Exercise Bulimia - Newly Recognized
Exercise Bulimia is a newly recognized eating disorder, characterized
by a compulsion to purge calories through excessive exercise. It is also known
as "compulsive exercise" or "exercise addiction."
Nervosa is traditionally identified by the purging of calories through vomiting
after eating. With Exercise Bulimia, sufferers feel a similar desire to purge
calories, but use rigorous exercise as their method.
Symptoms of Exercise
- Inflexibility as to time of day and mode of exercise
Exercise even when sick or injured
- Prioritizing exercise over social
dates, family functions, work, or school
- Intense fear at states of
- Intense anxiety at situations where preferred method of exercise
- Intense guilt when forced to stray from exercise routine
to eat if unable to exercise
Health risks of Exercise Bulimia are
similar to that of Anorexia Nervosa, as many Exercise Bulimics are at a very low
weight. If accompanied by disordered eating, this condition can complete the female
athlete triad (loss of menstrual cycle, osteoporosis, and disordered eating).
The risks are especially great if the individual is not getting adequate nutrition,
leading to the possibility of heart failure.
Other health risks include
joint injuries, tendonitis, exhaustion, fainting, muscle tears, and dehydration.
Bulimia is sometimes difficult to diagnose, especially because many doctors encourage
their patients to stay fit and active. Many cases of Exercise Bulimia may be overlooked
as professionals do not always examine their patients' regimented exercise routine.
While it is true that regular exercise is a key component of health, it is important
to distinguish the motivation behind the drive to work out.
for the purpose of burning calories from a recent meal, or out of the fear/guilt
surrounding fat and weight could be indicators of Exercise Bulimia. I encourage
my clients to work out because it feels good! Finding an activity they enjoy and
sticking with it because it helps their bodies feel limber and alive-these are
good reasons to exercise. Working out should be a pleasurable experience, a way
to nourish and care for the body, not a method of punishing or purging.
is worth noting that Exercise Bulimia does not always manifest in a low weight.
The key components of Exercise Bulimia are behavioral and mental. An overweight
individual who works out excessively, refuses to take rest days, and feels guilty
if she eats a cookie and is forced to skip a day of her routine, could still be
suffering from Exercise Bulimia and would benefit from treatment.
for Exercise Bulimia is similar to treatment for other eating disorders. A team
of professionals including a doctor, therapist, psychiatrist, dietitian, and an
eating disorder sensitive fitness professional should treat the individual with
Exercise Bulimia. Like other eating disorders, there is typically an underlying
psychological or emotional condition that needs to be addressed, such as depression
If you think you or a loved one could have Exercise Bulimia,
resources such as the National Eating Disorders Association (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org)
offer a referral service, and guidance in finding a specialist in your area.