Are You Exercising Too Much?

Katy Santiago Bowman by Katy Santiago Bowman | July 24th, 2009 | No Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Healthy Eating, Weight Loss

over-excericseHave you ever exercised a bit harder because you had ice cream the night before? Ever justified making a poor dietary decision (dessert/second helping/third cocktail) by thinking, “I’ll work out twice tomorrow,” or “It’s OK, I ran 10 miles today”?

In recent years, a new disorder has emerged. Commonly referred to as exercise bulimia, this subset of bulimia is not really an “eating” disorder but part of a “disordered diet” profile. It simply means exercising for the purpose of removing or “erasing” the impact of the food you have just eaten. Instead of vomiting, the exerciser will work out until the perceived amount of calories taken in match those being burned off.

Regular movement for health is a noble and valid choice — the optimal function of the body depends on it. But through my lecturing, I have been coming across more and more individuals who fit the profile — many who work in the health and fitness industry — and most who suffer from real health issues, such as chronic pain, foot/knee/back injury, declining bone density and unexplained weight gain. These issues can all be correlated to excessive or compulsive exercise behavior.

“The experience of intense guilt when exercise is missed and exercising solely or primarily for reasons of weight, shape or physical attractiveness, were the exercise behaviours that most clearly differentiated between women with eating disorders and healthy women.”(2)

This condition can be a tough one to identify. Most people have made their trainer/aerobics instructor/favorite athlete their role model for good, “healthy” behavior, and it might not be the case. Their role model, their “picture of health” may be suffering from physical, chemical and psychological strain from the quantity and intensity of exercise — yet they look “good.” To help you identify your habits as “healthy” or “health-defeating,” take a look at the risk factors below:

  • Missing work, parties or other appointments in order to work out
  • Working out with an injury or while sick
  • Becoming unusually depressed if unable to exercise
  • Working out for hours at a time each day
  • Not taking any rest or recovery days
  • Defining self-worth in terms of performance
  • Justifying excessive behavior by defining self as a “special” elite athlete

My suggestion? Take a week off from intense exercise. A daily walk, even 60 to 90 minutes, is great for the body — but the intensity shouldn’t be high, and the pace shouldn’t be quick. Just get out and move! If you feel anxious that your movement isn’t “hard enough” or won’t burn off the calories you consumed the day before, then you may have highlighted a potential issue for yourself. If you are also suffering from the aforementioned health issues (chronic pain, anxiety, bone density…just to name a few), you now have more information on how your habits may be contributing to your overall health!

Post courtesy

For more reading:

(1)Eat Behav. 2009 Jan;10(1):68-70. Men, muscles, and mood: the relationship between self-concept, dysphoria, and body image disturbances. McFarland MB, Kaminski PL.

(2)Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2009 Mar;43(3):227-34.  Excessive exercise in eating disorder patients and in healthy women.  Mond JM, Calogero RM.


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