Eating Recovery Center was highlighted in Motherhood Moment's blog on compulsive exercise and eating disorders. Read an excerpt of the below, or to view it in its entirety click here
Healthy Habits: Compulsive Exercising and Eating Disorders
Professionals specializing in the treatment of men, women and children with eating disorders are observing a growing trend among their patients, who are increasingly engaging in compulsive exercise. According to Eating Recovery Center, an international center providing comprehensive treatment for eating disorders, the connection between excessive exercise and eating disorders
generally stems from food-, body- or weight-related issues that drive the excessive physical activity. In fact, a study by Brewerton
found that nearly 40 percent of patients with anorexia nervosa engaged in compulsive exercise behaviors.
Lombardi and the eating disorders experts
at Eating Recovery Center explain that individuals engaging in compulsive exercise generally fall into one of two categories: those exhibiting significant exercise compulsion as part of their eating disorder; or individuals that did not initially exhibit excessive exercise behaviors, but began to do so as their eating disorders improved.
In other words, some eating disordered individuals abuse exercise as a compensatory behavior following a bingeing session or to give themselves “permission” to eat. Others may begin to engage in excessive exercise as what they believe to be a “healthy” part of eating disorders recovery. What these individuals do not realize, is that the frequency and volume of their exercise has taken the place of other eating disordered behaviors as an anxiety management tool and poses significant health complications, including joint injuries, stress fractures, muscle tears, tendonitis, fatigue and dehydration.
Eating Recovery Center encourages families, friends and healthcare professionals to be mindful of five common warning signs of compulsive exercise behaviors, including:
- Exercising excessively “just because” as opposed to intentional exercise in preparation for a competition.
- Refusing to miss a workout, regardless of weather or injury.
- Exercising takes precedence over all other activities, including work, school and spending time with friends and family.
- Experiencing a heightened level of anxiety if unable to engage in exercise.
- Displaying an elevated rigidity and perfectionism with regard to exercise behaviors.
However, it is important to note that popular cultural narratives around exercise in the United States can pose significant challenges to identifying compulsive exercise—alone or occurring alongside an eating disorder.
- Exercise is healthy. There has been a major cultural shift around the notion that exercise helps us, not only in supporting general health and maintenance of a healthy weight during an obesity “epidemic,” but also as a tool to manage anxiety and stave off depression. This idea, and myriad variations of encouraged and acceptable frequencies of exercise (30 minutes each day; five days a week; etc.) can challenge the identification of dangerous patterns and/or normalize compulsivity, even during assessment by medical professionals.