< Previous Post | Next Post >

I’m Injured and I Can’t Exercise!

By Michelle May, M.D.

Woman on CrutchesSince I quit dieting many years ago, I’ve exercised not because I have to, but because I need to. Yoga and hiking have kept me balanced, sane, energetic, productive, and connected. However, I’ve been challenged by a right rotator cuff injury for nine months and had surgery two weeks ago. I’ve been concerned about not being able to exercise and the potential effects on my energy and mood—and so is my husband, who has to live with me!

I recalled a question I’d received from Cindy months ago. Her concerns were a little different but this seemed like the perfect opportunity to share it on this blog.

“I have been following your blog for a while, and have now run into a problem. I broke my ankle in two places and I’m not able to exercise for 4-6 weeks. How do I keep from gaining weight? I can eat mindfully and keep from eating when I am not hungry, but I fear without exercise I won’t be able to keep off weight. Any ideas?”

I had figured that our Facebook community would have some great insights – and they did! We received dozens of comments which I’ve grouped according these themes:

1.       Taking a break for exercise once in a while is a good thing.
2.       Find something else to do.
3.       Don’t focus on weight; exercise isn’t for weight management anyway.
4.       Trust your body; it knows what it needs to heal.

Four Ways to Deal with an Injury that Prevents Exercise

1.      Taking a break from exercise once in a while is a good thing.

Most experts agree that taking a break from your usual routine is actually a good thing. It allows your body to rest and recover, with surprisingly little loss in fitness (depending on the length of time of course).

Allen: I was told no running for the next 2 to 3 weeks. Just eat good real food and watch the amount.

Donna: I did a relaxation meditation with a client who had to quit running/exercising temporarily, too. I incorporated in the meditation a visualization of her preparing to run, warming up, running, and even getting into the “zone.” Then we proceeded with her cooling down in the visualization. She found it effective.

2.      Find something else to do.

This “limitation” may actually turn out to be an opportunity to discover other activities you enjoy – or at least learn to appreciate your usual activities even more!

Emilie: My friend lost weight when she broke her ankle because doing everyday things with the cast was so much harder. She could still lift arm weights sitting down which would be good for overall strength.

Heather: Do upper body weights, stationary bike once it starts to heal.

Camerin: When I had foot surgery, I rented a scooter to rest my bent knee on to get around. It was much easier than crutches and I was pretty mobile on our hardwood floors and outside. You’ll use muscles you never knew you had!

Michele: Are you able to swim?

3.       Don’t focus on weight; exercise isn’t for weight management anyway.

I think this is a particularly important point because too often, people use exercise to earn the right to eat or pay penance for eating. That is a very narrow view of the tremendous benefits that exercise offers.

Celia: “Working out doesn’t earn you more calories.”

Emilie: “Sometimes you gain weight. It isn’t the end of life. Focus on getting better.” She added, “Rest isn’t about sitting on the easy chair waiting to heal; active recovery will make getting back to normal much easier.”

Charlene: “I’d like to offer a broader question than ‘how do I keep from gaining weight?’ to ‘how do I exquisitely care for myself during this time of injury, pain, and healing?’ The three questions from Am I Hungry?, What do I want? What do I need? What do I have?, can also be applied to the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of our lives. You’ll find answers and strength during this unexpected event regardless of what happens to your weight. It’s about so much more than numbers on a scale.”

Debbie: Sometimes I get a client that struggles with this issue in eating disorder work. What I might ask is, what is this about if it wasn’t about the weight of the body? If it is about physical health and anxiety reducing, we focus on tools to reduce anxiety (or other difficult emotions like feeling helpless etc.). I’d ideally have a physical therapist work with her to do what’s safe for that injury stating that the goal is to be well enough sooner to move again.

(Debbie also shared an article called 12 Signs You’re Exercising Too Much and said, “This article is very personal for me, because I struggled with compulsive exercise for years. Today, I don’t work out or exercise; I move my body. I move to cultivate clarity, creativity, and energy.”)

4.      Trust your body; it knows what it needs to heal.

I really love the message, “Trust your body!” This is what Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs is all about: Learning to listen to and trust your body’s wisdom. Pain is a sign that something is wrong so pay attention and give your body time to heal.

Melissa: Your body will adjust to less exercise. Focus on being mindful, not on your weight.

Sumner: “Trust your body and your hunger. Move in ways that feel good and are safe. Know that it’s OK even if your weight does shift some; it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.”

Debbie: What’s so terrible about rest and not exercising for a period of healing time? Whose voice gets to be in charge of the healing plan? The inner critical parent voice or the gentle firm good parent voice?

Cindy replied

“Thanks to everyone who has responded! I’ve decided that the most important thing is for me to heal. If I don’t heal correctly, it won’t get better. So I’m going to focus on upper body exercises, and following the Am I Hungry? program. Thanks again!”

As for me, I’m walking, doing lower body stretches and core exercises, and going to physical therapy. I am looking forward to re-starting my favorite activities with a renewed sense of appreciation for what I am able to do!


About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.


  1. Joyce says:

    Oh, Thank you all for your comments. It could not have come at a better time. I had to stop the guilt trip I had dropped on myself. I had abdominal surgery and was laid up for two weeks, at the same time my step Dad became critically ill and ultimately died within the next two weeks. I was in a tailspin. This blog has given me direction and calm. Trust my body. it will tell me what it needs. Spend the time I need healing physically and emotionally. Do something else if I need to! It has worked in the past and will again in the future!

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

< Previous Post | Next Post >