Running to Recover from an Eating Disorder

There is no doubt about it, running (and exercise in general) works wonders for improving our physical and emotional wellbeing. We all know this.

But when you are in recovery from an eating disorder, your doctor and your loved ones will be concerned if you want to take up a new sport – and it’s easy to see why. We understand that they think it is from a place of control, and a desire to achieve (or indeed maintain) “thinness”.

I am sure if you are reading this, and in recovery from an eating disorder yourself, you can forgive those who care about you from wanting to prevent you from engaging in a new sport. But if the sport is not excessive and indeed provides you with more of an appetite for life AND your meals, then it really ought to be considered as a small part of your mental wellbeing toolbox.

How running helped me overcome bulimia…

  1. It altered my view of my body. When I started running, instead of focusing purely on the aesthetics of myself, I was beginning to see how my body could change and adapt to be stronger, faster, more capable than I had ever imagined. When you see your body as a tool for something other than just “looking good” it makes us see ourselves in a very different, much more positive, light.
  2. It altered my view of food. The more “into” my running I became, the more I was reading around the topic and learning what foods were going to help me become more comfortable in this new hobby. Eating carbs pre and post-run, and upping my protein intake to take care of muscles were all a part of this. It made me WANT to eat more regularly, and more nutritionally, to give myself the best chance of ever becoming better as a runner.
  3. It altered my view of my capabilities. I had absolutely zero self-esteem to speak of before becoming a runner. I had nothing I felt worth sharing amongst a crowd of strangers, and heaven forbid would I speak unless spoken to. Running made me realise that I had something to be PROUD of. Something to talk about.
  4. It altered my view of others. As mentioned above, I was very inward-focused before becoming a runner. The running community and engaging in the social aspect of what running can offer really opened up my eyes to a wider network of people. I would see a runner passing me by in the street and I would smile at him/her, because I could identify with that person. The sense of belonging and community in running is tremendous, and a largely overlooked benefit to running.
  5. It altered my view of my surroundings. Where I initially felt trapped in my own mind, and my own city (I was in Oxford when I began this running lark), running showed me there was a MUCH much bigger world than I was restricting myself to. The world suddenly did not only look like a rotating cycle of college/shops/house/nightclub (occasionally). I was immersing myself much more fully into what the whole city had to offer… not just my little corner of it. Little parks hidden in the nooks and crannies, the way the sun looked over the river at 6am. It felt like such a treat that I knew about these things when my other housemates did not.

How to make sure running is SAFE for you, whilst recovering from an eating disorder:

  1. Don’t track your runs. It just adds another element of control which we could really do without. Focus instead on how each run FEELS.
  2. You have to be committed to recovering. Recognising where your issues stemmed from with the eating disorder and committing yourself to recovering, fully, is so important to making sure it becomes a healthy relationship with food and running.
  3. Try not to implement this new habit alone, if you can avoid it. Having a supportive network of other runners (Run Talk Run is a good place to start!) will benefit SO much in helping you maintain this new tool in your mental toolbox.

At the end of the day, when it comes to recovery you really do need to find what works for YOU. If you feel like running may be a part of that but are scared of the implications then please do seek advice from other professionals.

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