Excessive exercise common among women with eating disorders

by Gayatri on  August 31, 2006 at 11:13 AM Lifestyle News
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Excessive exercise common among women with eating disorders
Excessive exercise is one of the warning signs of an eating disorder, according to a study conducted at the United States.

This problem may be common specifically among anorexic women who vomit or use laxatives for weight loss, said the researchers at the University of North Carolina. The study says that these women are at risk of extremely low weight, which could be dangerous and may have fatal consequences. Targeting the anxiety and obsessive tendencies is the right way to treat eating disorder.

In spite of knowing that excessive exercise is a characteristic feature of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, the doctors are still not clear about which women are likely to be affected by this disorder.

Data from three international studies of women with anorexia, bulimia or both was analysed by Dr. Cynthia M. Bulik and a team of researchers from Chapel Hill. Typical questions on eating disorder symptoms, personality traits and exercise habits were posed on these women under study.

Excessive exercise was defined as working out for more than 3 hours in a day or being obsessive about regular physical activity to such an extent that it interfered with other aspects of life, like exercising even when injured or ill. According to the study, excessive exercise was most common among anorexic women who purged, though excessive exercise was common regardless of the type of eating disorder. Excessive exercise was reported in more than 50% of the 336 women who purged.

Exercising to an extreme extent was also seen among women exhibiting high degree of anxiety, obsessiveness and perfectionism. These characteristics are typical of anorexics who purge to lose weight.

Bulik said, "It makes sense that such women will be particularly likely to use all available methods in their drive for thinness and control." These findings could aid in treatment, according to her.

Bulik said "Clinically, we know that when we send people back home and they have a strong drive to exercise that it can negatively impact on their ability to maintain the weight that they worked so hard to gain in hospital."

According to her, excessive exercise is a warning sign that "requires more vigilance and understanding," so that patients can be educated on how to include healthy exercise levels in their lives, without losing any gains made in controlling the eating disorder.

Source: Medindia

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It is very offensive that this information has an ad RIGHT BESIDE IT on "10 ways to lose belly fat".


I was sorry to read that both of you were discouraged by the definition of excessive exercise in the article. I was one of the researchers involved in the study and I can affirm that we struggled with the definition as well. As is true for many online articles, this one did not specify additional details that we used to define excessive exercise, such as doing it inspite of serious illness or injury, distress if unable to exercise, exercising at inappropriate times, serious interference with other activities and the like. And as surprising as it sounds, had we not chosen the quantity of 3 hours or more along with the other indicators, almost all of the participants would have been categorized as exercising excessively! The entire sample consisted of individuals who were diagnosed with anorexia. I am glad to hear that both of you have realistic ideas of exercise now. Thank you for your comments.


I agree with Heather. I too am a recovering anorexic and I am now addicted to exercise. I don't exercise for 3hrs a day on most days but reading this article makes me feel compelled - it's as if what I do at the moment isn't enough. Someone can exercise for 1hr intensely and can burn more calories than someone who exercises for 3hrs. Although I know this to be the case, reading that up to 3hrs is not considered excessive could encourage others to exercise more because they don't see it as damaging to their health. Excessive exercise should not be defined on the amount of hours someone exercises but how intensely, how often and how much damage it is causing both physically and psychologically


According to this article, exercise is considered to be excessive when exceeding more than three hours/day? I strongly disagree. Someone can exercise much less than three hours daily and still seriously endanger their health. As a recovering anorexic/excessive exerciser, I know this firsthand. I am presently learning to practice a 'healthy' amount of exercise (30-60 mins/day), and reading an article such as this is discouraging and frustrating. This statistic is misleading and could feed the denial of those who may need serious help.


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