Anorexia and Exercise

Anorexia and Exercise 

Eating Disorder Hope estimates that 10 million women and 1 million men in the United States find eating disorders to be a daily struggle. While at any given moment, several million individuals could be feeling the effects of an eating disorder, the disease’s most common demographics are girls and women between the ages of 12 and 35. The American Psychiatric Association lists the three most common types of eating disorders as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Individuals with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa sometimes exercise in excess in order to combat potential weight gain.

Anorexia Athletica: What is It?

The Center for Discovery says that anorexia athletica is a subtype of anorexia nervosa (and sometimes bulimia nervosa) that is not yet officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association or the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Despite this, the illness is widely regarded as a major medical issue. Also known as hypergymnasia, anorexia athletica is a type of eating disorder whose hallmark involves excessive exercise in an attempt to lose weight or prevent weight gain. When seen in bulimia nervosa patients, anorexia athletica is often used to burn off calories consumed during an eating binge. When someone is suffering from anorexia athletica, he or she will work out under extreme conditions or for an inordinate amount of time, making the act of exercising a compulsive obligation rather than a potentially beneficial activity. An example of a typical anorexia athletica workout is an eight mile run on a treadmill followed by an hour on an elliptical machine and capped off with an hour of strength training using weights.

Possible Signs of Anorexia Athletica

Though there is no existing, specified diagnostic criteria for anorexia athletica, the illness’s signs always involve exercising in excess, as well as an obsession with one’s weight and overall body image. Additionally, its symptoms often overlap with those seen in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Symptoms that tend to be related to anorexia athletica may include:

  • Excessive exercise
  • Denial that said excessive exercise is an issue
  • One’s sense of self worth is based on his or her physical performance
  • A diminishment of one’s enjoyment of sports and activities; it may even become nonexistent.
  • Obsessive behaviors and thoughts surrounding one’s body image, weight, as well as calories

Potential Complications of Anorexia Athletica

There are various complications that may arise from anorexia athletica. They may include:

  • Physical trauma from overuse of the body without adequate caloric and nutritional intake
  • Muscle injuries like torn ligaments
  • Malnourishment
  • Arthritis
  • Liver failure
  • Renal failure
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Bone injuries such as fractures

Causes of Anorexia Athletica

Unfortunately, there is no singular cause behind anorexia athletica. There are, however, multiple underlying factors that may be associated with it. Factors such as surviving abuse, past trauma, having been bullied, low self-esteem, and having poor relationships with one’s parents could make it more likely for him or her to develop anorexia athletica. Some psychiatric disorders that may be linked to a heightened risk of developing anorexia athletica could include substance abuse, borderline personality disorder, and non-suicidal self-injury disorder. Furthermore, one’s genetics may provide an underlying trigger that could lead to the development of anorexia athletica and other eating disorders

How to Treat Anorexia Athletica

The severity of an individual’s illness will dictate one’s treatment plan for anorexia athletica. It may consist of inpatient or outpatient psychotherapy such as interpersonal psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and nutritional counseling. These forms of treatment strive to help an individual come to terms with their internal triggers as well as foster awareness and healthy coping skills that will help them fight their eating disorder. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing anorexia athletica or otherwise disordered eating, we are here to help at Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists. You may contact us via phone (866-525-2766), email, or by filling out our contact form.

Scroll to Top