Yeah…Immaeatthat

Feb 21

To have a successful eating disorder, you have to disconnect from your body (aka when exercise isn’t good).

I recently attended a webinar by LeAnne Tolley, ERYT, CHES (ERYT = experienced registered yoga teacher, CHES = certified health education specialist) on exercise obsessions and I wanted to share what I learned. 

Working in EDs means constant learning for me, so I’m happy for you to learn things as I learn them.  There were some things in the webinar that really resonated with me (honestly this was one of the most interesting webinars I’ve ever listened to).  While I don’t engage in unhealthful exercise behaviors anymore, I still enjoy understanding exercise obsessions more.

Quick reminder before we get into the webinar…I think people forget that the diagnostic criteria from the DSM 5 for bulimia is:

  • recurrent inappropriate compensatory behaviors in order to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting; misses of laxatives; diuretics, or of other medications; fasting; or EXCESSIVE EXERCISE
  • behavior occurs at least once a week for 3 months
  • self evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight

I sometimes think people forget that bulimia can mean exercising in a way to “get rid of” food.  Just wanted to mention that for you to keep in mind.

I will not mention the benefits of exercise once in this post because I write the blog that would’ve helped me get out of my ED.  Never once in ED recovery did I see a blog post about the benefits of not exercising or really even that it is okay to not exercise.  That would’ve really freaking helped me in the 4+ years I spent struggling with bulimia.  What I saw was bloggers showing their exercise plans for the week, which always pulled me farther and farther away from listening to what felt good in my body.  

Of course I don’t blame those bloggers for the development of my ED…ED development is a perfect storm of a whole bunch of factors all coming together to produce an ED.  ED development is caused by biological factors (genetic predisposition for an ED), psychological factors (perfectionistic or impulsive personality types, and depressed/anxious mood states) and social factors (influence from family/friend, media, BLOGS, social media, etc. that drives one towards an ED).  Some blogs/social media accounts are just one piece that contributes to the ugly ED development puzzle. 

I shared on instagram on Saturday that recovering from an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise is tough because we live in a society that encourages you to make your body smaller and move your body regularly.  Overexercise and “healthy” eating are all socially acceptable ways to continue having your ED.  I want to mention here that I am using the term ‘ED’, but even if you haven’t been diagnosed with an eating disorder or are told you don’t have an eating disorder, that doesn’t mean the behaviors you are doing aren’t ruining your life. 

I am glad I had an ED rather than less severe disordered behaviors around food and exercise because if you have an ED you are more likely to get help because you hit rock bottom.  If the food and exercise behaviors you engage in aren’t severe enough to be classified as an ED, you may not get help.  You may go your whole life living with dysfunctional eating/exercise behaviors and negative body thoughts without ever getting help.  I’m hear to say that even if you aren’t diagnosed with an ED, your behaviors can still be distressing enough to need help.  Don’t go around thinking, “oh it’s not that bad, I’m fine.” Because we all know “fine” means Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional.  So as I use the term “ED,” know I am really referring to any level of dysfunction in your relationship with eating/exercise/body.

Okay.  Onto the webinar.

In the webinar, one of the great things LeAnne did was compare those with peanut allergies to those with exercise obsessions.  She mentioned a program that was developed to bring jars of peanut butter to malnourished children in 3rd world countries.  For many children, this saved their lives, but for those with a peanut allergy eating peanut butter was deadly.  It’s the same with exercise.  For some, exercise is fabulous, but for others it’s a giant soul suck that ruins their life and can do serious damage to their health.  When you come across exercise recommendations, remember that not all advice is good for everyone.  Don’t be a sponge! You have the right to be critical of any advice you are given about YOUR body from family members, friends, doctors and even from me.

LeAnne discussed that in those with healthful relationships to food and body, as exercise increases, food intake increases naturally (aka when you end up more hungry…you eat!)  In those with EDs, as exercise increases, nutrition decreases (because you are so disconnected from your body and honoring what it needs).  As a result of this, you could end up in a malnourished state.  It is common for peripheral neuropathy to accompany malnutrition.  Having peripheral neuropathy means you have numbness and tingles in your hands/feet and this raises your perceived pain threshold.  Raising the pain threshold prevents you from connecting to your pain cues and prevents you from knowing when to stop exercising.  Another thing that disconnects you from your body.

I often wonder if the tingling sensations I still have in my legs is due to damage I did in the past to my body when I was in my own exercise compulsion.  No doctor has ever been able to confirm that for me though.  Currently my MD thinks it’s a vascular issue.

Another thing the webinar addressed was using intense exercise for stress relief.  I get told quite frequently by clients that exercise is a way to decrease anxiety and cope with stress (I so believed this when I was working out obsessively!).  But I’ve since realized that the kinds of exercise I was doing then never helped me feel calmer.  LeAnne explained that exercise isn’t a mood improvement technique…it’s an avoidance technique.  Clients say, “exercise takes away all my problems and my brain becomes calm.”  You haven’t really calmed the brain though, because when you finish you still have the same problems. 

In a unhealthy relationship with movement, we (in a way) move our body’s faster than brain via intense cardio activities – running/fast walking/swimming/spinning.  The hyperactivity of our body when exercising moves faster than our brain activity and it is a way to temporarily numb out.  Moving faster than our brain alleviates all tension and stress and makes the brain feel temporarily calm (hello, endorphin release).  When we stop moving faster than our brain and endorphins die down, the brain is still anxious.  All the movement did is temporarily mask what is going on.  Did you actually resolve your problems on that run? Nope, but you sure avoided them.

Something LeAnne also mentioned was that compulsive exercise is done in a covert way (similar to how a drug addict does drugs), so no onlooker will realize how much they are actually exercising.  Yup.  That was me.  You’re ED makes you into a super sneaky, isolated, and lonely liar.

To have a successful eating disorder, you have to disconnect from your body.  Exercise did just that for me.  The movement I was doing then helped dissociate me from my body, the movement I’m doing now helps me embody and be connected to every part of my body.  To connect to your body, your movement should be mindful…not mindless.  See the graphic below to check in on where your movement stands…

You find health by listening to your body.  Health is not in a meal plan, food restriction, a sugar detox (in spite of what your yoga studio may say) or a weekly exercise routine.  I would encourage you to not overvalue the nutrition information you come across and instead start to value your inner body wisdom that guides you in how to move and how to eat.  I don’t know how much movement you should do…but your body does if you choose to listen to it. 

For me, I have no exercise routine.  I move in a way that feels good.  And right now with a lot of knee pain going on, that means attending physical therapy sessions, engaging in gentle movement, and minimizing any kind of squating motions or high impact movements. 

If you are interested in learning more about my thoughts on movement, I’d recommend this post on getting out of an exercise compulsion and this video module on truly healthy movement.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this post:)

75 comments on “To have a successful eating disorder, you have to disconnect from your body (aka when exercise isn’t good).”

  1. Love how you always speak the truth. I used to force myself to run daily… It was the worst and I ended up with a stress fracture. It also isolated me- I would avoid staying out late with friends so I could get up early for my runs. Ugh… NOT worth it!!! Thank you for shedding light on this issue and for encouraging people to trust their own bodies. Your message is so needed.

  2. Thank you for this post! I am about 6 months recovered from some disordered eating and exercise behaviors and thoughts (thank you for including the spectrum concept – so many years thinking that my behaviors “weren’t bad enough” to be considered an ED) and I am trying to figure out how to get back into gentle exercise (because I can tell my body is craving it!). Your infograph outlines some great ideas that feel super helpful to me right now – so thank you, as always, your blog has been a tremendous help in recovery over the last few months.

  3. Thank you for providing insight from this webinar! I love exercise when it feels good on my body, but if I’m truly dreading it, then I don’t force it. I’ve fallen in love with Barre3 because of the atmosphere, an instructor leads the class, and it always leaves me feeling stronger. Exercise now in my life means gaining strength, not calories burned at all. I couldn’t care less about that. Ever since you’ve spoken about, “moving your body in ways that feels good”, I think of that often. :)

  4. Yes, yes, YES. When I starting on from my ED recovery journey, the one thing that I suspected I should do was something that I never saw mentioned anywhere on the internet: stopping exercsing. I am very glad that I did cut it out cold turkey while I was recovering, though, because if I hadn’t, I don’t know where I would be today. For me, cutting out exercising was crucial to my recovery, yet all I have seen (and saw at that time) was how conintuing to exercise during recovery was fine, and sometimes beneficial even. Thank you for providing such a wonderful resource for those recovering, because I know that this would have helped me have a smoother path recovery. 

  5. So fascinating! This totally raised a question for me though:

    So when I was obsessively exercising, even when I was first asked about my physical discomfort with exercise by the doctor, I always maintained I had none. I was just tired, but it didn’t “hurt”. I had one blackout session on a treadmill. Other than that, it was simply as you put: numb.

    The one thing that I DID have though was my arms frequently “falling asleep” and getting tingly as I laid in bed every night. I never made the connection before that perhaps it was this peripheral neuropathy that people often talked about. So this is my question: is peripheral neuropathy a symptom that you get WHILE exercising, or can it happen any time? Because I definitely didn’t get it while exercising, but every night it was like clockwork. Because of it, I actually got to the point of refusing to lie certain ways because it exacerbated the problem, even though it was present regardless.

    It took FOREVER to go away. Probably over a year once I started recovering again. I still get it on occassion, but probably only once every 6 months.

    • I imagine peripheral neuropathy could happen while you exercised (you just wouldn’t feel it because you’d be pounding away through your workout…kinda like if your head hurt but then someone pinched your arm and for a moment you forget about the head pain bc the pinch pain was worse.)

      I’m not sure how long it takes for nerve damage to reverse. But i’m glad your sensations are gone for the most part:)

      Another thing mentioned in the webinar that I didn’t mention in this post was that there are changes to the size of the hippocampus in the brain that make stopping exercise difficult. Your hippocampus drives your hunger cue and if you are undereating and overexercising your hippocampus increases in size due to stress of having a constant foraging/hunger response. This enlarged hippocampus is reversible via stopping movement, not through weight restoration alone. The enlarged hippocampus drives you to be hyperactive even when food is available. (in primal times it would drive you to forage for food…aka be hyperactive).

      I think I understood all that correctly. Interesting stuff. Stress on the hippocampus may encourage hyperactivity and making stopping exercise even more difficult, but all the more necessary.

      If I find the research article she cited I’ll send it your way! I think you’d find it interested:)

  6. Thank you so so much for making this post. As I am struggling through recovery for an eating disorder on a college campus, seeing everyone else working out on a regular basis, it has been very hard for me to understand that isn’t helpful for me right now. This post helped me better understand that exercise is not always healthy, and that is so valuable to me in this process. Thank you.

    • Oh my goodness, Hannah! College campuses (and high schools) are the worst for obsessive “clean” eating and overexercising all that are done under the guise of health. Just know that many of those on a college campus speak fluent eating disorder and you are right to question if those behaviors are healthful for yourself! Do you listen to the Food Psych podcast by Christy Harrison and read The Real Life RD blog? Try to create a bubble of positive, truly healthful messages for yourself<3<3 Thanks for commenting:)

  7. Hi Kylie, 
    Your original posts on exercise compulsion helped me find the motivation I needed to cut exercise out of my life cold turkey, and get help for my eating disorder. Now that I am a few months into recovery, I am trying to incorporate “movement” back into my life, but I’m finding it difficult to find a happy medium between all or nothing. I’ve also learned that reincorporating exercise has meant learning to trust myself again, because I still fear letting the compulsion spiral out of control again. This journey has been really mind-opening, and I love reading your blogs along the way! 

    • Hi Maddie! Yay! I’m so glad that original post was helpful. So glad you are getting help for your eating disorder now. When you are trying to get out of an exercise compulsion, you aren’t in a place where you can be intuitive with movement yet and you have to set some boundaries around movement to keep yourself from “spiraling out of control again.” For instance, some clients will only go for walks with sandals on so they can’t turn the walk into a run. I think boundaries like this are helpful at first. I’m a believe in yoga for it’s ability to reconnect the mental and physical through body awareness and body responsiveness. Perhaps joining a yoga studio could be an option for you? As always, I’d recommend talking to your treatment team and valuing their advice over my general recommendations:)

      In module 6 of the course there is an ‘eco-map’ activity for exercise you may find helpful for getting away from the all or nothing approach.

      <3

  8. Love this post so much Kylie, thank you for talking about this! I’ve also found that in my ED, I thought my workouts were giving me the “endorphin high” everyone always talked about, which is why I didn’t see it as a problem (and actually thought it was necessary to manage my anxiety). However looking back, I think what was actually happening was that I was exercising to the point of extreme exhaustion, and I felt calmer/better after workouts because I was too exhausted to feel anxious (or anything) anymore. Now that I am in recovery and I move in a more mindful way, I actually do experience the benefits of exercise and movement and it’s incredible to see the difference!

    P.S. Another acronym I’ve seen for FINE is “feelings I’m not expressing”. Thought you would like that :)

    • Hi Lauren! Oh I love that acronym for FINE! Thanks for sharing:) Glad you are in a place where you have enough distance from your ED behaviors to realize they weren’t healthful and were just numbing you from everything…the good and the bad. <3

  9. You are the most refreshing voice of recovery and “normalcy” I’ve ever come across. I love your message. You walk your talk and are true to your message. A rare find :-)

    • Thanks for the sweet comment, Kristen:)

      • I agree! You are a role model! As a mom to two young girls (2 and 3 months), I’m ALREADY hoping and praying they can avoid all the eating disorder and body image BS I suffered through. Would be curious to hear your thoughts on how to approach this with children/young girls. I am assuming it’s best to be open about my annorexia as a preteen/teen, but do that proactively, or only if they start noticing negative friends/cultural influences? Part of me wants to just preach body love and pretend it never happened! Ha:) to this day, my mom has never acknowledged to me that she suffered as well (though I witnessed firsthand binges and purges), and I don’t think that was the right approach. Ugh! Sad that this is even a THING we have to worry about!:)

        • Thanks for commenting, Laura!

          A strong sense of self is protective against ED development. It’s important to make sure your girls know they are valued for not just their accomplishments, but also their spirit/personality and other things not related to body size. Also you and your husband modeling a healthy relationship with food/movement/body is key. For instance, kiddos can pick up on body dissatisfaction if you are standing in front of the mirror and changing clothes constantly trying to find something that looks okay. They can pick up on and start dieting if you or family members eliminate food groups.

          For feeding young kids I recommend anything by Ellyn Satter. For you I recommend the books Intuitive Eating and Body Respect. I also recommend if you know something is not quite right with your relationship with food, movement and body that it could be worth meeting with a non-diet approach dietitian, a CEDRD (certified ED registered dietitian), or a therapist.

          And the podcast Food Psych is an excellent one to learn from and teach to your daughters!

          • Thanks for the references… will check them out. loved Intuitive Eating! I’m at a pretty good place, so why I am occasionally tempted to try a Whole30 is beyond me. Good reminder. And yes — there is no use of scales or mirrors (for more than quick spit-up checks!) in my house. Keep fighting the good fight. You are truly a breath of fresh air:) PS. My hubby heads up sales/marketing/r&d for the chocolate company that makes the coconut almonds you posted about in your stories!

  10. YES! to so much of this. I used exercise to disconnect from my body for so so long, to the point that exercise didn’t even change how I felt (i.e. make me more tired) because I was so numb to everything, I used it to feel numb. And to the idea that disordered exercise is done covertly. I used to be so so secretive about my exercise, when I was living with my parents I would “secretly” run and was constantly paranoid that my parents were following me and would look over my shoulder, and in college if someone mentioned they had seen me working hard in the gym I would immediately become defensive about how much I exercised. I’m still working on finding more intuitive movement in my exercise but I’d say that I’m leaps and bounds farther than I used to be – completely cutting it out of my life kind of freaks me out, but I have no issue with less exercise overall, and am so much better at listening to my body. I’ve also noticed that sometimes when I’m really anxious and feeling triggered, changing something else about my body that isn’t it’s size helps immensely. For instance this weekend my mind was spiraling, so my friends and I went out and bought hair dye and dyed our hair and it helped calm me down so much and re-centered my mind on self care instead of self-destruction

    • So pumped for all the progress you’ve made, Lacey!! One of the best experiments I did for myself was stopping exercise completely for about a month or two, I’d occasionally go for walks with my dog…but I stopped all movement my eating disorder ever used. It was right for me, but may not be right for all.

      Something that helped me…If you read the book Body Respect by Linda Bacon she talks about how 70% of the energy we eat goes to activities of daily living and basic life functions (ex. walking into grocery store, brushing teeth, heart beating, blinking, muscles contracting as you pee/live/drive), 10% of energy we eat goes to digesting and absorbing our food and 20% is put towards any movement/exercise. It was nice to realize that we don’t have to move to maintain a certain weight. The majority of my energy goes to basic life functions. I want to move because it feels good and I enjoy it, not because I HAVE to. Not sure if that resonates with you, but it was helpful for me in recovery:)

      And I’m always for self care, so I love the hair dye story<3

  11. I love the message you’re sharing here. And I love your definition of disordered exercise because for me, most of the time, my exercise was not necessarily intense (and several health professionals dismissed me because of this, because I wasn’t running for X miles or engaging in intensive cardio sessions) – but it was obsessive and compulsive. Yes, it was ‘only walking’, but it was the fact I HAD to do it that made it a life altering problem. I have no doubt it was physically damaging for me, but it was also socially and emotionally damaging – but quite often I was told “It’s healthy to walk everyday!” Not when that need to walk literally takes over your life! 

    Yoga is currently teaching me a whole new way of moving and appreciating my body – I adore it. 

    • Anytime habits become an obligation with the words “I HAD TO” thrown in there…we’ve got a problem.

      So pumped you’re vibing well with yoga. Me too:)

  12. Thank you for this. The graphics you post are always so helpful! Even after I thought I was recovered from my ED I continued to be very obsessive about running. What made it all worse was that no one ever expressed concern, in fact I got praised for it!

    I realized I had a problem when I was ignoring serious foot pain and I about had a panic attack when my garmin died during a run. After that experience I took a long break from all structured exercise and seriously reevaluated my reasons for running. Because you are right, it wasn’t actually making me less stress or anxious!

    I love the word movement so now I get to ask myself how I want to move and feel that day. It’s much more freeing. My favorite way to move now is pilates! I’ve found a really great studio that is inclusive to all people and really encourages slowing down and listening to your body. I love the atmosphere and the social aspect too, because when I was running I was always so isolated.

    • Isn’t that so messed up when you get praised for doing something that is harmful to you…talk about confusing. I loved the question you ask yourself–>”how do I want to move and feel today?” Very cool.

      Those with EDs tend to participate in more individual exercises than non-ED individuals…sounds like that was your case with running. Solitary physical activities are often chosen to avoid cognitive/emotional interaction with other. Glad you’ve found a supportive pilates environment!

  13. I always so appreciate how you talk about the struggle of “fighting against your body” while in ED. I definitely lived that way throughout high school and into my first couple years of college. I was very involved in sports, which just made my recovery slower (and truly kept me stuck in my ED longer).

    I once sprained my ankle doing excessive exercise one summer during high school. Then, that made my volleyball season even more challenging. I think the pain I had to deal with was a natural punishment from the obsession…

    Embracing my natural body has been a challenge, yet so WORTH IT! I now can enjoy mindful movement (love this term) throughout the day and have no set “routine”. Also, my period has returned after years of me fighting against my body. I believe we were created to live life free of trying to control the size of our body. Becoming at peace with who I am, in the body God blessed me with, has been a process (but so thankful to be where I am). Don’t give up, y’all!

    While in my ED, I slouched a lot in effort to make myself smaller. Since embracing my body’s natural size, I have more confidence and sit up straight! I honestly can see how something as simple as posture has helped me become more okay with where my body is meant to be.

    THANK YOU, KYLIE!

  14. As I chose to move away form my disordered eating and exercise habits(never being diagnosed with an eating disorder), I knew I needed to overcome my hypothalamic amenorrhea as well. I had many backward slides for over a year, but I have not exercised in 3 months, which is hard when you’re surrounded by crazy exercise talk from fellow students. I think this is such a huge problem in studying dietetics…I include myself in that problem during undergrad, but I digress. These 3 months have forced my to reevaluate my relationship with exercise. Taking notice of the days I felt worthless, insecure, inadequate, etc forced me continue resting and not giving in to that mentality that exercise was my solution to everything negative that I felt. I hope to incorporate mindful movement as soon as my body is ready, but until then I will wait. Loved this post!

    • You are awesome, Kelsey. Seriously. Stopping exercise was one of the hardest things I ever did and I felt like I went through a mourning period after I stopped. It’s so important to sit with the anxiety of not exercising and realize you CAN soothe yourself withOUT movement. Having a diverse array of coping mechanisms for life is important and I’m glad you’re taking time to develop alternative ways to cope with life’s stresses. I love hearing the emphasis in your comment of you listening to your inner body wisdom and letting your body decide when it is ready to move.

      I 100% agree that orthorexic tendencies (and full blown EDs) and obsessive exercise levels is a huge problem in the dietetics college programs that continues in the dietitian community after undergrad and one’s DI. It sucks and it’s doing a lot of harm to the people they are “helping.”

  15. Best thing I have read all week!

  16. I’m a relatively new follower but am really loving your posts. I read this with tears in my eyes, because I guess I had never thought when your behaviors “aren’t bad enough” you may not get the help you need. I had some health issues about 2 years ago that had me reducing my sugar intake dramatically and getting towards a healthier me. I don’t define myself by numbers but I sure do see myself living slightly “in fear” of certain foods or behaviors that I consider “unhealthy” – even ridiculous things like limiting my fruit. I am (and arguably have to be) conscious of my sugar intake but I’m trying to figure out when food started to control me. I eat “healthy” and “nourishing” Foods and in good amounts, but I guess I didn’t realize I was letting it take over my life. I cook dinner for my family but if they’re having something like pasta, I’ll make sautéed veggies instead of having pasta or eat things over greens instead of chips or tortillas or bread. I move in ways I truly enjoy like hiking and biking but I also find myself hopping on the treadmill if I don’t think I’ve “moved enough” that day. I’m sorry this is rambley and all over the place but thanks for helping me start to realize these things and give me the inspiration I need to try to start to break down some of these walls I’ve built within myself

  17. Thank you for this post Kylie. I’ve been recovering from severe anorexia and exercise addiction, I have not worked out for 3 months and my body appreciates it! As much as I would love to go on a walk in this weather I know my mind is still not in the right “mindful movement” place. This post will help many people understand why exercise is a double edged sword for some of us :)

  18. I love this! I definitely have learned that my body can’t handle too much intense exercise. I do crossfit (not because I feel like I have to, but because it has helped me stop focusing on making my body skinnier/burn the most calories and instead fall in love with seeing how strong my body is. Plus, the endorphin rush is AMAZING!! haha :))
    BUT with that being said, I have found that I only really like to go approx x times a week and every few weeks, I just take a full break (usually my body will tell me when I need a week or two off.)
    I always wanted to be the one that can go x times a week and get supppperr strong/fit, but I learned that my emotionally energy is much more important than getting abs. 
    I never was obsessive with my exercise, but I have had to learn when to be okay with only exercising a few times a week. When I put too much pressure on myself/ have certain expectations of how many days ill go, I end up getting super anxious. (I just realized this after talking to my mom and reading this blog post!!) 
    I definitely want to start adding in some light yoga (I always wanted to go take classes, but Im a new driver and like to stick to my usually routes haha!! But, a new yoga studio is opening up right near my school, so I am extremely excited!!) I think that yoga will help give me some movement when I don’t want to just lay in bed, but without the intensity that my body doesn’t always crave.
    Sometimes Ill do yoga in my room, but I just love the class atmosphere (I guess thats another reason why I love crossfit!)
    Yet again, thank you so much!! And I love reading/ commenting on your posts :)

    • Hey Rachel<3

      Loved this..."my emotional energy is much more important than getting abs." YESSS! And you know I'm a huge yoga fan, so I highly support that idea:)

  19. Thank you for this!! <3

  20. So I just recently starting reading your blog and am currently just starting to seek treatment for the diet/restriction-binge cycle I’m in, so I’m really loving all of your posts. This one really resonated with me today because I am just as described above – the intense exerciser that thought the exercise was relieving stress but really it was just a temporary numbing. Now that I have a 7 month old I’m not able to take the hour, sometimes 2, that I would spend at the gym on a daily basis. I’m trying to make myself believe that I don’t need to work out that intensely to be healthy but that mind-body disconnect is no joke. Thanks for the sharing this info!

    • Hi Amy-

      I commented with this same note above and I hope you find it helpful in you moving towards being okay with not have to intensely workout each day…

      Something that helped me…If you read the book Body Respect by Linda Bacon she talks about how ~70% of the energy we eat goes to activities of daily living and basic life functions (ex. walking into grocery store, brushing teeth, heart beating, blinking, muscles contracting as you pee/live/drive), ~10% of energy we eat goes to digesting and absorbing our food and ~20% is put towards any movement/exercise. It was nice to realize that we don’t have to move to maintain a certain weight. The majority of my energy goes to basic life functions. I want to move because it feels good and I enjoy it, not because I HAVE to. Not sure if that resonates with you, but it was helpful for me in recovery:)

  21. Hi Kylie,
    I found your blog while I was in a out-patient treatment program for Bulimia. I learnt about Intuitive Eating while in therapy, and your blogs about it have really helped solidify the idea in my mind. I love your blog (the vegan/gf recipe posts, but mostly the blogs about eating and positive health).
    I have never commented before, but this article really struck a cord with me and I wanted to say thank you.
    In the depth of my ED (I’m in recovery now), I was a compulsive exerciser, and the idea of exercise sometimes being a bad thing never crossed my mind. Thank you for writing about these ideas. If I had read something like this when I was sicker, it would have really helped me. You are an inspiration to me. Thank you Kylie!

    • Thanks for commenting for the first time, Regan<3

      Compulsive exercise is sometimes missed in treatment because it's not necessarily the therapist's or dietitian's direct responsibility to "fix" it. Sometimes the same happens with body image...everyone kinda passes around discussing body image and it may not be appropriately addressed. I'm so happy for you and the progress you've made in spite of this!

  22. Hi there! I adore you and your posts but I’m struggling with this one a bit. I feel that I have a great relationship with food and body image, but I am a runner who truly enjoys it (which I sort of feel like you are generally against as a healthy behavior…running). I love challenging my body to run and breakthrough speed and distance limits. I feel like I worked my brain from kindergarten to 29; had some babies; and then focused on challenging my body in my late 30s. I love running to collect my thoughts or to be social or to be part of a racing community. On the other hand, i do enjoy the “mindless” parts of it too. It definitely decreases my high-flying anxiety, but in a good way so that I can process my thoughts rationally without all of the nerves attached to them. I guess I just think that the decrease in anxiety (even if temporary) can be a positive if you are otherwise in a healthy place. What do you think?

    • Hey Stephanie! Thanks for commenting:) Great points.

      For me, yes, I’m against running. For others, no, I’m not against running at all! I’m sure some on my bias against running comes across sometimes because running really messed me up. In the eating disorder population, the forms of movement that are generally abused are the fast and energetic movements, like running, spinning, swimming. Triathlon’s are, understandable, really common in eating disorders too.

      It sounds like you’re exploring your attachment to running and I think that is great:) Have curiosity about it. Running can be a pleasurable way to move your body. No doubt. But like I said, this post is about helping people stop engaging in toxicomaniac levels of physical hyperactivity.

      No one wants to feel their feelings all the time. We all need a balance of processing through our feelings and finding healthful ways to cope with feelings when we are struggling to tolerate them. For some (perhaps for you!), movement is an healthful way to cope with emotions. For others, exercise isn’t about coping with emotions it’s about numbing out to the world, socially isolating themselves, “burning off ‘x’ food,” and manipulating their body size…and the individual does this under the guise of “i’m coping with my emotions in a healthy way.”

      Again. There is a lot of information out there telling people to exercise to cope with stress. I want to be a voice for people who take their exercise to extremes and choosing to cope with stress via exercise does damage to themselves and their loved ones. Exercise with EDs can have the opposite effect on the body than exercise is supposed to have.

      • Totally makes sense. I see that you clarified that in your post too. I guess I just jumped to the (awesome) chart and thought “oh no!” I was also just fascinated by the way you described exercising faster than your anxiety bc I do feel that exact way sometimes. You get in my head and it’s kinda scary:))

  23. Absolutely love this post, but my experience with my ED and exercise is somewhat different. For a long time I was teased for my small stature and then to add on top of that, in my early teens I was diagnosed with scoliosis and Madelung’s deformity (which is a bone defect that affected the growth of my forearms). I started exercising from recommendation of my doctors to maintain my bone health and develop muscular strength since I was already an athletic girl. I eventually fell in love with working out because it made me feel so powerful and strong, a feeling I had never had before. When I hit puberty, I started comparing how my body looked to the other girls at my school. It was then that I started using exercise in attempts to change how I look. I started eating less and less, obsessing over calories, when I would eat, etc….When I started my recovery and someone told me I should considered stopping exercise completely, I remember telling them that I couldn’t  do that. When asked why, I said that I thought if I stopped completely I might go insane. Yes I was using exercise to try and change how I look, but there was still a part of me deep down that was still in love with seeing what my body could do. Today, my weight and mind are recovered from my ED. Through my recovery, I continued to workout. But, I started realizing how awesome my body was. Not for its looks, but for what it could do. I feel like the underlying cause of my ED was not feeling like I was ever good enough. Exercise has helped me see just how powerful and strong I am-mentally and physically. In a weird way, the thing that I used to use to tear me apart ended up saving my life because it helped me realize just how amazing my body is. I just wanted to share that with you since my experience was a little bit different. Thank you for your beautiful and insightful posts! You truly are an inspiration to me. Thank you Kylie! 

    • Hi, Marlee! Thanks for sharing:) I was stuck in a mentality of “i’m not good enough, so I HAVE to exercise.” Finding my sense of self and identity in something that has nothing to do with food, my body size, or working out has been important for my recovery journey. Glad you shared a bit of your journey!

  24. Hi Kylie,

    First of all, I just wanted to say that I have been following you for a few years now and you have inspired me more than I can put into words. Your message that you are sharing with the world is incredibly important and needed, and I have found myself repeating your words numerous times to my friends, family, coworkers, and myself.

    Second of all, it’s so evident that God’s hand has been on every step of your journey leading you to where you are now. I have had a similar journey and I know this to be true for myself. I recently accepted my dream job working as a dietitian at a partial hospitalization center for eating disorders. I start training in a couple weeks after I finish my time in the clinical world, and although I’m scared/nervous/anxious/all of the emotions, your posts have given me so much excitement and motivation to make a difference.

    Anyways, I’ll stop rambling and end by saying thank you. You ARE changing lives, and I look forward to continuing to learn from you!

    • Hi Brooke! Congratulations on accepting a position at a PHP! My advice would be to pay for monthly supervision from a CEDRD <-- this has been key for me having confidence working in this field. Excited for you:) I agree God's hand has been with me on every stop of my journey. I believe so much that painful joints pop up occasionally as a way for me to check-in and make sure I'm keeping first things first...if that makes sense;)

  25. Thank you for this Kylie!!!  I used to struggle with exercise addiction (and to this day I find it hard to call it that because so many people with it actually exercised WAY MORE than me, but my mind was still thinking all the same thoughts…just my body, and maybe the scrap of my rational mind that was left, wouldn’t comply with more exercise than what I was already doing, thank God).  I realize I still probably don’t have the healthiest relationship with movement, although I only do things that I find enjoyable and rejuvenating.  For me, this is yoga 99% of the time and walking when it’s nice outside.

    Also, your note about the tingling!!  I’d never heard that before, and I’ve been struggling basically since my ED recovery with what I thought was poor circulation in my feet/ lower legs and also my hands sometimes.  It might still be a circulation problem because I also have trouble with my hands/feet being like ice and then like fire when I finally do get them warm.  My naturopath has tried researching a number of things, tried acupuncture, etc., but she didn’t really know what was causing it.  I never contemplated the fact that it may be damage from my overexercise/running/ED days…food for thought at any rate.  Thanks for sharing that tidbit!

    • Hi Hannah! Loved this–> “I only do things that I find enjoyable and rejuvenating.” Me too:)

      Also, not that I’m giving you medical advice (because I’m not a doctor and probably don’t know what I’m talking about). But I have raynauds syndrome, which leaves my hands/feet being like ice and then like fire when I finally do get them warm. I see a rheumatologist for it.

  26. Such a good point about about hitting rock bottom. I know this is true for my recovery too. I see so many people who skim the surface with “undetectable” EDs and worry they will never get the help they need because the world applauds their efforts. :( :(
    Exercise has definitely evolved for me over the years. I’ve gone from hating it yet pushing myself anyways to enjoying it about 90% of the time. I’ve found ways to make exercise social which has just been so good during this year of the internship.

  27. I have to tell you ever since reading some of your exercise series post on here and have felt SO MUCH more FREEDOM! I have spent YEARS convincing myself that I must run a certain amount of miles, that I HAVE to run everyday. Some of these times have been pleasurable and I do enjoy running, but many of these times have been torture. Every day approached with anxiety and stress from knowing that I must run so many miles after work (or WHAT, who knows?) . I feel like I’ve gotten my life back and I have you to thank for that!

    • <3<3<3<3<3 times a million! The things you do in life are supposed to make you feel good! I'm so glad you've gotten away from forced daily runs that left your filled with anxiety and stress if you did or didn't do them. YAY, Amber!

  28. Thank you for this it resonated with me so much! The disconnect with my body fueled my eating disorder and exercise obsessions. For a long time I really loved running but I was constantly getting injured. My senior year of high school cross country when I really dove into my eating disorder, I broke my tibia due to a stress fracture that broke because I didn’t know I had one. Even in a cast and on crutches I still continued to exercise compulsively and used my physical therapy as a way to justify it. No one stopped me or questioned it!! To this day even 2 years into recovery and not running I still get leg pain after doing a lot of walking or standing. I believe its because I never let my leg heal right because of my obsessive exercising that led me to run a marathon(lol worst decision of my life) a year after I broke my leg. It took me awhile to breakdown my identity as a runner but it was something that ultimately led to greater healing.

    I’m working on incorporating yoga into my life more because it is something I enjoy and feel embodied and empowered by and not the numbing out that came from ellipticals.

    • Oh man, Elizabeth. We are twins:/ I too did the marathon thing when I 100% should not have. I honestly feel cross country shouldn’t be a sport offered in high school. And if it is then the school needs to hire someone qualified to assess for EDs or the coach needs to be trained at detecting EDs. My cross country team was so ED filled.

      I feel like ellipticals take you nowhere…literally (you aren’t moving forward lol) and figuratively (you aren’t moving forward in recovery if you hate being on the elliptical).

      I’m so glad you are working to incorporate yoga<3

  29. Honestly Kylie, no matter what kind of day I’ve had, I read your blog posts and I instantly feel better. Especially if I’ve had a day where negative body thoughts creep in or if I’m having a challenging day of intuitive eating and I feel like I can’t do it. You always keep me grounded, sane, and reaffirm that food is JUST FOOD. The mindful movement is even more important! As a dancer I can definitely connect with this. So thank you for your constant stream of love, wisdom, and happiness. <3

  30. Your blog is so so helpful to me! Being a college student in a sorority, disordered eating and exercise patterns are EVERYWHERE! My roommate is constantly greeting me after my time at the gym with questions like “how fast did you run?” or “how many times today did you exercise today?”, proceeding to tell me her exact mile times or gym frequency. At first it was extremely triggering for me, but I’ve started to play a funny little game to cope: Every time she inquires about my exercise routine or frequency, I pretend she’s my ED. It makes it a lot easier to dismiss the questions and simply answer “I don’t keep track of the frequency or intensity of my workouts, sorry!” and walk away. Thanks, Kylie, for reminding me that THIS is a healthy way to view exercise, and it’s everyone else who doesn’t have it right :)

    • “how many times did you exercise today?” YIKES! Pretending she is your ED is a brilliant way to cope! That idea will help others! Thanks for sharing, Natalie<3

  31. Wow! Eye opening and helpful! I’m still trying to have a healthier relationship with movement. Thank you for this!

  32. Very important!  I was forced to take time off from exercise in the beginning of my recovery and it made me realize like, oh there’s all these other people around me who don’t exercise. My mom, several of my friends, they just go about their lives and don’t torture themselves over HAVING to go to the gym or HAVING to run X miles today.  It was a very important time for me.  I still can’t put myself on an exercise routine because I either get too crazy about it or just don’t care enough and cancel it after the second day.  Which I would say is some kind of a work in progress for me, but I’m so thankful for this progress because I would not be able to live the life I have if I was still compulsively exercising !! 

    • Great comment, Krista! Thanks for sharing. Like I said to another commenter…intuitive movement isn’t structured. I mean, you pee a different number of times each week and that is intuitive…if you are being intuitive with movement you end up moving your body a different number of times each week.

  33. Kylie this was wonderful. I have struggled with this for years. I love how you emphasized that bulimia can be compensating through exercise. For years, I never thought I had a problem, that I was just “healthy”. The last few years I’ve gotten better with being mindful and intuitive but I find that I HAVE to keep a support system around me and that includes bloggers like you. If I don’t, I’m sucked right back in. For instance, I was doing gentle movements for the last few years because that’s what works best for my body (after years of endurance running/hard core just like you describe). I began following the X day fix-with the mindset that the workouts would be great-only X minutes-variety etc. (I will also mention that I heard another woman who was recovered speaking so well of these workouts) Well because it is a “plan” and there is non stop brain washy messages about dieting throughout the entire workout, I fell in again. Suddenly, I had to keep up with the workouts even when I was tired. It didn’t stop at X days either. I had to keep going. I was scared to stop. Even thought I didn’t exactly follow the meal plan, I was aware of it and it did begin to govern how many portions i thought I should be eating. Now, I realize this isn’t serving me. Although I have a great toolbox to go back to and I can reign myself in, I still get caught up If I don’t guard myself. I needed to read this today and thank you for being the light to so many of us struggling.

    • Thanks for sharing, Dee<3 Dieting and exercise plans are so insidious. It makes me feel sick how one can think you are engaging in something that does serve them...and the BOOM you're right back in your ED. Everyone is different, but I am a STRONG believe in having no exercise plan if you are one who had an exercise addiction in the past. Sometimes a boundary around the amount of movement is necessary, but intuitive movement isn't structured. I mean, you pee a different number of times each week and that is intuitive...if you are being intuitive with movement you end up moving your body a different number of times each week.

      Keep creating a bubble of positively around yourself! Love to you, Dee!<3

  34. I’m in a college running group (recreational activity, not a team) and I think the social aspect of the group has allowed me to finally have a positive relationship with running. My friend in the group is very encouraging and makes me feel like I have accomplished something/done a good job when I am constantly telling myself that I am not as good as such and such person. Running with her has helped me to see running as fun and not a second job. I do enjoy running, but I need to go at it with a more lighthearted approach if I want to see the mood boosting benefits. Otherwise, it just adds more stress and BS into my life. 

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  37. This is SUCH a profound thing to read.

    I’m sitting here on a Monday morning, panicking, trying to convincd myself NOT to exercise today in order to give my body an extra day of rest because I’ve been feeling so terrible lately. Normally I walk 6 miles a day, 5 days a week (an exercise routine I first started 15 years ago as part of a cognitive behavioural therapy to treat my severe anxiety and depression) and now I don’t know how to stop. I have never thought of myself as having ANY sort of eating disorder, but I do count calories and I do “eat clean” during the week and “not so clean” (ie, binge) on the weekends. I’ve lost weight over all this time and certainly gotten more physically fit, but I wonder now at the overall cost of it all, because I am NOT doing well these days and my mental health issues are actually worse. Thinking of exercise as an actual avoidance behavior blows my mind, because it’s a) so true, and b) SO encouraged as a treatment by mental health professionals.

    It’s bizarre to think of myself as having a disordered eating problem, and almost impossible to imagine missing my daily walk. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but this has given me SO MUCH to ponder and think about. Thank you!!

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