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February 20, 2017

How Do I Know if I’m Able to Go Back to a Sport After ED Recovery?

Women and basketball

Contributor: Kirsten Haglund, Community Relations Representative for Timberline Knolls and Founder and President of the Kirsten Haglund Foundation

Rather than engaging in sports or exercise for fun and/or health, physical activities are often abused by those suffering from eating disorders.

While some take up a fitness regime in order to purge or lose weight, others actively participate in sports that require a certain body type for elite performance. Either way, abusing our bodies through exercise combined with other eating disorder behaviors is dangerous and can be deadly.

Is it Safe to Return to My Sport?

However, during treatment and recovery, it is often natural to wonder when it is safe – physically and emotionally – to start back to physical activity. In my own recovery, I had to severely cut back on ballet classes and rehearsals in order to commit to recovery and get well. It was incredibly hard because I placed so much of my identity in being a ballerina.

Similarly, for athletes, dancers, figure skaters and others, it can be very difficult to scale back the activity in order to devote oneself to full recovery. But – and I can testify to this myself – it is entirely worth it. It is important that no matter how much you love a certain sport or activity, cultivating long-term health must always be the first priority.
Here are a few ways to know if it might be a good time to return to that sport or activity that you love:

Am I Cleared by My Doctor and My Treatment Team?

This is by far the most important. You may miss moving or playing, but you absolutely must be medically stable and have the confidence and approval of your treatment team in order to return to any physical activity whatsoever. Also, start small. Begin by walking in nature, doing yoga or other meditative, slow-paced practices. Treat your body with respect and it will respond with strength and wholeness.

Do I Have My Support Team and Accountability Partners in Place?

Support is a key element in every stage of recovery, but when returning to a sport, it is absolutely essential. Communicate about your recovery and treatment with coaches, instructors, teammates, and anyone else who you work or play with.

Even have a member of your treatment team reach out to help provide some psychoeducation for parents and coaches about what you and your body have gone through in recovery. Share your story with a few trusted friends and loved ones, and lean on them as accountability partners and those you can call during difficult moments. It is vitally important not to hide your eating disorder recovery from trainers, coaches or instructors, since abusing exercise can lead to relapse and threaten long-term recovery efforts.

Why do I Want to Return to this Sport/Activity?

Woman athlete and soccerFind your why, and talk about it with your therapist. Why do I want to return? What is my motivation? It is important to make sure you’re not deceiving yourself and truly are in an emotionally healthy place to return to the activity that you love. In fact, one of the joys of returning to a sport after the recovery process is that with a renewed mind and heart, you find you enjoy the activity so much more.

It is no longer a tool of punishment or validation, but done out of gratitude and empowerment. Check in with yourself and your treatment team as you slowly start to get more active, making sure that your “why” is consistent with the values of your healthy self.

At the end of the day, returning to a sport or activity is a decision made by you and your treatment team together because it is such a delicate aspect of recovery – especially for elite athletes and performers. Whatever you do or may think, don’t rush back into activity. Take your time. Trust the process, because the strength you gain on the other side of recovery is life-long: strength of the body, mind and spirit.

Community Discussion – Share Your Thoughts Here!

If you are an athlete in recovery from an eating disorder, how did you transition back to your sport after treatment?


Kirsten+Haglund+HeadshotAbout the author: Kirsten Haglund continues to work as an advocate for greater awareness of eating disorders and resources for care. Since she won the crown of Miss America 2008, she has spoken on numerous college campuses, worked with youth and church groups domestically and abroad, lobbied Congress with the Eating Disorders Coalition, and started her own non-profit, the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, to raise funds and assist families financially in seeking treatment for eating disorders. She is also the Community Relations Specialist for Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.


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 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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 19, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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