Reasonable Exercise Plans for Someone Recovering from Binge Eating Disorder
By Erin Risius, MA, LPC, Program Director at Green Mountain at Fox Run
For those struggling with binge eating disorder, their exercise patterns tend to mirror their eating patterns – falling prey to an all-or-nothing tendency. With food, this involves a restriction/binge cycle and for exercise, this all-or-nothing tendency usually shows up as a cycle of no pain/no gain exercise and then being sedentary.
The no pain/no gain approach inevitably creates a psychological resistance to movement primarily due to the approach – not the lack of willpower on behalf of the person (think: New Year’s Resolutions).
Add to this, potential childhood scars around exercise (think: gym class) and/or orthopedic conditions and mobility challenges that make movement painful, and exercise can easily be seen as the “enemy” – something that must be endured and certainly not enjoyed.
Learning Not to Dread Exercise
Regardless of whether this view of exercise stems from early experiences, recent experiences or both, the result is that exercise is avoided – not embraced. However, in order to heal one’s relationship with the body – and in the end, with Self – finding a way to move healthfully in the body one has today will be important for the BED recovery process.
At Green Mountain, women come to us dreading the exercise part of our program, fearing it will be another boot camp, but instead they are met with an approach that makes them feel exercise is not only doable – but enjoyable.
This shift in perspective is what enables them to leave feeling empowered and encouraged to continue movement on their own. With that in mind, here are four key strategies that help those struggling with BED to climb out of the all-or-nothing pattern with exercise and into a consistent practice of healthy movement.
Woman – Center Thyself.
The practice of mindfulness forms the foundation of our approach to helping women reconnect their minds to their bodies. Those struggling with BED often feel cut off from their bodies and our goal is to help them to get off auto-pilot and begin to tune into their thoughts, emotions, and bodies.
This process requires the practice of centering – of taking a moment to connect to the here-and-now experience and to their physical core – before starting an exercise. This involves a conscious physical alignment of their spine so that whether a woman is walking, strength training, or stretching she starts by actively tuning IN to the body before movement.
Easy does it.
Since many women who come into our program are used to the all-or-nothing approach our goal is to help them to experience ‘middle ground’ with movement around exercise intensity, frequency, and duration. Therefore, we teach them how to use the Rating of Perceived Exertion scale (RPE) with cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training while aiming for moderate intensity with all exercises.
Working at moderate intensity (5 – 7 on a scale of 1 – 10) creates the feeling that exercise is doable, which instills a sense of confidence to enhance the fitness level without gasping for air or pushing through the burn. This approach sets up a psychological reinforcement toward exercise adherence.
Modifying exercise for the body one has today.
All of our exercise classes have special modifications that take into account different intensity levels, orthopedic injuries/conditions and mobility levels. We adapt the exercise to our participants’ bodies, not vice versa. For example, participants at Green Mountain learn how to honor their shoulder, knee, or low back conditions, and to work with not against their body’s capabilities.
Learning how to honor the body’s cues in the moment is crucial for cultivating body awareness, reducing discomfort and enhancing the enjoyment of movement, which has a positive impact on exercise consistency and duration.
Typically the default button around movement is set to ‘sedentary’ before entering our program, so easing into rather than diving into an exercise program requires caution and patience to build upon one’s successes. Keeping one’s expectations in check and then re-evaluating them regularly is important for preventing the relapse into an all-or-nothing pattern with movement.
Focusing on the measurements of success outside of weight loss (i.e., increased endurance, strength, and flexibility) helps one to focus on the practice of self-care instead of measuring success through the tunnel vision of weight loss.
Discover the joy in movement.
When it comes to exercise, it’s important to explore a variety of exercises to find out which ones are personally enjoyable – or at the very least – tolerable.
- Exercising alone or in a group
- Exercising on machines versus exercising outside
Green Mountain provides a lot of fitness options so our participants can discover their own fitness style.
Exploring What Feels Right
Instead of trying to fit into someone else’s fitness approach, we encourage participants to explore what feels right for them by providing a safe environment in which to explore. Collaborating on creating an exercise program enables them to take into account their preferences and body conditions.
This helps ensure that exercise becomes a way of life – instead of just a means to an end. This shift in perspective around movement enables one to deepen their connection to the body, which is a crucial part of the BED recovery process.