Having just come back from the Eating Disorder in Sport Conference put on by the Victory Program at McCallum Place, I am all jazzed up about this topic of exercise and eating disorders.
Here’s the thing, if you are “running on empty” – that is, exercising without adequately fueling your body – then it is only a matter of time before you crash and burn, because your body and your psyche will eventually break down.
Some signs of disordered exercise:
- Exercising without enough nutrition for fuel
- Continuing to work out despite pain or injury
- Not listening to your body – being disconnected from it
- Letting exercise perpetually take precedence over other things in your life, such as socializing
- Exercising in a rigid or ritualistic way, with limited flexibility to change up your routine due to how you feel, the weather, your schedule, travel, illness, etc.
- If an athlete, exercising beyond what is required by your coach or athletic trainer
- Feeling guilty for not exercising, or for not doing enough exercise (time or intensity)
Notice any themes here? These are characteristics of exercise that are encouraged and praised by our culture. If someone declares, “I ran a marathon this weekend with a tear in my hamstring,” others will marvel at how “tough” that person is and give them kudos for doing it. It’s also not uncommon for coaches, gyms and personal trainers to push people to the point of exhaustion and vomiting during workouts. A former collegiate athlete at the conference spoke to how this was routine on her team, and it wasn’t considered a hard enough workout unless you puked.
Finding peace with exercise
If you are realizing that you have a disordered or dysfunctional relationship with exercise, then good for you. Seeing it opens the door to changing it. My favorite tips come from Dr. Beth Hartman McGilley from Witchita, Kansas. She loves to guide people towards “intuitive exercise” which is about listening to your body and finding joy in movement.
- Have fun! Think recess not boot camp. Be playful, curious, adventurous – like a kid.
- Exercise because you want to – not because you “have to” or “should.”
- Include variety and recreational activities such as hiking or kayaking.
- Get outside!
- Don’t watch the clock – stop when you feel fulfilled.
- Stay hydrated. Replace electrolytes with a sports beverage if you are sweating heavily.
- Fuel your body.
- Stop if it hurts. Don’t exercise if you are injured. Nurture your body.
- Spend some time sitting quietly and checking in with your body. Yoga is great for this.
- Respond to your body’s needs with compassion.
- Respect your body’s need for rest.
- Monitor your motives for exercise – if it becomes about burning calories or controlling your weight or shape, then take a break or try a different type of activity.
As human beings, we are meant to move our bodies.
As our world has become increasingly technologically sophisticated, we’ve also become less mobile because there are fewer built in opportunities for movement. So movement has become a less intrinsic part of daily living. Think of the people who used to work all day on the farm, and the women who manually made their own bread and butter, and did laundry by hand. We just don’t do these things anymore.
The conveniences of modern living open the door to more recreational types of movement, because we aren’t having to do as many practical things. Culturally, our solution to this has been gyms. My problem with gyms is that they are such an artificial environment. The types of movement being promoted are very mechanistic, and driven by the computer screen on the equipment or the number of reps on the weights. How about getting outside and doing something FUN and playful in nature?
Outside there is a plethora of things to do with our bodies, and we get the benefit of the sensory aspects of being in nature – the sights, the sounds, feeling of the breeze, the smells of the outdoors, the sun and clouds, the feeling of the different terrain under our feet. There’s something really therapeutic about this experience.
Consider playing around with these ideas and shaking up your workout routine. Have fun with it, and don’t forget to listen to your body. It holds so much wisdom if we tune in.
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