Exercise & Activity

In order to assist a young person during their recovery from an eating disorder it may be necessary to restrict the amount of activity they are doing. It would be impossible to provide a comprehensive guide as there are many different factors which affect a person’s ability to exercise safely.

A clinician can advise you on what activity level your loved one should be at as it may depend on the physical risks your loved one is currently experiencing.
As a parent or carer, if you are trying to support your loved one to restore weight that may have been lost, it is important to be mindful that the more activity a person does, the more food they will have to consume.  Finally, if your loved one is compulsively driven to exercise, this may be an area you would want to work on together with your clinical team as something to overcome and manage so your loved one can be in control and well. It may also impact their ability to gain or maintain weight.

Limiting activity may be difficult for you loved one. Exercise may be used by them as a short term coping technique to alleviate eating disorder thoughts and distressing feelings.  Some young people have provided the following insights into what this is like:

  • Some young people are often unaware of the amount of activity they are undertaking. They may consider not exercising as lazy and believe that by increasing their activity they can lose more weight.
  • It is sometimes not until a young person stops activity that they realise how ill they may have become and how driven their exercise has become.
  • Exercise can be used to distract from difficult feelings and it is often self punishing or used as a mood regulator.
  • Young people will often use ‘excessive’ levels of exercise to control their weight.
  • People who have recovered have also said that it came as a relief when they were supported to stop exercising due to exhaustion.
  • Younger people may experience feeling an overwhelming need to move.

Undereating and starvation can take the body some time to recover from. Exercise is often discouraged while the body is repairing due to the physical demands it puts on muscles, including the heart, and bones.

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