According to a survey, 1.5% of women in Canada aged 15-24 years have had an eating disorder, and recovery can be an on-going journey. Exercising can help channel your focus into being strong, rather than skinny. But for some people with a history of eating disorders, returning to exercise can be difficult and dangerous. Female eating disorder patients who exercise report higher levels of psychological distress than those who do not.

Exercise can put a strain on your body physically, and handling that strain is difficult if your body is already weakened from insufficient nutrition. Psychologically, there is also a risk that a workout routine can cause you to return to critical and competitive thinking about your body. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, but it is still possible to form a safe relationship with exercise if you’ve had eating disorders in the past. Try to keep these strategies in mind for a healthy body and mind.

Start slow

Competitive spaces can be stressful for those in recovery. It’s important to choose a type of workout that isn’t a solitary endurance sport like running, as this can trigger people with a history of eating disorders. When you’re first getting back into an exercise routine, it’s recommended you join group classes, work out under the guidance of a personal trainer or choose a stabilizing form of exercise like yoga.

Get a physical

Make sure your body can handle your reintroduction to exercise and check with a doctor that you’re medically stable. You can check that you’re at an appropriate weight, as well as your blood work and strong vital signs. It’s important to slowly ease yourself back into fitness instead of aiming for full capacity straight away, to avoid disrupting the great work you’ve accomplished while in treatment.

Develop a food plan

Exercise means you’ll be burning more calories, so you’ll need to make sure you’re eating more food to ensure you maintain a healthy weight. A willingness to incorporate extra nutrition to fuel the body for your increased physical activity is a sign you may be ready to reintroduce exercise. For those in recovery, counting calories or tracking meals can be a trigger, so it’s advised to work with a nutritionist to find the right routine for you.

Limit yourself

Make sure you don’t work out for long periods when you’re just starting out, and keep the frequency of your workouts moderate. Limit yourself to exercising for a maximum of 45 minutes to an hour, and be sure to fit your workout into your schedule instead of forming your schedule around your workout. (Source:

Work out with specific intentions

Whether it’s to combat anxiety or depression, or to enhance your fitness, you’ll need to decide why you want to work out and remind yourself of the intention. It will help you set boundaries so you’re not working out to lose weight.

Watch for warning signs

It’s important that the ‘warning signs’ of a relapse are recognized. Whether it’s guilt over a missed workout session or choosing to eat less because you haven’t worked out that day, there can be signs that your return to fitness has got out of control. If you’re able to recognize the signs that a relapse is happening, it’s important to share this with those helping you.