A New Type of Eating Disorder: Exercise Bulimia

Looks tempting...but if you eat some...will you have to go exercise?

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Exercise is probably one of the most important things you can do to keep your body healthy. It builds endurance, strengthens your heart, keeps your weight in check, builds lean muscles, and boosts healthy cholesterol levels. It is so highly encouraged by doctors, dietitians, and other health professionals, that it is hard to diagnose when someone is exercising TOO much.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, each year up to 11 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. Today, the new emerging eating disorder concept among physicians and dietitians is termed exercise bulimia.

While we may all be familiar with bulimia, a form of eating disorder that involves a binge/purge cycle through vomiting, exercise bulimia is slightly different. 

Exercise bulimia is a similar concept, but instead of vomiting as a purge, one will exercise excessive and compulsively. Exercise bulimia is a condition not to be taken lightly. It can lead to serious health consequences; fatigue, depression, anxiety, reproductive problems, amenorrhea, arthritis, stress fractures, sprains, dehydration, and bone loss. Also, if you are not providing your body with adequate nutrition, it can lead to heart failure.

Does your workout leave you feeling energized...or worn out?

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Unfortunately, this form of mental disorder often goes unnoticed because exercise is so highly acclaimed amongst our society. A person is often praised for their excessive exercise efforts and typically the object of envy among family and friends.

Exercise Bulimia is just as common in men as it is in women.

I decided to bring this topic up today, not only because I have suffered from this disorder myself, but because I have noticed certain bloggers who may be suffering as well. With so many people blogging about their daily marathon runs and morning and evening workout routines, there are influential readers who may begin to feel their own personal work out effort is inferior. Mimicking their favorite blogger’s exercise routines could soon bring on the disorder in the reader as well. I began feeling this way myself and decided it was healthier for me to stop reading blogs who solely discussed their personal eating and exercise habits. I did not need the comparisons. I found bloggers who promoted healthy body image and wrote about important nutritional topics: Tina from Faith, Fitness, and Fun, Laury from The Fitness Dish, and Nichole from Live For the Run (just to name a few)!!!

So, in light of this information, I wanted to share some signs that may indicate you or someone you know, may be suffering from exercise bulimia.

Signs:

  • Afraid to skip a workout with fear of gaining weight or losing physical fitness.
  • Exercising day after day with no rest days.
  • Missing work, parties, or other social activities in order to workout.
  • Exercising for multiple hours each day: how many bloggers run 13 + miles daily and blog about how great it is? Is this really normal?
  • Working out even when injured or feeling sick.
  • Guilt when forced to stray from usual workout routine.
  • Having the urge to workout after each meal in order to burn off those calories.
  • Intense fear at states of rest.
  • Feeling depressed when unable to work out.
  • Refusal to eat if unable to exercise.

If these signs seem familiar to you,  ask yourself:

  • Am I really happy?
  •  Is all the exercise I am getting really benefiting my body?
  • Do I really want to skip dinner with my girl friends so I can be alone at the gym?
  • What else am I neglecting so that I can get 2-3 hours of exercise in daily?

When you begin allowing exercise to disproportionately occupy time and space throughout your day, you are probably suffering the consequences of exercising too much.

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. There is so much more to life than being a slave to your heart rate monitor! Exercise because it makes you feel GOOD and look for activities that you enjoy! Exercise should make you feel alive and limber, not achy, painful, guilty, or depressed. Being healthy is about loving who you are and caring and nourishing your body. Punishing it is detrimental to your mind, body, and soul.

After I adopted a regular yoga, stretching routine, I started to get more in touch with my body. I was better able to achieve a mindset that gave me a positive attitude toward myself!

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Like other eating disorders, there are other psychological and emotional elements that are feeding the condition. For more information and resources visit: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

Question: Have you ever felt your workouts were inferior compared to other bloggers?

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31 comments to A New Type of Eating Disorder: Exercise Bulimia

  • [...] a day, as prescribed by the government, is an important part of staying healthy.  But there are some questions you need to ask yourself when you work out, outlined [...]

  • [...] posted a link to a great post on the Healthy Apron about Exercise [...]

  • I suffered from this (I think I still do, but I’m way better). But I dont think its “new”. A lot of people have it and are undiagnosed. They just think “well I’m not anorexic cause I eat! and I’m dont purge! I just like to workout! and working out is healthy!”
    but yea I know I took it too far. But I felt as if I had to EARN my food and I LOVED food (still love it, of course). I had to completely detox from exercise. No walks, no yoga, nothing! I did it in treatment and it was the best thing to do cause it proved to me nothing happens to my body if I feed it and dont exercise.

  • This is a great post and something I also think a lot of people out there need to hear. Thanks for putting it out on the table!

  • I have struggled with this for many years and even to this day still fall back into it sometimes, but i’ve learned how to take care of my body the way it should be taken care of when i do any amount of exercise!

  • [...] moving along, I wanted to share this fantastic post that Erin posted today about exercise bulimia.  I honestly encourage you all to head over there and read it, I found it really interesting.  I [...]

  • Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’m glad to have found yours, this is a great post I’m glad you’re highlighting such an important issue. I actually ended up with way too much food tonight, but yesterday I reckon I’d have wolfed it down haha! You should totally give boxing a go, you can just do it for fitness if you don’t want to fight, it’s great fun :-)

  • [...] blog about this today after reading Tina’s 30 day’s post for today on exercise and also The Healthy Apron’s blog on exercise bulimia – because both reminded me that I do teeter on the edge now and then [...]

  • I am so glad you are bringing attention to this issue! I have struggled with it myself to a certain extent in the past, and it is a very serious problem. And you’re so right that it’s easy for people to get caught up in the comparison game when comparing themselves to other bloggers in terms of fitness routines. It’s so important to listen to your own body and honor its signals, rather than trying to confirm it to someone else’s. Great post! :)

  • Interesting topic, Erin. I definitely know there are people out there who exercise too much and I feel bad for their bodies! Everything in moderation – including exercise.
    I went through a period of time – mainly my college years – where I exercised too much and didn’t eat enough fat or protein. It wasn’t severe but I did learn a lot from it. Now I work out for 45-60 minutes 5 days a week and that seems to be perfect.

  • it can be a serious eating disorder, thats for sure! this post is exciting because i know so many people suffer from exercise bulimia. the women my mom works with are really into running..and my dad works with a similar group of runners. both have such unhealthy addictions to their exercising habits that this form of bulimia can easily co-incide with OCD Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’ve struggled with it at times, as well as most people I know of. You feel an urgency to move and workout and when u cant, you dont want to eat as much or u tell urself negative thoughts. Certain sports liek running, give u that high that can cause addictions especially in those who are chemically pre-disposed to addictive behaviors. What healed it for me was forcing myself to take a break from the exercise that made me addicted and to focus on other exercises like swimming and walking anad biking. i only let myself move when i was stressed or when i was already in a happy mood and energized. no more forcing or put-downs. but for some it can get so serious that they really need treatment, and just like any other disorder, a full program is needed for them to break free from the disease.

    xoxo <3

  • Interesting info… I’ve heard a lot about this lately, so it must be the new self-damaging trend. To answer your question, I always think my workouts are inferior to other bloggers… but it doesn’t bother me at all. I feel healthy and great :)

  • This is a great post and a good reminder that balance is most important, not just with healthy eating but in keeping a healthy mindset related to fitness, too. While I do fall into the category now and then of feeling badly for missing more than one workout a week, I try very hard to find and maintain balance in all that I do, workouts included. BUT I can totally see how it can easily get out of hand, veering quickly into exercise bulima so it’s something I’m keenly aware of, especially in the blogging world. Thanks for posting this.

  • Wonderful post! As far as exercise addiction goes: Been there. Done that. NEVER want to go back! I used to plan my day around my workouts and wouldn’t do anything that got in the way of my 2-hour morning routine. I was a slave to the gym, but justified my habits in the name of health. Ironically what I was going was extremely unhealthy. It’s so liberating not “needing” to slug out strenuous workouts every day. :-)

    Thanks for raising awareness about this…It’s so hard to distinguish when healthy habits turn into dangerous obsessions!

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  • Kim

    Great post.

    I could see myself as falling into an exercise bulimia trap because I tend to put all of my focus and energy into 1 thing and it can sometimes start consuming me.

    Since I’ve started running again though and exercising more regularly I try to check in with myself more often. I do love the way I feel after a workout and that’s the main reason I run. I track my workouts on a calendar and mkae sure to schedule a few days off in a week. I find when I’m riding the ‘high’ I feel well enough to go 7 days a week but realistically I know it’s not healthy to do so.

  • Great post Erin! There was a point in time where I could definitely fit into this category, now not so much. I completely agree with you on how bloggers compare themselves to other bloggers as far as food and exercise go and it is definitely not healthy and therefore, I backed away from that as well. Such a good post! Thanks :)

  • Great post.

    I think the problem is though that these people will answer those questions as if, yes, it is healthy for them and they’re strong and competitive, etc. Because they’re minds are too sucked into it.

    Having another purpose in life and passion – with a great support system is what’s needed.

    I did a book Review once on “Diary of an Exercise Addict” about something like this. Very raw and real. I would suggest it for others. I didn’t like it when I first read it years ago – hah! but that’s when I had similar obsessions – now, I can appreciate it AND I can just appreciate a nice leisurely walk…

  • One of my best friends struggled with this…and thankfully she got help. I sometimes feel bad when I see all these bloggers doing these amazing exercise routines, but I have learned that I have to honor my body and listen to my body’s cues above all else! Thanks for sharing this important information with us…we all need to be aware!

  • thanks for bringing this subject to light! i’m sure a lot of women can relate, only sometimes we don’t see the signs. thanks for the great post:)

  • This is a really great post. I think it’s a huge problem that isn’t talked about so much. Because you’re right — people who exercise way more than what should be considered “normal” are usually idolized, or praised as super fit or hardcore. I think it’s one thing if you’re training for a big race, but even then…you can easily overdo it. Personally, I’m training for a marathon, so there are days when I do double-digit runs. But definitely not everyday. And if my body is telling me that I need to cut back or rest, then I do it. To not listen to those signs can be dangerous. I’ve fallen into that trap in the past when I stopped running with a team and for the first time, was exercising completely on my own. What makes the issue more complicated is that exercise can be really addictive, which can just fuel the cycle. But in the end that only made me injured and sick — not fit and healthy.

  • Fortunately, this is not something I’ve had to deal with myself, but I’m sure I know a couple of people who show signs, and they just think it’s normal.

    I guess I always sort of compare my own workouts and fitness level to those of others. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt inferior, exactly – maybe envious that they’re fitter than I am? And most of the blogs I follow really focus on maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Thanks for the enlightening post!

  • I knew a girl who suffered from this- and I guess I did, too for a long time, actually. I gave up exercise for a long time to get back to my healthy weight and even though I’m back into exercising hard (but still not nearly as much as I used to), I eat to keep up with what I burn and track net calories through livestrong.com. Plus, it’s more lifting than cardio now. It’s definitely made a different eating more :) In both how I feel and having actual fuel for workouts!

    And I agree with you on the 13-mile runs. Honestly, unless you realllllyyy love running or are training for a marathon..it’s a bit ridiculous. But then again, as long as they’re eating enough then more power to em.

  • You’re pretty awesome lady and I am glad that you have licked this yourself. I do see a lot of folks out there who were doing just as you said – running double digit miles every single day. Unfortunately, even though they feel great doing that for awhile, they end up injured and then fall into a depression because of it.

    I wish that all of these types of addictions (for that is what they are)were taken more seriously by the public and the medical community.

  • I use to just struggle with exercise bulimia but unfortunately that progressed into the regular binge/purge bulimia.. which in my opinion, is worse. I would give anything to go back to just having exercise bulimia but the thing is, until I started purging, I wasn’t aware that I even HAD an ED before. If there is anything good about my ED getting worse it’s that it at least forced me to acknowledge that I have one.

    As for other bloggers, I’ve never felt inferior to any of them but there have been quite a few “health” blogs that I’ve had to stop reading because they trigger me. It’s weird though, I still do read ED recovery blogs and I don’t get triggered but the moment I start reading a “health” blog where the blogger has really obvious ED behaviors that are “normal”.. it just sets me off.

  • Hey Erin, thanks for bringing awareness to this topic. It is something that has been around a long time, but may not of been recognized properly. I had definitely suffered from this in the past, anxious if I didn’t workout 5+ hours a DAY–6-7 days a week…not I am happy to say I workout 4 days a week, no more than 90 minutes at a time! It’s a serious problem though, and there are many out there that suffer from it!

  • This is a great post. I have also heard of exercise anorexia as well. And you are so right, you see bloggers posting all of these super intense sounding workouts all the time and there are a few that I follow that I have started to worry for them actually. My workouts can be pretty intense, but I always fuel and refuel, I always take at least one rest day, I rarely miss events just to workout (I mean, I may pass up happy hour on a Thurs, but it’s typically b/c I don’t want to go out). Oh, and there is no way I would skip a meal b/c I didn’t workout. I’m not pleasant when I’m hungry.

    I think it can also become addicting to exercise so there can be a fine line between enough and too much.

  • I think back in the past I faced similar feelings and had a bit of this disorder. Thank goodness I learned how to treat my body nicely. I completely agree some bloggers seem to have a bit of an obsession with workouts. Sometimes it gets me wanting to do more, but usually I just feel for them. Balance is so important!

  • this is really interesting and informative, thank you

  • What a powerful post. I think many people have some level of this at some time in their life. I know when I first started working out in college it was to definitely move the scale, now I move ME. It’s important to focus on overall health and enjoyment, not pushing ourselves for anything.

    You are such a beautiful writer. I really have to pause and caution what I write on my site, bc everyone has to (has to) listen to their own body. Nobody knows what everyone does for a living, how much time they have, it’s unfair to compare.

    Health is more than food, more than exercise, it’s something that a positive state of mind and being.

  • Thank you for posting this — people definitely need to be aware that overdoing it doesn’t mean healthier! Love the signs to look for section!

  • I’ve definitely seen cases of exercise bulimia– especially on my college campus back in the day. I’d always see the same girls in the gym sweating to death on the stair climber at all hours of the day and night.

    In the past, I used to really stress out about getting my exercise in for the day…to the point where my whole day would be ruined if I couldn’t workout. I’ve gotten much better about having fun while exercising and not taking everything so seriously.

    Great post!

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