Compulsive Exercise or Adaptive Exercise?

Compulsive Exercise or Adaptive Exercise?

If you are struggling with exercise and movement in eating disorder recovery, you’ve likely heard your behavior labeled as “compulsive movement.” And to fully recover, you’ve likely been told to stop this “compulsive movement.” But no matter how hard you try, it feels impossible…

Have you ever considered that the way you label your movement may be the reason it’s so hard to stop?

The stories we tell ourselves are the stories that become our reality. If you hold the belief that movement is “productive” and resting is “lazy” – and going further, that “productive” is “good” and “lazy” is “bad” – you will always choose movement over rest. Not because you don’t want to rest, but simply because you’ve conditioned yourself to believe that you as a person are only “good” if you are moving. Thus, not moving leads to feeling guilty.

The stories we tell ourselves are also the foundation of our identity, that is to say, who we believe we are. I identify as a writer, which means my actions align with someone who writes. If you label yourself as someone who engages in compulsive movement, well then your actions have no choice but to follow suit!

The reason you want to move so much is simply a response to perception. Perception of what’s “good” and “bad” but also a perception of safety. When humans feel unsafe, we go into fight-or-flight mode, which prompts mobilization behaviors. Therefore, it’s no wonder you want to move all the time!

It doesn’t matter how hard you try to stop moving – the root of your failure lies in the word “try.” Why? Because trying is lying. Trying is asking for permission to fail.

When you understand that your movement urges are nothing more than a response to perceived danger (of trauma, diet culture, fatphobia, and beyond), you can understand your adaptive resilience. And once you do this, you can give yourself permission to adapt further – to channel your energy into activities that bring true joy.

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