Orthorexia, Excessive Exercise & Nutrition


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What is Excessive Exercise?

Exercise and nutrition are foundational to good health, but extreme behaviors can be a red flag indicating unhealthy behaviors. Examples of this include excessive exercise, weight obsessions, bulimia, anorexia and binge eating disorders.

Negative health effects develop when exercise or nutrition are taken to extremes. In the case of over exercising likely effects include: exhaustion, injuries, amenorrhea, anxiety, depression and isolation.

Athletic Young Woman can develop Orthorexia Excessive Exercise

What is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia is a common co-occurring eating disorder. It is characterized by a fixation or desire to eat only “healthy” foods, or to avoid entire food groups. Every person suffering with orthorexia has their own food preferences; foods they will eat and foods that they won’t. Orthorexics feel isolated from or superior to people who may consume a food they they themselves reject. The most common form of orthorexia is an obsession with healthy foods, i.e. never eating foods that contain additives, and planning one’s diet to the extreme to make sure that undesired foods and food groups are not consumed.

Symptoms and Signs of Excessive Exercise

The common hallmark of excessive exercise is prioritizing exercise foremost in life, rather than including exercise in a balanced lifestyle. Some common indicators of exercise obsession include:

  • Continuing to exercise when injured or sick
  • Avoiding social functions to exercise
  • Firmly adhering to an obsessive and regimented exercise regime

Signs and Symptoms of Orthorexia

Orthorexia is a form of disordered eating that often has the following symptoms:

  • obsession with healthy eating
  • perception of superiority to others due to the self control exhibited in one’s diet
  • extreme limitations in food choices, often avoiding entire food groups (fats, carbohydrates, etc.)

The effects of orthorexia include:

  • emaciation
  • bone density loss
  • cardiac complications

Treatment for Exercise Addiction

  • Refraining from exercise for a period of time to regain a balanced lifestyle and identify underlying issues
  • Counseling from qualified treatment professionals on developing healthier coping skills and tools to lead a more balanced life
  • Training from an exercise physiologist or specialist when resuming exercise, to assist in determining a healthy workout schedule, appropriate duration of exercise, etc.

Treatment for Orthorexia

  • Working with a team of eating disorder specialists including a nutritionist, therapist, physician, and possibly others, as needed, such as a psychiatrist, cardiologist, etc.
  • Attaining and maintaining healthy weight, if underweight
  • Identifying and resolving or eliminating underlying issues and behaviors that contribute to the condition of orthorexia.

If you are a loved one are suffering from orthorexia, find a qualified eating disorder center and speak with a professional.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Orthorexia infographic

Thank you to Jessica Setnick, MS, RD, CEDRD-S @ Understanding Nutrition

Dieting & Nutrition

Dieting is an American obsession. Sadly, almost all diets fail and the individual is left feeling discouraged and defeated. Dieting does not work. More promising are lifestyle change and a focus on health and well being rather than restrictive eating.excessive exercise example with girl on horse

Side effects of dieting often include:

  • Irritability, hunger, and depression
  • Increased interest and focus on food
  • Risk of developing eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder

Common diets that are popular and seem to offer anything from a miracle cure for weight loss to increased health are:

  • Low carbohydrate diets, such as Atkins or the Zone Diet that severely restrict consumption of carbohydrates
  • Exchange diets, such as Weight Watchers or many Diabetic meal plans, that offer choices of food categories in specific quantities
  • Pre-Packaged diets, such as Nutrisytems and Jenny Craig, where all of your pre-measured food choices are provided for you and very little spur of the moment decision making are allowed.

Knowledge of nutrition and what constitutes healthy diet can be obtained free of charge at http://www.choosemyplate.gov, a website that outlines the USDA guidelines for healthy diet and exercise. Also, the American Dietetic Association offers trustworthy and useful information.

Orthorexia, Excessive Exercise, & Nutrition Articles

  • Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating are not the only eating disorders with which people struggle. There are other eating disorders that are not as well known but just as dangerous. One of these “other” eating disorders is Orthorexia. It is lesser known and a bit more deceptive. It can often begin as a new life style of eating healthier and cleaner, but it can become an obsession. The fixation on the types of food and “purity” of food can eventually lead to the suffer’s health becoming compromised. Although Orthorexia is not listed as an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders it is can still be a debilitating disease.
  • Having fundamental tools at your disposable while in recovery can be invaluable in creating favorable outcomes in the fight against an eating disorder. An important facet of eating disorder recovery is the nutritional component, and having adequate support in this area can serve as relapse prevention. Equipping oneself with helpful resources, such as a food planner or meal tracker, can empower you with the knowledge needed to propel you through your recovery journey. Learn more about the nutrition tools provided by Choose My Plate.
  • Eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating have serious psychological and physical effects on those suffering with them. While many men and women have an understanding of caloric intake (“counting calories” being a common practice), it is critical to understand the importance of proper nutrition, and specifically to learn what your own body needs to maintain its health. When in recovery from an eating disorders, you should have a proper nutrition plan. Read more about the necessity of nutrition planning for the treatment of eating disorders.
  • The incessant need to persistently be moving, or engagement in extreme activities, such as working out three to five times daily in a gym, can be characteristics of excessive exercise. Commonly, eating disorders are coupled with a component of excessive exercising, as this method is commonly used to offset the effects of food consumption or utilized as a form of weight loss. Management for this overlooked factor of eating disorders can be integrated within an all-inclusive treatment plan. Read more about the diagnosis and evaluation of excessive exercise.
  • Have you ever experienced feelings of guilt for missing a workout? Do you push yourself to exercise, even if you are ill or injured? Evaluating the answers to these questions can help determine if exercise has been excessive and extreme. The hazards resulting from immoderate exercise can prove dangerous to one’s well-being, endangering health with such consequences as low heart rate or osteoporosis. Read more about properly assessing these scenarios is helpful for detection of compulsive exercise.
  • Statistics have revealed that those who struggle with an eating disorder have an increased likelihood of dealing with excessive exercising. The doubling effects of these destructive disorders can be deadly and include heart difficulties, reproductive complications, and stress fractures. While part of creating a healthy lifestyle includes engagement in moderate activity, exercise does not have to be extreme to be beneficial. Choosing moderation over extreme forms of activity can make all the difference. Read more about avoiding the negative effects of compulsive or extreme exercise.
  • Exercise is typically perceived as beneficial and advantageous and not usually viewed in a harmful light. However, even exercise can prove dangerous and detrimental when engaged in excessively, having repercussions that are far from beneficial, such as heart failure or fractured bones. With the added pressures evoked from social media to achieve body perfection, compulsive exercise is becoming more customary, though less understood. The moderation principle could also be applied to exercising, keeping focus to nurture-not destroy-your amazing body! Read more about excessive exercise as addiction in this article.
  • In a society that is continually inflicted with an artificial and unrealistic standard of beauty and body-image, dieting has a commonplace role in the lives of countless men and women. Unfortunately, dieting is also associated with endless cycles of disappointment and failures, feelings of false hope, and restraints from living an enjoyable life. Can you imagine living a life where diets don’t exist? Visualize yourself freely experiencing self-acceptance, normalized eating and physical activity-all meant to enhance every aspect of your being. Read more about how you can begin to free yourself from the burden of dieting.
  • While a healthy will to excel or having high performance standards and expectations reflect a desirable personality trait, the perfectionist takes the will to excel to an extreme and irrational level. Read more about how perfectionism can lead to problems and possibly an eating disorder.
  • For far too many females, the fitness craze has more to do with the fanatic pursuit of thinness than it does with health or fitness. According to one recent study, 48% of survey participants identified weight and shape (versus health improvement) as the primary motivator for exercise.
  • Eating healthy food is an advisable, even laudable, pursuit in today’s world of fast food dining and the highly touted obesity epidemic. But, just as most people know that one alcoholic drink may be fine, but ten are too many, behavioral health professionals also recognize that healthy eating, when done to an extreme, can be very dangerous, even lethal.
  • Two other food-related disorders are also somewhat common to the college experience: exercise bulimia and drunkorexia. Although less is known about these disorders, each is a complex and dangerous disease.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 9, 2018
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Eating Disorder Information