthy and unhealthy mindset with exercise.

Healthy exercise

  • Healthy exercise comes from a mindset of honoring your body with movement that feels enjoyable and fun.
  • This type of exercise is possible to maintain long-term without negative consequences to your physical or mental health.
  • The focus is rather self-care where exercise gives us stamina and strength, it boosts our mood.
  • We listen to our body signals, giving it enough calories and nutrition to fuel the exercise.
  • And we also provide adequate rest, recovery, and restoration time that is also part of healthy exercise and fitness.
  • Exercise doesn’t need to be strenuous for it to “count” we can move our body with dancing, hiking, playing sports, or any other type of body movement.
  • We set fitness or exercise goals outside of appearance-related goals. We use our body rather as a tool where exercise can be used for feeling good in our bodies and we don’t see our body as a bare accessory that needs to change with exercise to “look good”. 
  • We have no problem with skipping exercise when we feel we need more rest or when life happens and we are very flexible with exercise.

Unhealthy exercise

  • We exercise out of guilt and shame.
  • This type of exercise is not sustainable to keep up with long-term. It can take a toll on our health whether physically or mentally and lead to burnout.
  • We use exercise primarily as a way to “burn calories” or to compensate for the food we ate.
  • It fuels our restrictive mindset and comes from self-hate and self-judgment.
  • We don’t honor our bodies’ needs with adequate daily fuel and nutrition.
  • And we don’t provide our body with enough rest, recovery, and restoration time.
  • We force ourselves to exercise even when tired or with an injury.
  • We rather choose a strenuous exercise that “burns more calories” and leaves our muscles sore and achy. And unless we are exhausted after a workout then we feel it “doesn’t count”.
  • Unhealthy exercise is all about setting exercise and fitness goals mostly around our appearance. Needing to see the results in our weight changes or looking “toned”.
  • We are very rigid with setting rules around exercise and feel anxious and guilty when we can’t exercise or have a change in schedule.

And these are all just some examples of healthy and unhealthy mindsets with exercise.

And I have actually made a PDF with 12 differences between healthy vs unhealthy exercise.

And this file is free for you to download HERE.

And keep in mind there is always room for some individuality because what might be healthy for some, is not healthy for someone else.

Exercise and fitness is not about how you look, but how you feel.

Don’t focus on your body’s appearance but rather focus on things like feeling strong in your body, enjoying the energy boost from your workouts, engaging in a fun activity, and just doing what makes you FEEL good in your body.

Exercise and fitness are so much more than just looking a certain way.

And having a healthy mindset with exercise is so important because then you make exercise sustainable for you long-term where it actually SUPPORTS your physical and mental health, rather than making it worse.

And if you want to know more about recovery and how to do it step by step then please read my book “BrainwashED”

If you wish to work with me one one one, then I offer 12-Week Recovery Coaching where I can help you go through your recovery step by step and offer support and accountability. Read more and apply HERE.

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