Can compulsive exercisers go back to their sport?


posted by Julie O'Toole on March 2, 2012
We need more strong messages like this. Patients with compulsive exercise may not, indeed face enormous risk, go back to their sport. Parents: how much does this scare you?


  1. it probably doesn't scare me as much as it should because the link isn't working - at least not for me

  2. Yes, better, or will I say worse when I have read it and am scared?!

  3. Very powerful article. Our daughter was a compulsive exerciser during RAN and has gone back to sports. She is doing great now but we watch it very closely. My hope is that she is in the 50% that is able to go back to sports. Her trigger sport was swimming and now she plays soccer. However, when we made her give up swimming she played soccer for a year and turned it into OE.


  4. Powerful. ~ Hope this offers hope to those who are scared:
    I was a runner before my eating disorder began and it was for the pure love of sport. When my eating disorder arose, my brain manipulated what running's purpose was in my life; running was never a joy thanks to ED, for the next 16 years. I'm very very lucky that I never died on a run --esp. didn't die from dehydration.
    When I went thru my final recovery process I made myself give up running. It was one of the hardest things I did during my healing, for many reasons. But it was also one of the best things I did. During that time of healing I investigated why I ran, what it meant to ME (not what it meant to anyone else, or to my disease...what it meant to ME, if anything). <--BTW: I only started investigating "what running meant to me" AFTER I spent a year re-nourishing my brain & body for over a year...I wanted to be thinking clearly b4 investigating my thoughts/feelings)
    After a great deal of time praying about running, I decided I wanted to try inviting running back into my life. <--But before I did, I made a very solid pact with myself & running & God that I only wanted it back in ways that served me in healthy & joyful ways; if I saw any remote signs or had any warped thoughts about running, I would stop (even if that meant stopping in the middle of a run and walking my butt home). <--I knew that was going to be hard to do b/c all the years of my ED I was involved in competitive racing, had a coach who advocated for my low weight and low body fat %, and that was all thought of as "normal". I didn't want to be an unhealthy runner ever again, nor did I want to be an obsessed runner, which so many runners are -not always unhealthy in their obsessions, I just didn't want to be a part of that running culture any longer ;-) I had no idea if running-health was possible.
    I AM THRILLED TO REPORT: it was very much possible. I still remember the first run I went on after taking over 2 years off to heal. It was a June day in 2004. I set off down Grass Lake Road, waiving to the cows I passed on the left (one of the calves actually ran along with me as I passed; wheat farm on my right; great oak trees lining the street and a sky so blue that I thought I was seeing a new hue. I smiled, laughed, and cried on that run ---it was the first time in over 18 years that I was running healthy; I was running hydrated; I was running with joy; I was running for me. I lost count after I high-fived my 20th tree on that run.
    I have been running again for 8 years and every single run has been started and completed for the spiritual and cardiovascular health of it. I am very lucky.
    (ps: also to give more hope --I have had several periods of time in the past 8 years when I have had to take time off from running for various life reasons & it was never an issue to 'stop' running. Running is a gift, not an obligation)

  5. In regard to your question, Laura: "Can compulsive exercisers go back to their sport?" - I tried to address this here:

    On a personal level, it would be very, very difficult for me to go back to endurance sports again, even if I didn't have the physical health problems I do have as a consequence of many years of over-exercising and under-eating.

    Professionals and others need to recognise that exercise dependence is not just a 'compensatory behaviour' - in terms of 'compensation' for food eaten. For some people with EDs, compulsive exercise is their primary difficulty. It was with me. And it's not 'all about controlling weight and shape and buring calories'. In fact, some of the best published research studies in this field has linked compulsive exercise to regulation of emotions: especially anxiety and low mood - which exercise is very effective in controlling.

    A big problem is that when compulsive exercisers become injured or sick (which is not uncommon because they push their bodies too hard...) and cannot exercise, they may turn (albeit unconsciously) to other destructive means of controlling mood (e.g. restricting, bingeing, purgeing, self-harming).


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