Most of us have heard of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and overeating as serious eating disorders, but one that slips through the cracks often is exercise bulimia.
Exercise bulimia (or exercise addiction) is hard to recognize by even the one engaging in it. Don’t they tell you to be active? Isn’t exercising healthy for you? Won’t this prevent me from getting sick in the future? Yes, but people who suffer from exercise bulimia push their daily exercising to the extreme.
Exercise bulimia is a form of bulimia where those affected by it use exercising as a way of purging through sweating and burning calories. They will go to the gym every day for hours at a time, and possibly multiple times a day, and are obsessed with how many calories they burn while there.
They frequently skip social events, classes, work and appointments in order to get their workout in, and if they miss it they suffer severe depression and work twice as hard the next day. They never take a recovery day, which is very important for your body when getting in shape, and those with exercise bulimia will work out even if injured. They judge their self-worth by how well they do at the gym that day or during their run or game.
Many people who develop this disorder start as athletes who are judged by their physical performance to begin with. Their desire to be perfect takes over and spirals out of control. But lately, our culture has seen an increased emphasis on fitness and less interest in actual dieting, switching the preferred method of weight loss to exercising for the everyday person.
People who suffer from anxiety or other codependent disorders, like obsessive compulsive disorder, are at a higher risk of developing a disorder like exercise bulimia. It gives them a sense of control over external life events.
Problems that occur from exercise bulimia can include stress fractures, strains and sprains, extreme fatigue and dehydration, heart problems, reproductive problems, amenorrhea (the stop of menstruation in women), and even arthritis and osteoporosis.
It is seen a lot on college campuses, where eating habits are weird and many people gain weight after high school. Students will work out for hours at their school’s gym to compensate for all the beer and pizza that now make up their diet, and frequently it can go too far.
Most who suffer from exercise bulimia will burn more calories than they take in during their day. Because they are ending in negative nutrition and calorie levels, this can be considered a form of anorexia as well.
It is suggested for those recovering from exercise bulimia to refrain from exercise for three months, and then be reintroduced to it in a more normalized and healthy manner. If you think you or one of your friends may be at risk or suffering from this hidden eating disorder, you should talk to an adult, a friend or a counselor. Find someone to confide in. Exercise is necessary for a healthy life, but like most good things, too much can be harmful.