National Eating Disorders Association

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Obsessive Exercise

Hello all,

I've had an eating disorder for five years. One item that came with this is the need to exercise every day. I would exercise through physical pain, injuries, and in in dangerous conditions (a few days paddling in lightning storms) but could not stop. This continued for three years up until my body began to break down. I ran marathons initially (four in one year) until I tore my achilles tendon. I moved to stand up paddling until I strained my back. I continued to exercise and my body went down hill until the only exercise I could tolerate was hiking. I was recently released from the hospital, due to the repercussions from my eating disorder (see my post in the "working towards recovery" forum), and am resting until I'm through recovery.

When I recover I do intend to get back to exercising but would really like some advice so that I do not hurt myself again. Has anyone else experienced this? Any recommendations on seeking help or strategies to convince one's self it is time to rest?

Thanks in advance for your help.

This is a great question, and

This is a great question, and I think it's commendable that you are planning on how to handle the tricky topic of exercise habits already.

Most importantly, I think it's a great idea to talk to a doctor about his/her recommended exercise plan for you. Deciding to trust my doctor to set some guidelines and then following those guidelines accordingly has taken some of the ambiguity and confusion out of it for me. This might also be a question to ask a mental health professional as well - s/he might be able to help you figure out strategies and techniques to help you limit/be mindful about how often and how long you exercise.

Good luck, and congratulations on your decision to begin your recovery!

Reply to PianoGirl

Hello PianoGirl,

I've put it down as something to discuss with my therapist. Thanks so much for your help with this.

Are you (or anyone else reading this) an athlete? I've never been any good at stopping when an injury creeps into my work out. Typically, I just keep going which results in making the injury worse. Any signs to look out for which should be interpreted as it is time to stop?


Yes, actually, I'm an athlete

Yes, actually, I'm an athlete and can relate to your challenge personally. I think we sometimes train ourselves to keep going harder in the face of any obstacle, often at the expense of our physical well-being.

I defer to whatever your doctor tells you. My doctor was able to provide an approximate range of time I should be exercising for, and how often - I find that when I follow some hard time limits, the chances of injury are greatly reduced. I've also had a lot of success with mindfulness techniques - for instance, checking in with your body periodically throughout your workout and sort of doing a mental "scan" of your well-being. When it's time to stop for me, I notice general fatigue or tension somewhere specific such as my ankles. It has taken some practice, but it has really helped me. Again, you should follow your doctor's recommendations, this is just what has worked for me.

You're welcome! Hope it helps!

Reply to PianoGirl

Hello PianoGirl,

Yes, we tend to push our bodies beyond their physical limits for a few reasons. For me, it was about staying exceptionally fit and to get that great athletic high. When it comes to staying athletically fit I recognize now my personal expectations are so high pushing to meet them has resulted in too many injuries. Putting limits on exercise times is a great suggestion.

When it comes to your suggestion for mindfulness techniques, can you recommend any books or online publications? I'll certainly take your recommendation to speak with my doctors to develop a schedule as well.

Thanks so much for sharing!

RE Healthymindandbody

Hello Healthymindandbody!

I agree with PianoGirl, it might be best to talk to a physician about your concerns and for suggestions. A therapist may be able to assist with mindfulness if you have one? We cannot support the promotion or advertisements of books or websites, but I think a therapist may be able to help you with these questions. I encourage you to keep posting and hope you keep us updated! Best wishes!


How do you think about

How do you think about exercise?

So the thing is, there really is no ‘right’ way to exercise, but there definitely is a right way to THINK about exercise. If you’re beating yourself up for missing a workout, chances are you may be emotionally attached to exercise, and it’s not a healthy attachment.

Is your motivation from a place of fear (I’m terrified of getting fat) or from a place of love (I want to feel my best)

Fundamental difference. It’s essential that we ‘work in, before we work out’ Uncover the reason why you’re working out. If body image is your biggest concern, you may be rooted in fear. Fear of getting fat. So, essentially, you might not really be loving yourself. Fascinating, isn’t it?

True transformation comes from a place of love, not fear. When we operate from fear we are putting bandaids on bullet wounds and aren’t addressing the true emotional root to why we are searching for love.

Start with love and you’ll always end up right where you need to be.

Massive love and hugs,