The Importance of Movement in Eating Disorder Recovery

Woman compulsively exercising

Contributor: Tanya Brown, MA, NFPt-CPT – Aftercare Specialist at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

A hallmark of many eating disorders is the categorical elimination of food groups and the increase in movement or exercise. Those with anorexia frequently ban caloric and carbohydrate-intensive foods, while others with orthorexia adhere to an embargo on foods that aren’t pure or that damage the environment in some fashion.

To combat this elimination of food groups, recovery therapists and dietitians often espouse the importance of variety, balance, and moderation in meal planning. Unfortunately, this standard of acceptance is not always applied to exercise or any type of movement. So, how is movement in eating disorder recovery handled?

This question is asked because a significant number of those with food-related illnesses also engage in excessive or compulsive exercise. This is done for a variety of reasons which include the need to reduce anxiety, maintain control over their body or to achieve weight-loss goals.

When someone who has abused exercise embarks on recovery, the immediate answer to the “how much can I work out” question is often “not at all.” Although easy, this is not always the best response because movement in eating disorder recovery is needed.

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The human body was designed to move at every stage of life and under most circumstances. Movement contributes to physical, emotional, and mental health. That is why healthy movement in eating disorder recovery is such a vital component of treatment at Timberline Knolls.

Our core programming includes Dance Movement Therapy. All residents attend this group once they are medically cleared. Yoga is also offered as an elective, and Sober Yogis is available three times a week.

Recently, we began a fitness class for our adults. This hour-long group starts with a run around our beautiful campus, which includes sprints and lunges. Participants return to the gym for strength training.

Lady Exercising and thinking about movement in eating disorder recoveryWomen can cross-train with free weights and a kick-boxing bag. TK staff are well aware of what over-exercising looks like. So, if it appears that a resident is abusing the fitness privilege, she is encouraged to move at a more moderate, recovery-focused pace.

Residents do a check-in at the beginning of the group and at the conclusion. Most report that their anxiety level has dropped considerably, and their depression has lifted.

Along with the “all foods fit” mentality, we want residents to leave our care, knowing that the same holds true for fitness. Movement is an essential and necessary part of living a healthy and abundant life for all people and certainly those in recovery.


About Our Sponsor:

Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center provides quality, holistic care to women and adolescent girls ages 12 and older. We treat individuals struggling to overcome eating disorders, substance abuse, mood and anxiety disorders, trauma and post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD), and co-occurring disorders. Our campus is located on 43 wooded acres just outside Chicago. This peaceful setting offers an ideal environment for women and girls to focus on recovery.


About the Author:

Tanya Brown ImageTanya Brown, MA, NFP, t-CPT, Aftercare Specialist at Timberline Knolls

Tanya has worked at Timberline Knolls for five years. She obtained a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Lewis University in Illinois and is also a Certified Personal Trainer. It is her passion to support an environment in which mental health and fitness work together to benefit the resident.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed & Approved on July 11, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published July 11, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.