article title: Compulsive Exercise, the Other Eating Disorder

Eating Disorders and Exercise Addiction

We in the United States have developed a skewed notion of healthy exercise. We either don't exercise at all, or we exercise far too much.

The difference between healthy and unhealthy exercise is all about enjoyment. Compulsive exercisers often find no satisfaction in their athletic achievements, and they almost never do it for fun. I ask many of our callers about exercise, and they often report that at least one or both parents are compulsive exercisers whose days are "ruined" if can't get their five-mile daily run. Exercise addicts will find time at any cost — including cutting school, taking off from work or hiding in the bathroom — to exercise.

Compulsive exercise may be no more than another way to purge. As with all other disordered eating behaviors, the apparent goal is to burn calories and lose weight, but ultimately the exercise provides a temporary sensation of power, control and/or self-respect.

A fundamental principle of Mirasol's treatment philosophy is that eating disorders are chronic stress-related conditions. It's a way to cope with stress, forget about underlying issues, escape inner pain and relieve guilt. Compulsive exercise is as dangerous as restricting, purging or using diet pills and laxatives. Combining restriction and/or binging and purging with compulsive exercise can quickly lead to serious illness (kidney failure, heart attack) or death.

Athletes and Eating Disorders

Athletes may engage in compulsive exercise to please coaches and parents and meet the expectations of others. Eating disorders continue to be on the rise among athletes, especially those involved in sports that emphasize thinness such as gymnastics, figure skating, dancing and synchronized swimming. According to a 1992 American College of Sports Medicine study, eating disorders affect 62 percent of female athletes.

An athlete with an eating disorder and an exercise addiction risks serious medical consequences. Any heart murmurs or arrhythmias are naturally aggravated and made worse. Because their nutrition is so poor, they also risk bone damage and loss from osteoporosis. They're also more prone to stress fractures and other physical injuries than their teammates, and any injuries may take an abnormally long time to heal.

So What is Healthy Exercise?

To maintain cardiovascular health, 2,000-3,500 calories should be burned each week through aerobic exercise, such as running, dancing, cycling and the like. Thirty to 45 minutes a day, five or six days a week is sufficient to acquire these health benefits. Exercise beyond 3,500 calories per week, however, leads to decreased physical benefits and increased risk of injury.

News Flash: Mirasol Awarded Full CARF Accreditation!

Just as we were putting the finishing touches on this month's Sunflower, we received the very welcome news that Mirasol has been awarded full three-year accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).

CARFMirasol received provisional one-year accreditation in July, 2006. Obtaining full accreditation is an important step toward being able to offer a higher level of care, which will help more clients obtain insurance coverage for their treatment at Mirasol.

In its detailed report, CARF made note of the strengths that set Mirasol apart from other residential eating disorder treatment facilities, namely:

  • Mirasol is well respected in the field in which it serves.
  • The leadership is dedicated and committed to developing and delivering a unique treatment program that strives for excellence in providing services to a population that has eating disorders.
  • The creative leadership of Mirasol provides quality supervision of ... persons served and offers creative, therapeutic intervention, including non-traditional treatment such as acupuncture.
  • The administrative and clinical staff members are deeply committed to the individuals served ....
  • Mirasol [employs] a diverse group of specialists ... utilizing multiple therapeutic interventions to meet the holistic needs of individuals served. The high ratio of staff members to persons served demonstrates the organization's focus on individualized treatment.
  • The aftercare groups/programming that takes place throughout treatment allows for a smooth transition from the program to the natural support environment.

CARF accreditation means that you can be confident that Mirasol has made a commitment to continually enhance the quality of its services and programs, and its focus is on patient satisfaction. We are very proud of our new status!