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Taking a Closer Look at Exercise Behaviors

It may not occur to you that exercise could ever be an unhealthy thing. After all, isn’t exercise part of having a healthy lifestyle?

The truth is — when taken to the extreme, compulsive exercise can be detrimental to your mental and physical health. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on this year’s theme — “Risky Business” – which promotes taking a closer look at daily activities and behaviors to ensure that your health is not at risk.

To many people, movement and food consumption are just a part of everyday life. But to an estimated 30 million people in the United States, these activities may stem from an eating disorder. An eating disorder can drive someone to exercise with the intention of “burning off” food or calories consumed, to do strenuous exercise many days in a row without rest, and/or to make exercise a way of punishing their body rather than celebrating it.

Nealie Tebb, MS, RD, LDN, a Registered Dietitian at Veritas, offers some advice about physical activities that serve self-care:

“The opposite of eating-disorder-driven physical activity is playfulness – think recess, not boot camp. Make exercise fun by being active outside, with a friend, or taking your dog for a walk, for example.”

Since there are so many different ways to exercise and move your body, how do you know if exercise is becoming a risk to your health?

It is important to take #ACloserLook and reflect on your motivations.

  • Do you always do the same form of exercise, even if it becomes uninteresting to you?
  • Do you feel more compelled to exercise right after eating?
  • Do you feel that you need to “make-up” for exercise time that you miss?
  • Do you feel guilty if you take days to rest?
  • Do you still feel the need to do strenuous exercise even if you are sick, injured, or tired?

If you answer “Yes” to any of the above questions, it may be helpful to speak with a doctor or dietitian to understand why these behaviors could put your health at risk. Though it may be challenging to come to terms with harmful tendencies within the grips of an eating disorder, it is worth it to rekindle a peaceful and compassionate relationship with exercise and with your body.

“Participate in physical activity for health, not weight change. Focus on feeling genuinely healthy and strong, rather than on maintaining control and burning calories. It’s not so much what you do, as how you do it. It’s about enjoyment, rather than just about doing the “right” type of physical activity.”

– Nealie Tebb, MS, RD, LDN