Fitness Articles

When Too Much Exercise Becomes a Problem

Compulsive Exercise and Exercise Bulimia

Regular exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle and sound weight-loss program. In fact, most experts suggest that we get 60 minutes of exercise each day for optimal health. But while a little exercise is a good thing, taking exercise to the extreme can cause serious health issues, even death. When few adults exercise regularly, and many struggle to find just 20 minutes to dedicate to a workout, it may be hard to believe that some people place exercise at the center of their lives. But some people feel compelled to exercise above and beyond normal levels, often in a desperate attempt to burn every calorie they consume.

Compulsive exercise is more than a desire to get in the ultimate shape or manage one's weight. Sufferers of exercise bulimia use excessive exercise to purge or compensate for eating binges or simply regular eating, often working out multiple times per day or for three or four hours at a time. Deep down, this disorder has more to do with control than it does the desire to fit into a smaller size of jeans.

The scary thing about an addiction to exercise is that it creeps up gradually, usually among everyday people who start exercising, feel good afterward, revel in the calories they're burning, have a desire to get healthier or lose weight, and therefore start believing that more is better. Oftentimes, people who develop an exercise compulsion don't feel like there's anything wrong with what they do. They think that what they're doing is healthy, and can't understand how others don't see it that way.

Compulsive Exercise Vs. Exercise Bulimia: What's the Difference?
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, compulsive exercise and exercise bulimia are two different things.

Compulsive exercisers build their lives around working out and are genuinely distressed if they can't exercise as much as they feel they need to (or should be). Exercise bulimia is similar, but involves eating binges. People who suffer from exercise bulimia often binge on food and then exercise obsessively to make up for it. Exercise becomes a way to control calories, justify eating, and punish oneself for eating too much or eating the "wrong" things.

Both conditions are indicated by the following symptoms:
  • Choosing to exercise instead of going to work or enjoying social activities with friends or loved ones
  • Refusing to take any rest or recovery days, even when injured
  • Continuing to exercise even when ill
  • Exercising to the point of exhaustion
  • Never exercising for fun
  • Experiencing severe stress and emotional upset, including depression, if unable to exercise
  • Obsession with calories eaten and calories burned
  • Preoccupation with burning calories throughout the day, even when not exercising
How Much is Too Much?
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About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.

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