People picture bulimia sufferers as individuals who consume enormous quantities of food and then induce vomiting to rid themselves of the unwanted calories. This is often an accurate description – but not always! Some elect to indulge in excessive amounts of exercise to counteract the effects of their bingeing.
In some instances over-exercising can have the desired effect of keeping weight down – bingeing twice a week and excessive exercise a day can maintain an even body weight; but reverse the behaviors and the individual will actually become overweight.
Extreme exercise regimes are dangerous and can result in various medical complications:
- Stress fractures of bones, typically in weight bearing areas such as the feet and legs, are more common in eating disorder patients who, because of their illness often suffer from osteopenia (bone loss) or osteoporosis (brittle bones).
- Bradycardia or low heart rate occurs in response to rapid weight loss, whereby the body attempts to protect itself from further weight loss by slowing the metabolism. This can be potentially fatal.
- Amenorrhea results from significant and rapid weight loss. It results in osteopenia and osteoporosis. These are dangerous losses of bone density that can result in other more serious complications.
- Endorphin levels are increased during excessive exercise, producing a sense of well being that remains even when an individual is seriously compromising their health. Studies are being carried out to better understand the possible addictive nature of exercise.
In trying to evaluate whether exercise levels have gone from reasonable to excessive, the following questions can be asked:
- Do you feel guilty if you miss your workout?
- Do you still exercise when you are sick or hurt?
- Would you avoid going out with friends or spending time with your family, just to ensure you got your workout in?
- Do you freak out if you miss a workout?
- Do you calculate how much to exercise based on how much you eat?
- Do you have trouble sitting still because you’re not burning calories?
- If you’re unable to exercise, do you feel compelled to cut back what you eat that day?
Someone who answers ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions may be exercising too much and endangering their health as a result.