Show Related Links +
Home » Eating Disorder Education & Awareness » Orthorexia, Excessive Exercise & Nutrition » Exercise Bulimia and Looking Towards Balance

Exercise Bulimia and Looking Towards Balance

Contributor: Heather Silversmith, RD, LD/N, is a registered dietitian who has worked for the Renfrew Center

Sport activityI often have people say to me, “What do you mean I can’t exercise when I come into treatment? I thought exercising was good for you!”

The over-arching theme that exercise is healthy says to me that The United States Department of Agriculture has done a great job getting the message out to the general public that part of a balanced life includes eating well and roughly 30-60 minutes of exercise daily.

The USDA is also working hard to encourage the general public to get outside and MOVE. Move in a gym class, move on a bike, or move in your neighborhood. There is plenty of research that shows that an individual’s cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure go down which can help to reduce the number of people that are diagnosed with debilitating diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cardiac problems.

Exercising to the Point of Injury and Disease

The other positive that comes from increased exercise is the potential decrease in weight. This seems to be the most motivating factor when I speak to the clients in my practice: they want to lose weight. A healthy balance of adequate nutrition and exercise can lead you to that place. However, more often than not, I see a population that is over-exercising to the point of hurting their bodies.

Just like other things that we think can help us (until we overdo it) like sun on your skin, or taking exercise to the extreme, it actually can harm us. Most often I see people who are dehydrated from not enough fluid, malnourished from not eating enough food, and massive caffeine consumption to help them make it through the day after a 2 hour workout.

When we OVER-exercise, we are putting our body at risk for injury of muscles, joints and bones, low blood levels of sodium and potassium, and cardiac issues, dizziness and fainting during the movement.

Examples of Potential Over-Exercising

Healthy heart and good healthI encourage people to ask themselves if they are over-exercising based on some of the following examples:

  1. Are you changing your schedule or missing otherwise-important events to work out?
  2. Are you competing with yourself to constantly do more than the following day? Upping the ante regardless of how your body is feeling?
  3. Ignoring your body’s messages such as feeling fatigued when you wake up or working out through a muscle or joint pain or injury?
  4. Feeling lightheaded, dizzy or “seeing stars” while engaging in exercise?

These are some of the red flags that I ask people to think about. The body is a machine that should be fueled just like a car. We need to think of health and safety first. Wear proper foot attire to ensure that you are giving your body the cushion that it needs to prevent injury, and always, always bring water with you to drink before, during and after a workout.

A Health Exercise Plan

Consider these tips when implementing a healthy exercise plan:

  1. Choose 3-4x/week that you can set aside time to concentrate on making your body healthy. Set aside one hour at the most for your workout.
  2. Start slowly! I encourage people to use the word “movement” instead of exercise. Movement can be walking around your neighborhood or walking around a mall- It’s all the same to the body!
  3. Set attainable goals. If possible, concentrate on just being consistent with the exercise plan instead of the weight piece. Weight changes are secondary to consistency with food and exercise.


cheerful young athletes jogging autumn morningWhether you or someone you love is struggling with an over exercising let them know you care. Be respectful and nonjudgmental while providing hope and motivation. Seek help from your primary care physician or a specialized treatment facility, such as The Renfrew Center.

With motivation, dedication and a specialized treatment team an individual can begin to incorporate exercise into their recovery in a healthy way.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How have you or someone you loved adjusted your workout routine to stay in balance with a healthy level of exercise? What does exercise and accountability look like for you in your eating disorder recovery?

About the Author:

Heather Silversmith HeadshotHeather Silversmith, RD, LD/N, is a registered dietitian who has worked for the Renfrew Center for several years. She focuses her work both on nutrition therapy with our residential patients as well as works as The Exercise Coordinator for The Renfrew Center of Florida. This unique specialty has become very beneficial for our eating disorder clients who also struggle with exercise issues. Heather has spoken on behalf of Renfrew, both for Renfrew’s staff and also in the community, and has experience working in both our residential and non-residential sites.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 28th, 2015
Published on

Search Eating Disorder Hope