The Return to Sports After Eating Disorder Treatment

It is often heartbreaking when a medical doctor deems it “unsafe” for someone with an eating disorder to continue in their sport. Someone might get pulled from their sport for a variety of reasons, such as dangerous vitals signs (low heart rate, large changes in resting pulse /blood pressure from laying to standing), inability to eat enough to fuel their energy needs, too much weight loss, inability to control ED behaviors (exercise, vomiting etc) or inability to gain weight back. And this can happen to anyone, in any body size (the person does not need to be emaciated to get into medical danger!)

As someone heals, and is eventually cleared to return back to their sport, it can be challenging for them. It can be likened to returning from an injury. We tell our patients to start slowly, at lower intensity, with a shorter duration. We often also recommend not jumping right into “their sport” right away, starting with other things first, walking, yoga, stretching, and progressing in movements – this helps with training and to prevent injury. This is all done while simultaneously monitoring medical status and nutritional needs (making adjustments as needed). The gradual progression ensures all stays in balance along the way.

Allow yourself to consider that your eating disorder  was a major assault to the body, affecting every system. It will of course therefore take time to return to where your athleticism was “before.” This would be easy to understand if there had been a physical injury, like an ACL tear.

Returning to your sport will take patience, and initially athletes may be disappointed. “I’ve lost my strength” or “I can’t swim as long” or “My climbing level is so much lower” etc etc. BUT – from my experience this is just temporary! Clients who are now in a better medical/psychological place with a quieter ED, come back stronger, faster, and more explosive once their training catches up. I have had many clients start setting PR’s and win competitions nationally – which they didn’t do even before the ED!
🏅💪

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