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How Do Eating Disorders Affect Exercise?

Updated: Mar 31

Disclaimer: This website contains general information relating to various medical conditions. Such information is provided for informational purposes only, and it not meant to be a substitute for advice provided by a doctor or health care professional. Readers should not use the information provided herein for diagnosing a problem or disease. Readers should always consult with a doctor or other healthcare professional for medical advice or information about diagnosis and treatment.



Exercise is often portrayed as one of the most important keys to health. It boasts great benefits to one's mind and body, and it's a common way for people to destress and stay fit.

But what happens when you exercise too much? Does an eating disorder affect one's desire to work out? And how do anorexia and exercise relate to one another?

Keep reading for a quick overview of how eating disorders affect exercise.

What Is Compulsive Exercising?

Compulsive exercise is exercising so much that it negatively impacts your body and mind. While many people exercise to get in shape or burn off calories, compulsive exercise focuses more on intense feelings and attitudes as the driving factors.

Compulsive exercising can involve:

  • Exercising more than three hours each day

  • Becoming upset or anxious when exercising isn't possible

  • Exercising at a time or setting that isn't appropriate

  • Ignoring illness or injury to exercise

  • Keeping exercise activity a secret from others

Just because someone exercises a lot doesn't mean they suffer from compulsive exercising. Professional athletes, for example, exercise all the time. But if someone seems unable to stop exercising or feels guilt or stress when they aren't moving, this could be a sign that they need help.

How Are an Eating Disorder and Compulsive Exercise Related?

Although excessive exercise and eating disorders aren't the same things, they are often intertwined.

It's easy to assume that anorexia or bulimia would cause someone to lose energy. If your body doesn't get the food and nutrients it needs, wouldn't it slow down and need rest?

In reality, the opposite tends to occur, and a restricted diet leads to the body's desire to want to exercise and move around even more. People who struggle with anorexia or bulimia might find that their body is always restless or needs to exercise in some type of way.

Since the body isn't getting fuel for this type of activity, it makes this type of activity even more problematic.

Why Is This Behavior Dangerous?

It isn't often that exercising is seen as a problem. If working out and moving your body is supposed to be healthy for it, can it really be that harmful?

While excessive exercising takes a toll on anybody, it's especially dangerous for people experiencing an eating disorder. It can cause electrolyte imbalances and heart issues, as well as lead to muscle and bone injuries.

Compulsive exercise can also make recovery from an eating disorder more difficult. It's common for health and wellness professionals to ask people who are getting treatment for anorexia to stop playing sports or working out while they begin to recover.

Lastly, combining excessive exercise with an eating disorder can contribute to anxiety and depression.

Discover a Wellness Coach Who Can Help

The path to recovery, whether it's from compulsive exercising, an eating disorder, or a combination of the two, isn't one to travel alone.

As a recovery coach, I can help guide you to success to take back control of your life and wellbeing. Find out about the different life coaching programs that are offered or book a free call to get your questions answered.

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