Exercise And Eating Disorders

A Brief Guide to Exercise And Eating Disorders

We often perceive exercise as a positive habit. For most, it brings many physical and mental benefits- preventing disease and promoting excellent health.

However, excess of everything is harmful. For individuals suffering from eating disorders, exercise addiction is a common symptom that develops and maintains the condition.

Where our culture celebrates the healthy lifestyle of all individuals, it is essential to consider the negative impacts of habits such as excessively exercising with little nutrition intake.

In this article, we’ll discover the effect of fitness addiction in manifesting eating disorders.

What Is Exercise Addiction?

Exercise addiction can be described as an unhealthy obsession with fitness that leads to compulsive exercising. Despite being sick, physically injured, or facing terrible weather conditions, the individual will never skip their daily workouts.

If, under any condition, they are incapable of working out, feelings of shame and anxiety overcome them. The obsession grows to a point where the individual plans their day around their fitness routines and cannot achieve any other tasks before completing their workout.

Once exercise becomes their priority, they no longer care about the physical harm they are causing themselves. You will observe them exercising in secret or showing traits of addicts.

 Eating Disorders

How Are Eating Disorders Caused?

Exercise addiction is most prominently associated with body image or eating disorders. In disorders such as anorexia or ADRFID, individuals must control their weight and achieve an ideal body type.

This leads to a lack of proper nutrition, starvation, and fitness addiction.

Eating disorders are often comorbid with exercise addiction. However, in some cases, exercise addiction is also observed to manifest independently.

The common denominator between fitness addiction and eating disorders is a lack of self-esteem, body image issues, bullying due to weight, or influence through social media.

The desire the achieve a body that is culturally appreciated is what leads to unhealthy obsessions.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Some symptoms of exercise addiction include;

  • Feeling buzzed after working out.
  • In long periods of no exercise, the individual shows withdrawal symptoms like an addiction.
  • A compulsive need to exercise that is uncontrollable.
  • Prioritizing training to the point where other activities are ignored or reduced.
  • Spending a lot of time preparing for exercise, working out, and recovering from it.
  • Inability to stick with a healthy fitness routine.

Effects of Eating Disorders

The psychological impact is the most significant in individuals with exercise addiction. They tend to spiral without the control they desire over their fitness and eating habits.

The feeling of anxiety over losing their progress and shame over losing control develops a deeper bond with their disorder.

Moreover, the individual is consistently prioritizing their workouts and reducing other activities. This behavior causes a hindrance in their school life, work life, responsibilities, and even hobbies.

They might refuse to hang out with friends if it leaves them no time to work out. They might also start distancing themselves from loved ones who show concern for their addiction, causing a strain on social relations.

Furthermore, the physical impacts of fitness addiction can cause irreparable damage to the bones and muscles. Excessive exercise without appropriate recovery can cause muscles to tense and weaken.

The individual is at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis due to fragile bones.

In women, the risk of irregular periods or unstable menstrual cycles can also lead to low fertility and relationship issues.

It keeps the individual in a state of constant fatigue and dehydration. Exercise addiction can quickly become the reason behind an everyday functioning life.

Eating Disorders And Exercise Addiction

research study on weight disorders found that exercise addiction was occurring three and a half times more in individuals with eating disorders than those without one.

Individuals suffering from anorexia or AFRID tend to limit their daily food intake. They keep track of their calories and restrict themselves to specific “healthy” food choices.

This behavior alone is causing them to lose weight rapidly.

 Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa

Eating disorders comorbid with exercise addiction lead to fast weight loss and the inability to maintain a healthy body weight according to age, height, and physical health.

When they fall under their healthy BMI score, they quickly become underweight and face many negative impacts. Excessive workouts before the habit of restrictive eating are a symptom of anorexia.

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, or ARFID, is a disorder where an individual restricts their daily food intake. They are likely to keep their calories well below the recommended amount.

They categorize foods as “good” and “bad”, avoiding certain high-calorie foods to ensure that the overall daily food intake is low.

In case of eating more than their restricted amount, the individual is prone to purging. Purging is the act of self-induced vomiting or abuse of laxatives. This helps them ensure that “excess” food is out of their system.

Similarly, they also indulge in excessive exercise to purge the additional calories consumed. While uncommon in ARFID, exercise addiction is still observed as a method of self-discipline and self-preservation.

Bulimia Nervosa

Another commonly observed eating disorder comorbid with exercise addiction is bulimia. Bulimia is a life-threatening disorder where individuals starve themselves for days before they indulge in consuming a large quantity of food.

To ensure that their food intake does not make them gain weight, they eliminate the extra calories in an unhealthy manner.

Some forms of getting rid of those extra calories include purging, fasting, and exercising excessively.

Fitness Addiction

Fitness addiction is associated with body dysmorphic disorder, where an individual is preoccupied with their physical appearance. They spend hours in front of a mirror, picking out their flaws.

They eat in restrictive amounts and excessively exercise to rid themselves of those perceived flaws.

Eating disorders often co-occur with exercise addiction since this helps individuals control their body weight and image.

Warning Signs of Eating Disorders

If you believe that a loved one is struggling with their body image, look out for these warning signs;

  • Exercising to eliminate extra calories or using it as permission to eat.
  • They maintain a rigid exercise routine despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury.
  • Overtraining because of weakness or fatigue with little to no recovery time.
  • Using exercise to manage emotions.
  • They feel uncomfortable when others eat around them.
  • They are constantly focused on their body weight, size, and shape.
  • You catch them exercising in secret.
  • They feel unease when they are resting or inactive.
  • They are withdrawing from their friends and family or avoiding activities with them.
  • They are constantly dieting or are preoccupied with food, calories, or weight.
  • Their emotions are irregular, and are experiencing extreme mood swings.
  • They spend too much time viewing their bodies and flaws in a mirror.
  • They are skipping meals, eating in small amounts, avoiding eating in front of people or eating at odd times.


Ensuring your physical and mental health is always ideal is essential. However, with such excessive behaviors, the same positive habits that benefit one start damaging the other.

Reach out for help today.

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