As any health professional and eating disorder sufferer knows only too well, exercise is often a huge problem for those seeking and maintaining a healthy recovery. This article aims to examine the key issues listed below including exploring the dangers of compulsive exercise, the impact it has on one’s health as well as recommended treatment.

  • What is exercise addiction?
  • Impacts for Anorexia sufferers
  • Treatment for exercise addiction

What is Exercise Addiction?

Exercise addiction (also known as compulsive exercise and exercise dependence) is basically about exercising in an excessive manner, intensity or amount. An exercise addict will put exercise before everything else and feel compelled to increase their exercise levels until it dominates their daily life and is way past being detrimental to their physical health. Excuses will also frequently be used to engage in calorie-burning activities such as always using stairs, or spending hours gardening or spring-cleaning all in a desperate attempt to burn off calories that have been consumed and lose weight.

Impacts for Anorexia Sufferers

Exercise dependence may have severe impacts upon the sufferer’s ability to both restore and maintain a healthy weight. Injuries are also very common due to the intensity and frequency of exercise and refusal to allow the body enough rest and recovery time. It is also extremely dangerous when one is already weak and can result in heart problems such as arrhythmias as well as electrolyte imbalances. Psychological consequences may also affect sufferers as they may experience extreme anxiety if they are unable to exercise regularly. Time that could otherwise be spent building up/maintaining a support network or socialising is taken up by the extreme exercise regime. In addition to a whole host of physiological affects, further negative psychological symptoms include feelings of depression, guilt, agitation, tension, irritability and restlessness.

Treatment for Exercise Addiction

Balance is the key to recovery from exercise addiction as it is widely recognised that a certain amount of exercise, providing that it is well-regulated and the patient is receiving sufficient nutrition, may in fact contribute to the recovery process. Ideally, it is helpful if an experienced eating disorders therapist, nutritionist or physician works together with the patient to make an “exercise contract.” This contract is an agreement between the patient and care team that they will do only a safe, acceptable amount of exercise as stipulated in the contract. The contract may be revised at different points during treatment, particularly in the case of weight loss or failure to restore or maintain weight to a healthy range.