The Connection Between Compulsive Exercise And Eating Disorders

The connection between compulsive exercise and eating disorders isn’t always a clear one.

Exercise bulimia, for example, is classified as an entirely different condition than bulimia, anorexia or an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). But many people with eating disorders show symptoms of more than one type of condition, making treatment a complex process.

A 1995 study found that 40 percent of anorexia patients had engaged in compulsive exercise behaviors, and current research suggests the trend is growing.

When exercise becomes dangerous

Jennifer Lombardi, executive director of Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program in Sacramento, says that it’s important to look at the intention behind exercise, as people with eating disorders may approach the behavior much differently than others.

“If there is a sense of urgency or agitation when individuals can’t engage in the exercise behavior, there is likely an issue,” Lombardi said. “It’s also important to consider exercise in the larger context of an individual’s eating and body image history.”

Compensation or recovery?

Lombardi notes that it can be difficult to spot unhealthy exercise behaviors because exercise is part of a healthy recovery program for those with eating disorders. But others use it as a compensatory tactic to make up for binge eating – or eating at all.

The damage from this type of obsessive behavior can be far-reaching. A statement from the Eating Recovery Center explains:

What these individuals do not realize, is that the frequency and volume of their exercise has taken the place of other eating disordered behaviors as an anxiety management tool and poses significant health complications, including joint injuries, stress fractures, muscle tears, tendonitis, fatigue and dehydration.

The important thing to realize, says Lombardi, is that treatment is available, even if the person is in recovery or being treated for another eating disorder.

A complementary video called Running on Empty: Exercise Compulsion and Eating Disorders provides more information about the current research of addictive behavior as it relates to eating disorders and exercising.

Source: Eating Recovery Center

Eating Disorder Self Test. Take the EAT-26 self test to see if you might have eating disorder symptoms that might require professional evaluation. All answers are confidential.

Find a Treatment Facility Near You

Click on a state below to find eating disorder treatment options that could be right for you.

The information provided on is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes and we encourage all visitors to see a licensed physician if they believe that they have an eating disorder. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.

Copyright © 2008-2019
Company Information

© 2019 All rights reserved. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of's terms of service and privacy policy. The material on this site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.