Exercise Compulsion

What is Exercise Compulsion?

Exercise addiction is seen in people that have a drive to compulsively work out, even in the case of an injury, sickness or bad weather.

They feel obliged to do so even when they do not feel like exercising. If they miss a workout, they experience feelings of shame and anxiety. Exercise addiction conquers their daily lives and becomes a priority.

Exercise compulsion might also be present in people suffering from eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, where people have a strong need to control their body weight.

Although exercise has many health benefits, exercise addiction can have severe physical and psychological consequences, and thus it is important to seek treatment.

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Exercise Compulsion and Eating Disorders

Many people showing symptoms of compulsive exercise are also struggling with eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia. However, someone may have an exercise compulsion disorder without any signs of bulimia or anorexia.

Main Symptoms

  • Exercising despite injury or illness
  • Feelings of anxiety and depression when a workout is missed
  • Missing work or school to exercise
  • No resting days
  • Exercising for long successive hours on the same day

Psychological effects of Eating Disorders

  • Loss of energy
  • Dehydration
  • Fragile bones/ osteoporosis
  • Amenorrhea
  • Heart issues

Bulimia and Exercise Compulsion

People with bulimia suffer from binge eating and they engage in purging behaviour as a way to make up for their overeating and to control their body weight. It can be surprising for many people that exercise addiction is a ‘purging’ behaviour in bulimia nervosa. When exercising becomes more extreme, people with bulimia might also suffer from exercise compulsion disorder.

Compulsive exercise is highly connected with the desire to be thin and it is correlated to people whose feelings of self-worth are greatly influenced by the way they physically look. They use exercise addiction as a way to cope with feelings of shame, guilt and anxiety that result from their binge eating behaviour.

Anorexia and Exercise Compulsion

People struggling with anorexia have a strong desire to control their body weight by severely restricting their food-intake, and they are also afraid of gaining weight. In order to feel calmer, they may eat less, purge, use laxatives or compulsively exercise.

When exercise becomes more and more extreme, it might result in exercise addiction. Anorexia patients may use excessive exercise as a way to control their weight, become thinner and cope with their pathological fear of gaining weight.

What is the Female Athlete Triad?

Female athlete triad is a syndrome where women struggle with disordered eating, loss of menstrual cycle (amenorrhoea) and reduced bone thickness, known as osteoporosis. In some cases, this may develop into a more serious eating disorder.

Female athlete triad is observed in women that engage in sport activities, and are extremely thin and lean. Competitive sports that highlight a low body weight and a muscular look may lead to disordered eating, and to the onset of the female athlete triad. It is a severe disorder with long-lasting negative effects on health.

Common Symptoms

  • Disordered eating, restrictive diet
  • Amenorrhoea
  • Hair loss
  • Low body temperature
  • Clear weight loss
  • Bone fragility
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Signs of depression
  • Skin dryness

Treatment for Exercise Compulsion

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