Dual Diagnosis: Eating Disorders and Compulsive Over-Exercising

Exercise and taking part in sporting activities are important aspects of living a healthy lifestyle, nobody would argue against this statement. Although, like any behavior taken to the extreme, over-exercising can lead to health problems and is in many cases linked to some form of eating disorder.Sports and exercise are generally considered a good thing for everybody, with a wide variety of known health benefits. But what would you do if your friend or daughter began to exercise for hours every day? This may be an added symptom of an eating problem such as anorexia, bulimia, or compulsive eating disorder. However, it may present as an addiction in its own right with the exercise addict eating a healthy, well-balanced diet yet exercising to the point of exhaustion.


Statistics show that female athletes are more likely to require eating disorder treatment than the average woman, and that women who suffer from an eating disorder are more likely to become compulsive exercise addicts. Individuals who over-exercise compulsively go beyond healthy fitness goals and become obsessed with their fitness and exercise plans. They may lie or hide from people in order to exercise, even if this means missing school, work, or family events. Exercise addiction often arises from a desire to relieve the guilt of having eaten, rather like the use of vomiting or laxatives in bulimia nervosa.

The effects of over-exercising may not at first appear as obvious or as dangerous as overeating symptoms, but compulsive exercise stresses the body and can have serious harmful health effects if taken to extremes. Compulsive exercisers are more likely to suffer from heart problems, dehydration, stress fractures, osteoporosis and arthritis among other health problems.

Although not strictly speaking an eating disorder, compulsive over-exercising is best treated by those experienced in eating disorder recovery and relapse prevention, as many of the underlying issues are the same. An eating disorder clinic may be the best place for exercise addicts to come to terms with the roots of their addiction, while observing the progress of other community members undergoing eating disorder treatment can encourage hope and determination in exercise addicts to help them along their own path to recovery.

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