What Is the Connection Between Eating Disorders and Exercise Addiction?

A woman sits mid-sit-up looking exasperated.

More people find themselves spending more time in the gym, running on trails, or generally exercising to reach a specific goal weight or look. While setting fitness goals for yourself helps you stay focused in the gym, they can also lead you down a dark path. This can happen when you take those goals too far and put the results ahead of your well-being. Can wanting to reach an ideal physique cause you to develop an unhealthy relationship with food?

Can Exercise Addiction Lead to an Eating Disorder?

The average person may not believe that “exercise addiction” is an actual diagnosis. Wanting to take your physical health into your own hands and spending hours training usually doesn’t qualify as an addiction. However, as with most behaviors, you can take things too far and enter into the realm of exercise addiction. Exercising can transform into an addiction based on the type of goals you have set for yourself.

If you have a specific physique or goal weight in mind, chasing that ideal can start you on the path toward developing an exercise addiction. You may have developed an exercise addiction if you find yourself taking more extreme measures to reach these goals — taking more supplements, implementing intense nutritional regimens, or letting relationships suffer because of your priorities. In terms of the food you eat, you can start taking extreme measures to ensure you hit a calorie goal, eliminate specific food types, or begin suffering from an eating disorder.

The Relationship Between Exercise and Food

Anyone that has embarked on a fitness journey will tell you that all the exercise in the world can’t outwork a bad nutrition regimen. The types of food you eat will play a significant role in how successful you are with hitting your weight loss goals; however, making extreme changes to your nutrition can have far-reaching consequences.

If you choose specific regimens that eliminate entire food groups, nutrients, and more, everything from your muscles, bones, nervous system, and even your brain chemistry will feel the effects. Being hyper-focused on trying to reach this goal physique over anything else can lead you to suffer from anorexia athletica.

What Is Anorexia Athletica?

When someone hears the word “anorexia,” they think of people suffering from a need to restrict their food intake to potentially dangerous levels. However, like other eating and mental health disorders, there are different varieties of anorexia that someone can suffer from. Commonly diagnosed in athletes looking to maintain their performance, anorexia athletica focuses more on achieving a desired fitness level than body image.

This quest to maximize their performance leads to nutritional regimens that focus exclusively on eating only “healthy foods,” greatly restricting caloric intake, and increasing the frequency of their workouts. As the exercises increase but the amount of nutrition you put in your body decreases, you risk wearing yourself out more quickly and causing lasting damage.

Symptoms of Anorexia Athletica

Often, it can be difficult from the outside to identify if someone suffers from anorexia athletica. Everyone trains at different levels, and becoming obsessed with working out can often blur the lines between acceptable and disordered behavior. Some of the most common symptoms associated with this condition include:

  • Feelings of depression, irritability, or anxiousness following a missed workout
  • Restlessness if they don’t exercise every day
  • Desire to get workouts in even when severely sick or injured
  • Responsibilities and relationships taking a backseat to chasing the next workout
  • Micromanaging workouts and intensity based on the amount eaten and vice versa

How Magnolia Creek’s Mental Health Treatment Center Can Help

If you or someone you love currently suffers from anorexia athletica, you are not alone. You can find the support you need at one of the top eating disorder treatment centers in Columbiana, Alabama, Magnolia Creek. Our trained mental health professionals have extensive experience working with a wide range of eating disorders and compulsive exercise disorders. We work with our patients to help learn more about their situation, work through their issues with restrictive eating and get them to a place where physical activity doesn’t have such a negative impact on them.

We’ll help develop a treatment plan that focuses on your specific needs and what kind of evidence-based treatment can work best for your recovery. Learn more about how our mental health treatment programs in Columbiana, Alabama, can help. Call us at 205-409-4220 or fill out our contact form today!


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