National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Said no one ever: I went to the gas station and got too much gas, so I'm going to drive around for a few hours until I use up all that...

Said no one ever:

I went to the gas station and got too much gas, so I'm going to drive around for a few hours until I use up all that extra fuel. 
Said no one ever:
I'm going to go on a cross-country trip, but I don't need to put gas in the tank.  I'll run on fumes.
Cause that would be crazy.... right? Sadly, there are people doing this right now, but not to their cars, but to their bodies.  For National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I want to talk about a disorder that doesn't seem to get a as much press as anorexia or bulimia:  Exercise Bulimia (also known as compulsive exercising, anorexia athletica, hypergymnasia, or exercise addiction). 
 
Symptoms of Exercise Bulimia include:
  • Inflexibility as to time of day and mode of exercise
  • Exercise even when sick or injured
  • Prioritizing exercise over social dates, family functions, work, or school
  • Intense fear at states of rest
  • Intense anxiety at situations where preferred method of exercise is unavailable
  • Intense guilt when forced to stray from exercise routine
  • Refusal to eat if unable to exercise
From Glamour March 2013
Now think about yourself or the people you know and see if the description above rings true for anyone.  This CBS video highlights why it is so hard to determine if someone has an exercise addiction -- exercise bulimia hides in plain sight and our weight loss community encourages each other to push our bodies to the limit (and even beyond)
This first-person narrative really gets to the heart of exercise bulimia: 
But a couple of years after the program, I decided I want to eat [she was anorexic and bulimic]. I didn’t want to be anorexic again and I didn’t want to be bulimic. The only thing I could think to do was to exercise -- that would then give me permission to eat. And that’s when the exercise addiction sort of replaced my eating addiction. In my late 20s and early 30s I became addicted to exercise. It was something I was doing three, four, sometimes five hours a day, doing it for a couple of hours before work and then spending three hours after work at the gym. I realize there are professional athletes and people who absolutely love to exercise. I am so impressed with the fact that they can do this. But I hate exercising because I take it to such an extreme. My body hurts, but I’m not listening to my body -- I keep pushing it and pushing it and pushing it.
This breaks New Rule #2I will do no harm to my body
But this requires you (or someone that loves you) realizing that you're doing harm to your body. 
And nobody said that realizing you have a problem is easy.

I think the important thing to realize is that much like a food addiction, exercise addiction works on our emotions. It plays with our sense of balance and overall wellness. It helps us mask what is really going on. Exercise addiction about control, not balance. 

Many of us have a history of viewing food emotionally (as pleasure, reward, or as something one needs to earn) and viewing exercise as the punishment/consequence for eating.  Food is fuel and medicine for our body.  It is a necessary and proper part of our life and should not be used to soothe emotional needs, nor do you need to "earn" it (it is a basic human right -- see The U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25). 

Exercise is one of the physical ways we manifest the love we have for our own body. Exercise addiction is a manifestation of loathing, not loving. We can get frustrated while working out, or feel tired/sore when doing it, but exercise should always be in the range of joyful and loving, planned and deliberate, and with purpose.

I don't really have any solutions here, just a few thoughts (such as food logging to make sure you eat enough calories to support the amount that you're exercising/not having more than a 1000 calorie deficit on any day), I just wanted to start a dialogue. 
  1. Do you know how much is too much exercise? How do you know?
  2. Do you think the culture of diet/weight loss bloggers encourages/promotes/enables unhealthy habits with regards to exercise?
  3. If you thought you had a friend with exercise addiction, would you try to intervene? 
     

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7 comments

  1. I had a friends who were concerned that I had this at one point and I have to admit I did exhibit some of the symptoms except I never did harm to my body or risked injury.

    I think this is a great disorder to draw attention to!

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  2. Safire -- I think that like most eating disorders, there's a spectrum. If you exhibit some of the behaviors, it's worth talking about with a therapist or confidant in order to determine what is the underlying cause for the suspect behaviors.

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  3. Speaking only for myself, I've finally gotten from loathing to workout to putting up with it to actually enjoying it because it makes me feel good. That said, I decided that since I want to do some sort of workout 6 days a week, most days I do 35-45 minute workouts. When I go for my walks, those are around an hour.

    But yeah, a lot of bloggers are showing signs of exercise bulimia. Some folks should look at their Instagram feeds -- if it's nothing but photos of heart-rate monitor readings and pictures of vegetables, you may be an exercise bulimic.

    And I do think that our community can sometimes veer into enabling those habits under the guise of fitness.

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  4. Gail -- I think that learning that exercise makes you feel good is an important step for most people who didn't grow up exercising. The concern is when you start to crave that feeling all of the time. I'm glad that you set reasonable limits on your exercise.

    I can give somewhat of a pass on the heartrate monitors/veggies -- if the account was created specifically for that purpose (and perhaps have a separate account for llamas wearing fedoras).

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  5. I read that article in Cosmo, and it scares me to think that your "trainer" at the gym, the person you are trusting to lead you in the right direction for YOUR body, could be pushing you to the breaking point. I have a bad habit of not listening to myself when it comes to doing ANYTHING in moderation, and when I am working at the gym, I follow the guide that I'm given. I always felt secure with the routine given to me at my gym, but it makes me sad that there are women out there who don't have that security.

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  6. Some people think I am a little bit mental with my "exercise" regime.
    I'm training for an ironman, so train 2.5 - 3 hours a day and way more than that on weekends. I can tell you what though, from midnight June 10, I am going to be a couch potato for AT LEAST a week.
    I think the key difference with my wording is training rather than exercising?
    In saying that I also weigh 105kg, so I'm not afraid of eating.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Megan: I used to have a trainer at the gym who told me that my muscles were just weak b/c I couldn't do a plank for more than a minute. Turns out I had 3 bulging discs in my back. It was a good lesson that (1) not all trainers are created alike, (2) not all trainers are trained to spot injuries, and (3) I know my body better than they do. That's the long way of saying that i'm glad you've learned to trust your body and its limits.

    Jess: I think that it is important to note that you have a specific goal in mind. And the other half of it is that hopefully you're eating to support that training. It's not about burning calories for you, right?

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<3 Robby