2016’s National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week ran from February 22nd to March 1st, and focused on raising awareness of all eating disorders, but especially to those suffering from anorexia and bulimia. However, there are many other eating disorders out there that do not get as much press.
Most people think of eating disorders as centered around food — hence the name “eating” disorder. However, the subcategory of eating disorders known as “EDNOS” (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) includes a type of eating disorder focused on over-exercising.
Exercise Bulimia, also known as Hypergymnasia, Compulsive Overexercise Disorder and Anorexia Athletica, is included in this diagnosis of EDNOS. It is characterized by exercising at extremely intense levels for the purpose of burning calories, or purging.
Intense exercise is not just pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion when you work out, though in many cases it is. It can also be working out every day for long periods of time (60+ minutes per day), or exercising to avoid normal social activities that involve eating, like lunch in between classes. Basically, it is any sort of exercise that is done compulsively.
While this could innocently describe many college athletes, those suffering from exercise bulimia are uniquely motivated to exercise for the purpose of burning calories, relieving guilt from eating/bingeing, or even to give them permission to eat in the first place.
Exercise bulimia is very difficult to recognize both as an outsider and in yourself. Our society is obsessed with health and fitness, and those who compulsively exercise are often praised for their motivation and self-discipline. Being able to stay on the Elliptical for two hours a day without dying of boredom is pretty impressive after all.
Nevertheless, compulsive exercising is just as serious and debilitating as anorexia and bulimia. It is characterized by daily preoccupation with exercise, feelings of guilt when you can’t follow your normal exercise routine, exercising when you should be at work or in class, exercising even when severely injured or ill, and basing self-worth on how much you exercise.
There are also serious physical consequences, including those associated with anorexia. Overexercising can cause loss of muscle mass, bone damage, and joint damage. It can also cause bone-density loss, hair loss, memory loss, loss of menstruation, female infertility, and even heart failure.
Though exercise bulimia might be hard to recognize, it should not be overlooked. If you think you might have an eating disorder, or suspect a friend might be suffering from an eating disorder, please seek help. You can call the National Eating Disorder association helpline 24/7 at (800) 931-2237, or visit their website to chat online or find other support resources.