The psychological and physiological benefits of physical exercise have been well-documented.  In fact, there is a general sense in our society that because of the stress and strain of everyday life, people should even carve out more time for physical exercise.  But this suggestion doesn’t always apply to those with eating disorders, who may have established a pattern of exercise that does more harm than good.  In treatment, sometimes it is necessary for an individual to revise their relationship with exercise or temporarily refrain from strenuous physical activity altogether.  This creates a predicament in which the individual is unable to receive the psychological benefits of physical exercise because the physiological risks are too high, and this can be tricky to handle.
One solution to this quandary is what we call Mindful Movement.  Mindful Movement is physical activity designed for the mind.  It is a way to derive the psychological benefits of physical exercise without placing undue strain on the individual, which in the case of someone with an eating disorder could be dangerous for them.  Mindful Movement isn’t about burning calories, or achieving some kind of physical fitness outcome, it is geared at providing psychological benefit through moving the body.
You may be curious, what are some examples of Mindful Movement?  The wonderful thing about it is that virtually any kind of physical activity could be converted into Mindful Movement if approached with the right mindset.  However, there are certain activities that tend to lend themselves more readily to Mindful Movement.  A few of the go-to activities that we incorporate at Cielo House are dance, walking in nature, gardening, caring for animals, yoga and moving meditation.

  • Dance, as you can imagine has the ability to activate emotions, whether they be expressions of joy or reflections of sadness. Moving expressively, intentionally through dance provides a powerful emotional outlet and allows a person to move their bodies in ways that feel natural and creative.
  • Walking in nature allows a person to move their body while connecting with the natural environment. Walking is preferable to running for this purpose, because when running it is more difficult to take in and appreciate the natural surroundings.  The purpose behind this is to spend time as a person being and moving in nature, without focusing on the excessive exertion or fatigue that can come with running.
  • Gardening allows for a different kind of physical movement that encourages connection directly with the Earth and with other elements of nature. Gardening can be strenuous as planting, pulling, digging and patting all require muscle movement.  But when done for the purposes of communing with nature it activates an increased sense of connection and spirituality.
  • Caring for animals can range from taking a dog for a walk, playing on the floor with a frisky kitten, grooming a horse, or changing the shavings of chicken coop. Our beloved animals do require care, and these activities involve actual physical movement.  It can be an enjoyable way to move one’s body in the presence of other animals that are moving theirs.  It’s refreshing to think that when you walk your dog, he is not thinking about how many calories he is burning, probably he is on the lookout for squirrels.
  • The benefits of Yoga for Eating Disorders has been extensively documented, and if you would like to learn more on this topic, please click
  • Moving Meditation is just what it sounds like. It can be done walking down a city street, moving your body while listening to a guided meditation in your room, anywhere and anyhow with the intention of entering a meditative mind state and using the body to facilitate this.  The slow gentle movements associated with Moving Meditations reinforce the idea that the purpose of the movement is to enhance the mind, not just the body.

Often time individuals with Eating Disorders only have a limited concept about what constitutes physical exercise.  They have been so conditioned to think physical activity is meant to be strenuous, painful, or punitive.  It’s often a relief to know that they can have a relationship with exercise that benefits the mind and feels natural, intuitive and enjoyable.  Mindful Movement is something that almost anyone can do at any stage of recovery and it can establish a lasting, positive relationship with their bodies and their spirits.

Matt Keck, MFT is Co-founder and CEO of Cielo House Comprehensive Eating Disorder Treatment programs.  He believes in a pro-movement philosophy within treatment and supports clients to find movement that energizes the body and the mind.