What is Anorexia Athletica?

Mary McMahon

Anorexia athletica is a disorder where people exercise excessively, to the point of injury and potential complications like low bone density, leading to an increased susceptibility to fractures. This condition is also known as exercise addiction or compulsive exercise, reflecting the fact that patients usually feel like they need to exercise at any cost and they view exercise as an obligation, not something enjoyable or as a means to an end like preparing for competition. Teenage girls are most at risk of anorexia athletica.

Those with anorexia often believe they are overweight when in fact they are extremely underweight.
Those with anorexia often believe they are overweight when in fact they are extremely underweight.

There is no hard and fast rule about how much exercise is too much. Competitive athletes may work out for hours every day but be quite healthy, as they are eating balanced diets, enjoying their work, and avoiding injuries. Generally, signs of anorexia athletica include exercising even when one is injured, rapid weight loss, and negative attitudes about body image, often expressed in the form of believing that more exercise will make the patient's body more attractive.

A patient with anorexia athletica may benefit from lifestyle changes as well as from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
A patient with anorexia athletica may benefit from lifestyle changes as well as from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Patients with anorexia athletica feel guilty about missing exercise sessions, curtail other activities to make room for more exercise, and may become secretive about their habits if the people around them begin to express concern. This condition can also be paired with disordered eating, including fasting or binging and purging. Patients may also have complicated rules about “safe” foods and exercise, and can prescribe punishments for themselves for missing exercise or eating foods on the “unsafe” list.

Low energy is a common problem for people with anorexia athletica.
Low energy is a common problem for people with anorexia athletica.

People with this condition may develop hormone imbalances leading to delayed puberty, as well as a cessation of menstrual periods. They can experience serious muscle and tendon injuries and may develop stress fractures as a result of heavy exercise. Low energy is a common problem, and changes to the skin and hair can also be observed, a result of poor nutrition; the patient can appear sallow, for example, or may have thinning hair.

Anorexia athletica may be paired with disordered eating.
Anorexia athletica may be paired with disordered eating.

Treatment for anorexia athletica involves addressing the mental health issues along with the physical health problems. Patients may work with nutritionists to develop a healthier eating regimen and can consult with counselors and physical therapists to learn how to exercise safely and put limits on exercise. Hormone therapy may be provided in some cases. People with anorexia athletica may also benefit from regular psychotherapy, as well as supportive care from family and friends, including assistance as patients try to develop healthier life patterns and work on their attitudes about body image and physical health.

Anorexia athletica refers to people who exercise excessively to the point that it damages their health.
Anorexia athletica refers to people who exercise excessively to the point that it damages their health.
Women with anorexia athletica may develop hormone imbalances that lead to a cessation of mentrual periods.
Women with anorexia athletica may develop hormone imbalances that lead to a cessation of mentrual periods.

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Discussion Comments

Pelicancan

@BubbleVoid I don't think many people go out of their way to develop eating disorders--even if the thin look is in style. I would argue that most eating disorders develop unconsciously. Still, maybe competitive athletes at higher risk for it.

BubbleVoid

Many eating disorders develop out of diets that were taken to the extreme or as coping mechanisms for during stressful times in one's life, but is it possible to develop anorexia athletica unconsciously? I imagine some athletes develop it without necessarily trying to.

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