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What About Walking?
Whether or not walking 'counts as exercise' is not really the point.
When it comes to rest and ceasing exercise in recovery, walking often gets a free pass (or a handy time-limit). “I’ve stopped all exercise except a 30 minute daily walk” is something I hear a lot from people in recovery. Sure, walking is a lot less intensive than many other forms of movement, and can be a de-stressing and enjoyable activity. Despite this, I think there is recovery-value in investigating it further.
The first thing I’d like to acknowledge is that movement can be enjoyable and also disordered. Sure, random sit-ups in the middle of the night or running for hours in scorching sun might be inherently disordered, unenjoyable and ED-driven, but very often people with eating disorders will have certain forms of movement they genuinely enjoy. But just because a movement is genuinely enjoyable does not mean it is immune from ED infestation. This includes walking.
Too often, I see people being “allowed” a daily walk of let’s say maximum 30 minutes, and their ED interpreting this as “you need to walk 30 minutes every day, no matter what” - any kind of interference with this walk causes mental mayhem. For example, you’re on your way out, and surprise, family visit on the door! Normally you’d enjoy family coming over, but it interferes with your walk so now you’re low-key resentful. Perhaps you even do the walk after they leave (hoping they’ll get their butts out ASAP), despite it being late and cold, and you being tired. This is not a normal or healthy relationship with walking.
As mentioned above, oftentimes people use the fact that they enjoy a form of movement as a reason not to challenge it. Instead, I’d argue the opposite: if you enjoy walking and find it important to you, wouldn’t that make it even more crucial to work on extracting the ED from this activity? Trust me, walks are a lot more enjoyable when they are ED-free.
If you enjoy the ‘getting outside’ aspects of a walk, how about spending some of the time sitting down on a bench? If unavoidable activity, such as walking your dog, how about going to the park and - you guessed it - sitting down on a bench? Let benches be your new best friend. The more challenging you find sitting down, the more you probably need it mentally. (And no, you will not wither overnight).
(A perfect spot to sit down and reflect on which new, creative way your eating disorder is trying to interfere with your recovery today.)
As I discuss in my podcast episodes on lower-level movement and on walking, the eating disorder is an expert at sneaking in more movement, or making certain forms of movement more intense and lengthy. This can sometimes be so sneaky that even an eating disorder-trained psychologist will miss it. But please, remember that your treatment is for you. You can try and outsmart your treatment team all you want and cheer when given a permission slip for walks, but you are the one who will suffer the consequences if this is disordered.
Does walking count as exercise, from a physical point of view? It does not really matter. It absolutely can be counted that way, especially when prolonged and intense, but at the end of the day what matters is if it’s disordered or not. Even if it is not physically harmful (although again, it can be), if it is mentally harmful it is worth working on. Your body might not be physically harmed by you measuring the grams of butter on your bread, but mentally the eating disorder thrives on it. It is those little things that makes recovery, and self-accountability is key.
The more your eating disorder hates this article, the more you needed to hear it. You’re welcome.
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