Understanding Compulsive Exercising
Is there such a thing as too much exercise? For individuals who suffer from the addiction of disordered eating — yes. Over exercise, or compulsive exercise, is a form of “purging,” without the use of laxatives, diuretics or self-induced vomiting. For anorexics and bulimics, it is a means of eliminating feelings of guilt following a binge or of giving oneself permission to eat.
Individuals who show symptoms of compulsive exercise often exercise well beyond the means of what is safe or healthy. They will go to any length to exercise, even if it means skipping school or work. For individuals addicted to compulsive exercising, working out isn’t something they do for fun. If they miss a workout, or cannot exercise, they will experience feelings of extreme guilt.
While on the surface, it may appear the goal of compulsive exercising is to burn calories, in reality, it is a means of giving the sufferer a feeling of power and control. It is a coping mechanism for dealing with emotions and anxiety.
If you think a friend or loved one may be suffering from compulsive exercising, here are a few warning signs to look for:
- Obsessive exercising habits — exercising for hours a day or multiple times a day;
- Expressing feelings of guilt or shame when they are unable to exercise;
- No satisfaction for athletic achievements or self-satisfaction for victory;
- Views exercise as a chore or punishment.
Many athletes may suffer from compulsive exercise habits to meet their athletic requirements and goals, without any psychological signs of an eating disorder. However, athletes and non-athletes alike are at risk of serious health complications from compulsive exercise. Some of the potential health risks involved include:
- Stress fractures and/or osteoporosis;
- Degenerative arthritis;
- Loss of menstrual cycle;
- Reproductive problems;
- Heart problems or heart attack;
- Kidney failure.
On its own, compulsive exercising can be dangerous and lead to serious health complications. However, when combined with diet restrictions (anorexia), binging, purging or use of laxatives and/or diuretics, the hazards of compulsive exercising are quickly escalated.
If you or someone you love suffers from compulsive exercising, seek the help of a professional. Psychologists, nutritionists and other trained professionals can help a compulsive exerciser understand his or her behavior, and help them learn and adopt healthy eating and exercise habits. Working with doctors who are trained in treating compulsive exercise and other eating disorders can help an individual manage weight, eating and emotions associated with their disorder.
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