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Exercise: Punishment or Celebration?

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

By: Abby Emmert M.A. & Gabrielle Morreale LPC

A lot of times we see those that struggle with eating disorders also struggle with their relationship with exercise. Exercise can be weaponized as a way to control how our bodies look and feel. It can also be used to compensate and “make up for” the food we eat. It can often come with feelings and emotions such as guilt and shame. It can also come with, what we call in the counseling words, musturbations. These are words like “must”, “have to”, or “should”.

Exercising and moving your body is a socially acceptable, and often expected, hobby! That is why the line of healthy and disordered can be so blurred. This is where we can talk about the purpose of exercise, especially with those that struggle with eating disorders and body image. If the purpose of exercise or moving your body is to “make up for” what you ate that day, to “burn off” the calories you had in that meal, or to soothe the eating disorder voice telling you to do so, we want you to think of a red flag! Think of that red flag as a warning. A warning that if the eating disorder tells you that you “should” do something to make it feel better, it will not be getting you closer to your healed self!

Instead, let’s talk about celebrating our bodies with movement! Having an able body is a privilege, and sometimes we forget that. We learn to take these actions for granted, using them to punish ourselves rather than celebrating how we can move our bodies for a positive reason! This may seem hard to distinguish if you are struggling with an eating disorder or body image, but as we discussed above, a great first step is distinguishing WHY you are exercising. What is the purpose of this action you are about to take? If the purpose of it is because you feel like you HAVE to, reflect on the consequences of this cycle and why do you “HAVE TO” who is telling you this? Society? Your family? Your friends? Your eating disorder? To that i say consider the source. Most likely it's your eating disorder voice and it is keeping you in your eating disorder rather than helping you push back against it. If the purpose is to move your body, celebrate what it can do, clear your mind or relieve you on your day, then by all means, girl, get after it! Also another option too that i think we don't talk about enough is restorative movement. Have you heard of this? Simply put, it’s a form of exercise that focuses on easing pain and restoring joint function through simple movements designed to improve the flow of oxygen throughout the body and settle your mind. Examples of restorative movement are walking, restorative yoga, and tai chi also never underestimate a short dance party in the living room. These types of movements not only help to heal your body but also help to heal your mind. Let me challenge you to give these a try next time you feel the urge to compulsively exercise.

This is not to say exercise is bad, that all purposes of exercise are disordered. This is to say that, just like food, our relationships in all areas of life can be disordered when they are not guided by safe goals and mindsets. We are all on this journey together, reflecting on how we are doing and where we can adjust to make peace with our bodies and show them the gratitude they deserve! If you are struggling with this, please reach out to someone you love or contact us at so we can help!

For more information on your relationship with exercise, visit:

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Recovered and Restored is an eating disorder therapy center founded by Gabrielle Morreale. We specialize in helping teens and young women heal from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and binge eating disorder and treat disordered eating, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. We provide eating disorder therapy in the towns of Horsham, Upper Gwynedd, Lower Gwynedd, North Wales, Lansdale, Hatfield, Blue Bell, Doylestown, and nearby towns with eating disorder therapy. Also providing virtual eating disorder therapy in New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida. Some towns served virtually but are not limited to Pittsburg, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Center City, Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Mount Laurel, Cape May, Avalon, Brick, Dover, New Castle, Bethany Beach, Marydel, and Oceanview.

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