Athletes Suffering

Getting into a healthy exercise routine is one of the best things you can do for yourself. But, sometimes, even the best intentions can go too far. Some people can become so obsessed with exercise that it interferes with their physical and emotional health. When compulsive exercise is paired with poor nutrition and the desire to be thin, people can be at risk for an eating disorder.

When is exercise compulsive?

"Exercise is compulsive when it begins taking priority over everything else", explains Lois Neaton, PT, physical therapy manager with Park Nicollet Melrose Institute (formerly Methodist Hospital Eating Disorders Institute). "Telling signs that it might contribute to an eating disorder are when it becomes more important than schoolwork, jobs, even family and friends. Despite it being a top priority, it's no longer enjoyable."

How it becomes an eating disorder

Some people are more prone to eating disorders than others. Athletes are one example - http://biggestloserthegame.com/insta-slim-reviews.html. "In some sports, such as gymnastics, figure skating, wrestling, running and cross country skiing, being thin or within a specific weight limit can influence an athlete's performance," Neaton says. "Also, many athletes tend to be perfectionists and place greater demands on themselves, or they may be more willing to tolerate higher levels of pain to please their coaches."

Today's society places a high value on being thin and in shape. Women going through transitions can be especially vulnerable. For example, girls going through puberty, women undergoing midlife changes and college students, who are away from home for the first time, are more prone to eating disorders.

Negative energy balance

When exercise drains too much energy from the body without replacing it on a regular basis, it begins harming the body's basic systems. "The body requires about 50 percent to 75 percent of a normal diet's caloric intake to maintain itself. Less than 30 percent of the calories we eat should go toward exercise," Neaton explains. "Calories 'in' may need to balance with calories 'out' to maintain good health, but exercise is not the only 'out.' People who have eating disorders often try to match their daily caloric intake to the readout on the treadmill. That leaves nothing to help bodily systems build, or even survive."

A potential, long-term consequence of too much exercise with inadequate nutrition is that this imbalance may produce the female athlete triad. The triad includes disordered eating, osteoporosis and the absence of monthly periods. "A lack of periods is quite common among dancers, gymnasts and long-distance runners. But common does not mean normal," Neaton says. "This is a serious sign that the body no longer has the energy it needs to maintain itself."

Other signs of excessive exercise may include:

exceptionally low heart rate or blood pressure
overuse injuries, which may include tendonitis, shin splints, stress fractures, cramps and general stiffness
low body temperature, which is evident by cold hands and feet, having bluish fingers or needing to dress more warmly than others
mood changes or disorders that promote isolation from family and friends
a lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed
daytime fatigue and poor concentration, nighttime insomnia
rigid increase in workout schedule, yet decrease in performance
an increased focus on food and weight
help is available

For over 20 years, Melrose Institute has been treating athletes suffering from eating disorders and compulsive exercise. Today, the institute also has an education outreach component. "We do presentations in schools and at Park Nicollet, informing coaches, athletes, teachers, parents and classmates about these conditions and their warning signs. We also supply resource material and links on our Web site to reinforce our message," Neaton says. Learning about this condition is the first step toward treatment, and early intervention strengthens recovery.