What Is Compulsive Exercise?

Compulsive exercise often is a vague and confusing term for someone trying to recover from an eating disorder. The following contains some very factual and hopefully helpful information about this issue.

This article was written by Julie Norman, a Registered Dietitian and Yoga Teacher.

In my opinion and experience, the toughest eating disorder behaviors to work on are restriction and exercise. In our culture, the message exists that the more someone restricts their food and exercises, the better. A person may internalize messages that the more they restrict the more virtuous and in control they are and the more they exercise the more dedicated, productive, and goal oriented they are. The true purpose of exercise is for health. When it becomes obsessive or feels like an addiction it begins to take on a new purpose and role in your life. Exercise becomes an issue when you employ it for emotion regulation and your sense of being okay in the world. While being healthy is important, it shouldn’t be the majority of what makes up self-care. It shouldn’t be your only go to thing to feel better or safe.

So how do you know if you’re exercising compulsively?

· It’s compulsives when you’re exercising to try to escape your own body, emotions, or life


· It’s compulsive when your anxiety increases when you can’t exercise due to illness or outside
· It’s compulsive when you can’t honor your body’s limits.
· It’s compulsive when it takes up more of your life than it should and overrides social activities

and basic responsibilities.

· It’s compulsive when you feel you need to hide it or lie about it.

· It’s compulsive if your body starts suffering, which may include cardiac issues, getting dizzy
during exercise, stress fractures, stopping your period, and fainting.
If you’ve been diagnosed with an eating disorder, it’s virtually impossible for exercise not to be part of the disorder on some level. Therefore, effective treatment involves abstaining from exercise so that you can develop other life skills and coping mechanisms to function and care for your body effectively. Contrary to popular belief in a fitness-obsessed culture, true athletes and healthy individuals respect and honor that rest is an important part of exercise. It’s okay to take time off from exercising to deal with issues with your body or life circumstances.

Much like food, we all must have a relationship with movement. Just like relationships with people those can be healthy or unhealthy. It’s part of the recovery process to break the addiction or obsessiveness of exercise and gently re-build a healthy relationship with it.

Published by The Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders.


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