Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses that impact millions of people every year in the United States. Anorexia is one of the most common eating disorders, particularly among girls. It’s defined as an intense fear of gaining weight. When recovering from anorexia, the National Institutes of Health recommends programs, group therapy, and medication for depression and anxiety. They also recommend that you as a parent stay heavily involved during recovery.
While the goal of exercise is improved health, vitality, and fitness, it’s not designed specifically for burning massive amounts of calories in keeping up with unrealistic or imagined body image. Unfortunately, that is what your child or teen with eating disorders have to face — an intense war in their mind with the mirror and the foods that they eat. Parents, you’re especially charged with helping your child see the importance of exercise as positive, fun and enjoyable way to be fit and healthy. Some exercise may be allowed, but not all and it should be in a controlled environment. Your child’s care providers will help you determine how much is safe and healthy.
“For people with a history of eating disorders or disordered eating, the dangers of exercise are both physical and psychological,” says Sarah K. Ravin, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and eating disorders specialist. “Physically, exercise puts a strain on your body — if your body is already weakened from fasting or at best insufficient nutrition, it might not be able to handle that strain.”
Another consideration for your child or teen is where you exercise. Be careful of gyms, which can make relapse possible.
“There’s a psychological risk to getting into a workout routine. Exercising means paying attention to your body in a way that can quickly turn critical and competitive. Just walking into a gym with mirrors can trigger competition between your body image and other females,” says Harriet Beitscher Campbell, a certified eating disorder specialist at Ocean Breeze Recovery.
What’s the Best Starting Point to Fitness & Health?
Group exercise programs, such as yoga and team sports, are one recommended way to get exercise over solitary and competitive exercise programs, such as running or swimming. Through the right exercise programs, you can help to reintroduce your child healthy eating habits that support better brain functioning, support strong bones, and healthier muscles.
If you’re looking for the fitness activities for your child recovering from eating disorders, consider what’s listed below.
Barre classes. Invented by people in ballet, it involves the use of many classical ballet positions. You child isn’t required to have tap shoes, leotards, or any fancy footwork.
Hip-Hop Aerobics. Hip-hop aerobics uses beats and dancing for a high-energy class. Your child will enjoy their favorite pick-me-up music (if they like hip-hop) while moving their body to exciting dance combinations.
Latin Dancing. Take your child out to a Latin dance class or open dance meeting (try meetup.com) and have fun and break a sweat through Latin-infused dance moves from the Cha Cha, Merengue, Salsa, and more.
Zumba. This high-energy and electrifying fitness class helps your child party their way into great shape (and make friends along the way!). It’s easy-to-follow, Latin-inspired, and has a way of bringing families together.
Kickboxing Cardio. Let your child enjoy this fighting sport turned fitness class. They will be constantly on the move, punching and kicking their way to a great cardio workout.
As you can see, there are a multitude of ways that your child who is recovering from eating disorders can get back into great shape and discover the healthy side of eating right and being active. Eating disorders may be scary, but with the right support and an active family environment, your child will be on the road to a lasting recovery.