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Exercise and nutrition are foundational to good health, but extreme behaviors can be a red flag indicating unhealthy behaviors. Calories in, calories out — that’s what weight is, right? This is what the experts tell us over and over again. It’s no surprise, really, that many people are developing distorted relationships with exercise — why wouldn’t it be okay to eat a whole pizza, as long as we burn it all off afterward? But, a growing amount of evidence has shown that this mindset can quickly become a slippery slope, and exercise can turn into something far more dangerous. Experts have coined the term “exercise bulimia,” or compulsive exercise, to describe the phenomenon of obsessively burning off the calories you consume. (Justin Sedor)

Compulsive exercise is another way to “purge” calories and it can be as dangerous as Anorexia and Bulimia. The main goal when an individual is suffering from compulsive exercise can be burning calories, relieving the guilt from eating/bingeing, or to give them the permission to eat.

What is Compulsive Exercise?

  • Exercise that significantly interferes with important activities, occurs at inappropriate times or in inappropriate settings, or when the individual continues to exercise despite injury or other medical complications.
  • Intense anxiety, depression and/or distress if unable to exercise.
  • Discomfort with rest or inactivity.
  • Exercise used to manage emotions.
  • Exercise as a means of purging.
  • Exercise as permission to eat.
  • Exercise that is secretive or hidden.
  • Feeling as though you are not good enough, fast enough or not pushing hard enough during a period of exercise.

Symptoms and Signs of Compulsive Exercise

The common hallmark of excessive exercise is prioritizing exercise foremost in life, rather than including exercise in a balanced lifestyle. Some common indicators of exercise obsession include:

  • Continuing to exercise when injured or sick
  • Avoiding social functions to exercise
  • Firmly adhering to an obsessive and regimented exercise regime
  • Feeling guilty if not exercising or if a workout is missed.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family.

Serious Side Effects (May Include)

  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Injuries such as shin splints, strains and sprains, cartilage damage, and stress fractures
  • Fractured bones
  • Osteoporosis
  • Degenerative arthritis
  • Amenorrhea
  • Reproductive problems
  • Heart problems

Treatment for Exercise Addiction

  • Refraining from exercise for a period of time to regain a balanced lifestyle and identify underlying issues
  • Counseling from qualified treatment professionals on developing healthier coping skills and tools to lead a more balanced life
  • Training from an exercise physiologist or specialist when resuming exercise, to assist in determining a healthy workout schedule, appropriate duration of exercise, etc.

If you would like to talk with someone, a toll-free National Eating Disorder helpline is available at 1-800-931-2237.

For further information on exercise additions and eating disorders:

An Eating Disorder No One Is Talking About by Justin Sedor, Refinery29

[image description: a person is running on a treadmill]

a person is running on a treadmill

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