You Might Know Someone Who Has Exercise Bulimia

Exercise bulimia, also known as compulsive exercise, is a lot like an eating disorder, but instead of vomiting or using laxatives, people with exercise bulimia spend hour after hour working out. But isn't exercising a good thing? Not for people who exercise themselves to death.

Exercise bulimia is a mental health condition where people over-exercise to purge their bodies of calories and gain control of their bodies. It often starts with a healthy fitness routine or in conjunction with a diet, but then spirals out of control.


  • Exercising more than is recommended or necessary for athletics or fitness
  • Scheduling activities around exercise
  • Being obsessed with weight, diet, and calorie consumption
  • Taking time off work, school, and relationships to exercise
  • Becoming anxious or depressed when exercise is missed
  • Exercising even when exhausted or injured
  • Exercising when health is deteriorating
  • Not taking rest days
  • Exercising several hours or times per day
  • Exercising to make up for binge eating
  • Unhealthy weight loss

Exercise bulimia is hard to spot until someone is sick. That's because we see fitness and exercise as inherently healthy. When someone goes from making fitness a priority to making it the most important thing in their life, however, they risk causing life-threatening damage to their health.

How Much Is Too Much Exercise?

Mental health experts say that question is part of the problem in diagnosing someone with exercise bulimia. There's no set point where it becomes clear that someone is going too far. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends most people get 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. Exercising more than that might be an indicator for exercise bulimia, but since different people require different amounts of exercise, it might still be normal. If someone is working out several times per day, however, that might be overdoing it.

What Does Exercise Bulimia Do to Your Health?

When a person regularly burns too many calories, they can lose dramatic amounts of weight from fat and muscle loss. In addition to pain, fatigue, and general feelings of being unwell, over-exercising can eventually cause hormonal disruptions that can lead to amenorrhea (not having periods), osteoporosis, arthritis, bone fractures, anemia, electrolyte disorders, cardiac disorders, heart attacks, and stroke.

Men and women are both at risk for exercise bulimia, though more women and girls than boys and men are diagnosed with eating disorders. The good news is, experts say recovery is 100 percent possible, as long as the patient is treated before it's too late. Treatment sometimes includes inpatient rehabilitation, and almost always requires therapy to deal with the reasons behind this mental illness.

If you or someone you know is at risk for exercise bulimia, contact your physician and get help before it takes its toll on your health. While exercise is good for every body, it can be deadly for those who take it too far.




National Institutes of Mental Health
National Institute of Health
Eating Disorders