Compulsive exercise is also known as exercise dependence, exercise addiction, obligatory exercise, exercise abuse, and anorexia athletica. Compulsive exercise does not have to signify an eating disorder but the two often accompany each other. It tends to appear within eating disorders because it can be another way to purge. It can take place among both anorexics andbulimics who use a variety of coping methods. For anorexics it typically begins as a way to control weight or lose pounds, and for bulimics it might compensate for binge eating. Besides its parallel with purging, it also relates to eating disorders in other ways. The need for control in one’s life can cause eating disorders and compulsive exercise is a way to fulfill that need. It can also create a feeling of self-respect as one pushes him/herself to burn more calories or shed more pounds.
Because it is difficult to draw a distinct line between what is and isn’t a healthy amount of exercise, compulsive exercise is best defined by the addict’s frame of mind. Someone who experiences compulsive exercise feels compelled to workout and undergoes feelings of guilt and anxiety if he/she does not. Compulsive exercise can affect physical and social well-being, and can cause irritability and depression.
Some characteristics help to identify compulsive exercise:
- Exercising alone to avoid attracting attention of others
- Continuing to exercise even though sick or injured
- Skipping obligations like work or school in order to exercise
- Maintaining a rigid workout schedule
- Putting exercise before everything else, including health and safety, and social life
- Planning life around exercise
- Working out twice as long to make up for a missed session
- Exercising more after eating more
- Feeling obligated to complete an exercise routine
- Worrying that sitting still or relaxing will not burn enough calories
Compulsive exercise can result in many physical problems:
- Damage to tendons, ligaments, bones, cartilage, and joints (long-term damage occurs when these are not given enough time to heal)
- Destruction of muscle mass
- Amenorrhea, which is the loss of a menstrual cycle
- Too much stress on the heart
Like eating disorders, compulsive exercise requires medical treatment and/or therapy.