Why do people exercise compulsively? Can you consider movement as a sensation to help you connect with your body instead of punishing it? How can you heal your relationship with exercise? In this podcast episode, Dr. Cristina Castagnini speaks about exercise and when it is compulsive, healthy, or a part of treatment with Amy Gardner.


Amy Gardner is a certified eating disorder registered dietitian and yoga teacher from Boston. Amy combines over twenty years of clinical and personal recovery experience with psychology, mindfulness, sensory-motor, and yoga training to help her clients move into full recovery. She is the owner of Metrowest Nutrition, LLC, a multi-disciplinary group practice where she supervises other eating disorder clinicians, and is the author of the book, iMove, Helping Your Clients Heal from Compulsive Exercise. Through the iMove program based on her book, Amy leads movement groups and trains other clinicians on how to use the iMove method in their own work.

Visit MetroWest Nutrition and connect with them on Facebook and Instagram. Visit iMove and connect with them on Facebook and Instagram.


  • Movement as sensation
  • The darker side of exercise and EDs
  • Healing your relationship with movement and exercise
  • Compulsive exercise is often about escape

Movement as sensation

Exercise is great for general health and maintenance, but it often gets caught up in being used negatively by diet culture as something you always need more of and need to track to “get results”.
I think movement can get very disconnected when we’ve got all these external ways of measuring it … where it becomes more of an externally driven thing versus something that is a source of connection to our own body. (Amy Gardner)
There is a value to a movement that extends beyond the idea that exercise is purely for aesthetic purposes. In many ways, physical movement is also about the sensation of being physically present within your body.

The darker side of exercise and EDs

It looks like being consumed by thoughts about food, exercise, and when you’re going to exercise, and feeling unbelievably guilty and anxious when you don’t get exercise in. (Amy Gardner)
Exercise can be unhealthy if misused and abused. People who become addicted to exercise as an additional symptom of their eating disorders can become completely overwhelmed with thoughts about exercise as much as they are about food.
When there’s been an energy deficit for long enough, there’s going to be a psychological drive to eat more … [resulting] in binging and more loss of control around food which can be very upsetting to someone whose been working so hard … on diet-aligned behaviors. (Amy Gardner)
No one is posting their darker struggles with exercise addiction or eating disorders on social media, especially in the thick of it, when they may be maintaining a façade even to themselves. They may think that as long as everyone else thinks that everything is okay, it will be. It becomes a lonely and isolating experience.

Healing your relationship with movement and exercise

  • Unpack the issue and seek understanding behind the origins.
  • Which thoughts come up around exercise?
  • What are your perceptions of rest and movement?
  • Practice taking a day off and what that can look like
  • Learn about how exercise can both help or hinder you, depending on how you use it.
  • Practice value work. What is important to you in life, and how can you live these values out in your actions and behaviors?
[Get] familiar with what this individual’s values are and how their relationship to exercise is helping them align more with those values or moving them out of alignment with their values. That is setting the stage for any future work that we do. (Amy Gardner)

Compulsive exercise is often about escape

Even though exercise is a physical activity that can connect you with your body in a healthy way through sensation, it can also be abused to disconnect from your body entirely. People sometimes use exercise to numb out feelings through over-exercise. Group therapy and joining work with a mental health practitioner can teach a person different ways of regulating and connecting with the body, instead of abusing it.



I am a licensed Psychologist and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist. While I may have over 20 years of clinical experience, what I also have is the experience of having been a patient who had an eating disorder as well. One thing that I never had during all of my treatment was someone who could look me in the eye and honestly say to me "hey, I've been there. I understand". Going through treatment for an eating disorder is one of the hardest and scariest things to do. I remember being asked to do things that scared me. Things I now know ultimately helped me to get better. But, at the time, I had serious doubts and fears about it. If even one of my providers had been able to tell me "I know it's scary, but I had to go through that part too. Here's what will probably happen...." then perhaps I would not have gone in and out of treatment so many times. My own experience ultimately led me to specialize in treating eating disorders. I wanted to be the therapist I never had; the one who "got it". I will be giving you my perspective and information as an expert and clinician who has been treating patients for over 2 decades. But don't just take my word for it...keep listening to hear the truly informative insights and knowledge guest experts have to share. I am so happy you are here!


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