4 Tips from our Sport and Exercise Psychologist for the new year

New Year, New Me? It doesn’t have to be. So many resolutions and intentions focus upon fitness and health, and whilst movement and exercise can be fun and support recovery, some people may find this relationship harder to navigate, particularly in separating movement from weight loss.

Stacey, Orri’s Sport and Exercise Psychologist, offers her specialist insight on how you can be the same you this year, just with more compassion.

This time of year can be challenging, especially as we’re constantly surrounded by the unhelpful narrative to change our bodies, through exercise and dieting. This can be harmful and deeply challenging for someone with an eating disorder or an unhealthy relationship with food or their body.

January is filled with external messaging to eat “healthily” and to exercise, for a “better” and “healthier” you; we’ve all heard of the ‘new year, new me’ rhetoric. The truth is, this is a rather outdated perspective.

The fact is, you don’t actually need to change, today, this new year, or ever. You are enough, just as you are.

For those in eating disorder recovery and with challenging relationships with food and exercise, diet culture and weight loss messages can encourage the behaviours and thoughts of the eating disorder. That is why we suggest to go mindfully, as you introduce exercise and movement back into your life.

Stacey says:

‘It’s important to recognise that being physically active can improve our quality of life, but it is fundamental to our physical and psychological health that we are able to move in a safe way so we do not pose as great of a risk to ourselves, especially for those in eating disorder recovery.’

To help keep you safe in your recovery, Stacey shares her top tips:

Firstly, set and maintain your boundaries

You may have friends or family members that are engaged in more exercise or diet plans this January. Whilst this is completely their choice, there is no expectation for you to engage in this, especially if you are in recovery. A way to uphold this boundary is to explain to your loved ones why this may not be helpful for you right now, or even share how you feel. Having open conversations can aid connection and understanding of your recovery needs to others, as well as asserting your right to be safe. A previous Guest Blogger shares how she set her boundaries when met with triggering conversations:

‘… when people around you start talking about the diet they’re on, how *guilty* they feel about eating a certain food, how they have *earnt* that so-called guilty pleasure because they’ve done some exercise, and such like. I’ve found that these comments can be made by people who know about what I’m going through as well as by those who don’t. In both cases, I try to see it as reflective of our wider, what might be called, ‘disordered eating culture’ that perpetuates a toxic attitude to food and weight even among those who wouldn’t class themselves as having an eating disorder…

… these moments may be triggering conversations about dieting or weight, or anything else that raises intense emotions. I try to remind myself that it is important that I do not just get frustrated or angry, but that I listen to myself, set boundaries, and try not over-identify with other people or assume responsibility.’

Carry out a social media sweep

We all have our own relationships with exercise and movement. So, if your friend benefits from posting their personal bests and results on Instagram, then great! However, if viewing these types of posts negatively affects your mood or triggers any eating disorder thoughts or behaviours, know that you are allowed to block, mute or unfollow them, and this goes for any other accounts that do not serve you. This is you protecting you.

What we encourage is that you carry out a social media sweep over your Feed with these key questions in mind:

  1. Does this align with my recovery values? If so, how? If not, what can I do?
  2. Does this bring me joy and energy? Or, does this content zap my energy?
  3. Is this manifesting the life I want? Or is this the algorithm defining me…

Haley, Orri’s Admissions Manager, shares the types of online accounts that bring her authentic joy – such as, puzzles, sprinkles and pets. She also suggests following pro-recovery accounts.

Moving is okay!

As active human beings, we’re supposed to move, so you are allowed to move, whether you are in recovery or not. Engaging in body movement is incredibly beneficial for our all-round mental health and wellbeing; instead, it is about tracking the intention of this movement that is important – is it coming from you, or from the eating disorder?

Stacey suggests thinking about what it is that you need in response to how you are feeling. There are types of movement that can aid this connection. For example:

If you’re feeling anxious – slow movement yoga, stretching or a mindful breathing can soothe your nervous system and reconnect you with the parts of your body that may need some TLC.

If you’re feeling down or low in energy – going for a mindful walk with others (including pets), can promote social connection and rejuvenate energy

She also suggests to:

  • Be sociable when you are active – join a club or society that provides you with a sense of community, spend time with friends or family members being active
  • Avoid using pedometers/smart watches/FitBits to track your workouts – this can reinforce beliefs around what is or isn’t enough. The best advice is to ditch the tech and turn off your step counter
  • Keep an exercise diary and reflect on the thoughts, emotions, body sensations and memories that may arise when you exercise

Lastly, slow down

“You don’t have to do everything at once. Take it slow and be kind to yourself.”

Not everything needs to be done at a high intensity – this includes in recovery and in movement. Granting yourself space and time allows you to reflect on your needs – how you are feeling, what you need to communicate, what next step to take.

These learnings are invaluable, especially when in the process of reconnecting again with your authentic self. Not everything you’ve anticipated to do or achieve has to be done today or this week – this does not make you a failure.

Eating disorder recovery is not about changing yourself, but about stepping into your authentic parts and being more yourself than ever before. Remember this.

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