Eating Disorders and Exercise

When it comes to eating disordered behavior, many people do not think “exercise.” However, this typically healthy activity, used to excess, or used for unhealthy reasons, can become a large part of someone’s eating disorder. In fact, the terms “exercise-abuse”, “over-exercising”, or “purging” are often used to describe this pattern.

When exercise is used excessively, the primary purpose is often to burn calories. People with eating disorders become intensely afraid of gaining weight, and will exercise in equivalent amounts to the calories they want to burn. While this unhealthy habit may support their eating disordered thinking, it takes a tremendous toll on a person’s body.

People often get addicted to exercise because prolonged physical activity raises endorphins in the brain. These chemicals raise our moods, which in turn make us feel better about ourselves and overall happier. Both the physical and mental effects of exercise can be addictive. Many time eating disorder and exercise go hand in hand when someone in experiencing mental disorder. You may notice a combination of extreme workouts and symptoms of an eating disorder. Because exercise is good for you, it is hard for the person suffering from the illness to slow down. They are able to justify their actions better because they are doing a productive activity. Here at The Delray Center, we are able to address all facets of physical illness, including over exercising.

Many over-exercisers will report discomfort, pain, or even injury in their bodies as a result of their excessive activity, or will report feeling “nothing at all,” which results from a total mind-body disconnect. They will continue to exercise obsessively despite their body’s cues, and they will also spend countless hours feeling the need to exercise, which has them missing out on other important aspects of their lives.

Treatment for this aspect of an eating disorder involves hands-on teaching and monitoring of a person’s exercise routine. People need to be taught how to exercise appropriately, by listening to their body’s cues and finding enjoyment and fun in what they do again. If someone is at a particularly low weight, than no exercise is recommended until a safe and healthy weight can be restored.