Exercise in Eating Disorders

Weight lift. Run. Do yoga. Bike. Practice extreme martial arts.

Our bodies crave exercise. It keeps us healthy and happy (yay for endorphins!). However, exercise can become deadly.

Orthorexia uses excessive exercise as a way to control nutrition. Even anorexia and bulimia can cause people to become obsessive about purging calories through longer or more intense exercise sessions.


We can be active every day and be perfectly healthy, but excessive exercise occurs when you:

-exercise despite injury or illness

-avoid social events to exercise

-exercise according to a strict regime

-feel guilty for skipping a workout or not having a “hard” enough session

Exercise becomes an addiction. And how could it not?

Maybe you sat in your bed all day watching Netflix, and your sister comes home sweaty after two hours in the gym. Maybe you had a nice walk in the park, but you see your friend boasting about a PR in snatches today.

And Pinterest and Instagram are filled with “fitspiration” like these:




Pain? Hurt?

Suddenly, exercise doesn’t become a way to listen to and care for your body, but a way to compare and judge. Just like an eating disorder. Athletes are especially at risk for overtraining, using their sports to control their weight.


What steps can someone—especially fighting an eating disorder—reach a healthy relationship with exercise?

-Catch up on sleep.

-Rest. Reset your body. Exercise elevates stress hormones or cortisol, so abstaining or decreasing exercise can lower your anxiety.

-Eat regardless of decreased workouts. Your muscles need the extra calories to refuel.

-Let go of comparison. Avoid feeling insignificant due to others’ workouts. That’s what works for their bodies, not yours. And don’t get caught up in obsessing about a goal. Striving for a 1-rep max in squats or training for a marathon are all good goals, but don’t let them control you. You are going to have bad training days. Don’t let them prevent you from seeing the hard work you’ve already accomplished.

AND, if you think you are below a healthy weight, work with a doctor to reach a healthy weight before exercising.


That’s not to say someone with can eating disorder can never exercise again. In fact, quite the opposite. Eating disorders can help someone reestablish a good relationship with their bodies and increase self-esteem, like this Australian powerlifter. But take slow steps into it, and seek a doctor if necessary. Exercising less and eating more can actually be relaxing, and you might find yourself enjoying exercise again. You don’t need to go “all-out” every workout. Suddenly, the addiction is gone.

Letting go of the “crutch” of exercise can be rough. But your body—and your mind— will thank you for it.


Fuel for Thought: What do you do for exercise? Do you feel guilty for skipping a workout? Does social media have an effect on how you think about working out? How can someone with an eating disorder reestablish a healthy relationship with exercise?


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