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Exercise Bulimia: Symptoms, Treatments, and More

What is exercise bulimia?

Highlights

  1. Exercise bulimia is a compulsive need to exercise to get rid of calories.
  2. Exercising instead of going to work or seeing friends could mean that you have exercise bulimia.
  3. Therapy and medical supervision can help you recover.

Exercise bulimia is an extreme, pathologic exercise behavior. It has some characteristics similar to bulimia nervosa. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that generally involves binge eating followed by purging. Purging means ridding your body of ingested food by self-induced vomiting or diarrhea. A person with exercise bulimia doesn’t purge. They overexercise to burn fat and calories instead.

Doctors once classified exercise bulimia as a type of bulimia nervosa. However, this is no longer the case. Exercise bulimia is hard to classify. It may fall into other categories, such as body dysmorphic disorders, OCD-spectrum problems, or a combination of these and others. 

What are the symptoms of exercise bulimia?

Exercise is a healthy pastime. This can make it difficult to spot overexercising. Worrying too much about exercise and weight loss is one sign. Missing important events due to exercise is another sign.

Other symptoms include:

  • closely tracking how many calories you burn while working out
  • becoming anxious and angry or feeling guilty if you miss a scheduled workout
  • measuring yourself to see how thin you are and feeling the need to work out more to get to your desired weight
  • seeing your body differently than others do
  • becoming angry or defensive if someone suggests that you’re exercising too much

Women may also experience amenorrhea (an absence of menstruation) due to overexercise. If chronic, this can lead to reproductive issues in women of childbearing age.

What are the complications associated with exercise bulimia?

Exercise bulimia and excessive exercise can have a number of negative effects on your body. In a study published in 2012, researchers found that excessive endurance exercise can cause abnormal remodeling of the heart. It may also place patients at risk for arrhythmias. While there is no general consensus, this study points out that pathological amounts of exercise can lead to negative effects on the body.  

Similarly, too much exercise can put stress on your bones and joints. This can lead to stress fractures, arthritis, or chronic joint pain over time.

Someone with exercise bulimia may find that they’re sick more often than normal. Excessive exercise can weaken the immune system. It can also make you prone to respiratory and other infections that a fatigued body may struggle to overcome.

Women who don’t have enough fat in their body can experience a shutdown of the reproductive system. This is known as amenorrhea. It could lead to infertility and other reproductive issues.

What are the treatment options for exercise bulimia?

Communicating that you may have a problem is the first step in treating exercise bulimia. Speak to your doctor about your exercise and eating habits if you’re concerned about your behavior. They can direct you toward help.

A therapist or psychiatrist may treat the psychological aspects of exercise bulimia. They’ll be able to discuss body image issues and suggest ways for you to overcome negative views of yourself. They may also use techniques like cognitive behavior therapy to help you adjust your attitudes and self-image.

Your doctor or therapist may ask you to keep close track of exercise habits, such as how much time you spend exercising. It’s easy to fall back into overexercising habits. But talking with a therapist and doctor about healthy workout routines will help you stay fit without risking your health.

What is the long-term outlook?

Exercise bulimia is a serious condition, but recovery is possible. A good doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist can help you learn skills to cope with the condition.

Extreme exercise doesn’t have to control your life. You can take control of exercise bulimia through therapy and commitment to a healthy workout routine. 

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