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Exercise & Eating Disorders

Exercise Bulimia, the new eating disorder

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Updated June 26, 2014

Though many of us worry about getting enough exercise, there is such a thing as too much exercise. Regular exercise is a good thing, but more is not always better and in some cases, compulsive exercise can be just as dangerous as eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Compulsive exercise is just another tool some people use to purge their body of calories, much like a bulimic who binges and purges. In fact, there's even a name for it: Exercise Bulimia.

Exercise Bulimia

Exercise bulimia is hard to diagnose since everyone talks about how great it is to exercise. If you do more, isn't that good? Not if you're taking it too far. If you use exercise to purge or compensate for eating binges (or just regular eating), you could be suffering from exercise bulimia. Of course, knowing how much exercise is too much is something you may end up learning the hard way, but if you pay attention to your body, there are warning signs that you've taken exercise to the max.

The Symptoms

Compulsive exercisers will often schedule their lives around exercise just as those with eating disorders schedule their lives around eating (or not eating). Other indications of compulsive exercise are:

  • Missing work, parties or other appointments in order to workout
  • Working out with an injury or while sick
  • Becoming seriously depressed if you can't get a workout in
  • Working out for hours at a time each day
  • Not taking any rest or recovery days

Compulsive exercising has to do with control, much the same way people with eating disorders use food as a way to take control of their lives. But, it can turn into an endless workout if you're not careful since most folks never feel satisfied with their bodies or their fitness levels, no matter how much they exercise.

The Danger

Exercising too much can cause all kinds of problems including:

  • Injuries such as stress fractures, strains and sprains
  • Low body fat - this may sound good but, for women, it can cause some serious problems. Exercising too much can cause a woman's period to stop which can cause bone loss
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis
  • Reproductive problems
  • Heart problems

Some of these symptoms also apply to overtraining but if you're obsessed with exercise and use it as a way to undo bad eating on a regular basis, it isn't something you can tackle alone. Many compulsive exercisers find they need therapy to help them deal with exercise bulimia. To get started, call you doctor or check out these online support groups to talk with other people experiencing the same problems:

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