Eating Disorders and Physiotherapy


Eating Disorders and Physiotherapy

Eating disorders are a common mental illness, affecting up to 1 in 5 individuals at some stage in their life. Over 80% of those with eating disorders struggle with dysfunctional exercise, a term describing unhealthy thoughts and behaviours around exercise, with feelings of shame, guilt and anxiety. This can lead to either avoidance of physical activity or excessive and compulsive exercise.

 Why see a physiotherapist?

When recovering from an eating disorder it is important to develop a positive relationship with both food and movement/exercise. Working alongside dietitians, GPs and psychologists, physiotherapists are well suited to guide exercise during the recovery process. Physiotherapists can also help to manage the physical consequences of malnutrition and stress including decreased strength, low bone density, overuse injuries and muscle tension.

 What can physiotherapists help with?

  • Exercise
    • Using evidence-based guidelines to include movement in the recovery process in a safe and enjoyable way. 
    • Work on developing a healthy mindset around exercise.
    •  Develop skills in listening to your body to guide movement.
  • Treatment of musculoskeletal concerns
    •  This might include stress fractures, over-use injuries, muscular tension, pain, weakness, and stiffness.
  • Bone health and osteoporosis
    • Targeted advice and exercises to improve bone density.
  •  Hands on treatment / massage
    • Beneficial to release muscle tension, manage fluid retention, promote relaxation, and decrease anxiety around physical touch.
  • Movement re-education
    •  Feeling disconnected from one’s body is very common in those with eating disorders. Physiotherapy can assist with feeling more connected to your body and improving stability, posture, balance, and movement patterns.

Why see a physiotherapist?

Book in  here with Rebecca Gawler at Balance North for an introductory consultation in person or via telehealth.


       Butterfly foundation (2021). Community Insights Research. Sydney: Butterfly Foundation. Retrieved from

       Taranis L, Meyer C. Associations between specific components of compulsive exercise and eating-disordered cognitions and behaviours among young women. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2011;44(5):452-458. doi:10.1002/eat.20838

       Holland L, Brown T, Keel P. Defining features of unhealthy exercise associated with disordered eating and eating disorder diagnoses. Psychol Sport Exerc. 2014;15(1):116-123. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2013.10.005

       Mond J, Hay P, Rodgers B, Owen C. An update on the definition of “excessive exercise” in eating disorders research. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2006;39(2):147-153. doi:10.1002/eat.20214

       Brown K. Physiotherapy In Eating Disorders. 1st ed. The Physiotherapy Eating Disorders Professional Network Group; 2018:1-5. Accessed November 18, 2020.

       Dobinson A, Cooper M, Quesnel, D. Safe Exercise at Every Stage (SEES): A Guideline for Managing Exercise in Eating Disorder Treatment. Safe Exercise at Every Stage website. Published 2019.

       Hammond L. Physiotherapy Guidance Notes For Osteoporosis And Exercise In Anorexia Nervosa And Bulimia Nervosa. 1st ed. The Physiotherapy Eating Disorders Professional Network Group; 2015:1-27. Accessed November 18, 2020.

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