Something we often say at Alsana is that eating disorders are not fundamentally about food; in fact, some of the defining characteristics of eating disorders have little to do with food or with eating. A good example of this is exercise. There are many forms of eating disorder in which over exercise is one of the key symptoms—and a serious symptom, at that.
“Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as too much exercise,” notes the Alliance for Eating Disorders. “Compulsive exercise is another way to ‘purge’ calories and it can be as dangerous as Anorexia and Bulimia. The main goal when an individual is suffering from compulsive exercise can be burning calories, relieving the guilt from eating/bingeing, or to give them the permission to eat. The exercise may give the person a sense of control, power and self-respect.”
Indeed, there are major classes of eating disorder in which it is over exercise that is the key concern—including muscle dysmorphia, also known as “bigorexia,” which affects many men and boys. All of this means that it is important to know what over exercise actually looks like—to be aware of the telltale signs of compulsive working out, whether in your own life or in the life of a loved one.
The Signs of Over Exercise
Here are just a few of the most common signs of over exercise.
Constant worries about muscle size. Often, and especially for men, over exercise can be caught up in distorted body image—and in particular with the fear that they are never “big” enough, manly enough, masculine enough, etc.
Spending excessive time in the gym. When working out becomes a serious disruption to one’s social life—or to work and school obligations—that’s when it’s something to be concerned about.
Weighing in several times a day. An obsession with the number on the scale is a big indicator that something is wrong. The same holds true for the practice of constantly scrutinizing muscles in the mirror. Such obsessions are not healthy.
Taking great care not to look at oneself in the mirror. The inverse also holds true: A discomfort with what the mirror shows is another possible indication of an eating disorder or a problem with exercise.
Maintaining excessive strict dietary standards. Sometimes the obsession with working out feeds into obsessions over food, in particular “performance” diets that are high in proteins and low in fat.
Wearing baggy clothing to hide one’s body. Those who worry that they are not muscular enough or big enough may try to hide their appearance by wearing oversized clothing. Related to this is the avoidance of locations where one’s body might be exposed, such as the beach or the pool.
Using unhealthy body building products. The use of steroids to enhance athletic performance is never healthy, and could be a sign of a compulsive view of exercise.
Working out even through injury. A healthy view of exercise does not include continuing to work out in spite of serious injury or pain.
Constant pain and muscle soreness. While exercise can certainly lead to some soreness or leave one feeling tired, chronic problems with these issues may mean that exercise has become too much of a focus, at the expense of overall health.
There are other signs, too, but these are some of the hallmarks—and some indicators that there may be an eating disorder at work. Even if that is the case, however, treatment can lead to long-term recovery and wellbeing. If you or anyone you know exhibits the signs of over exercise, seek treatment from Alsana today.[cta] Seek eating disorder treatment today! Contact the Alsana admissions team. [/cta]