Text Link

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Exercise bulimia treatment and recovery

Exercise bulimia is not as frequently talked about or as well understood as other eating disorders. But that doesn't mean the condition isn't just as dangerous or draining on mental, physical, and emotional health.

Thankfully, exercise bulimia treatment is possible, with different therapies available to help heal your relationship with exercise, food, and yourself so you can take back control of your life.

Last updated on 
January 25, 2024
January 29, 2024
Exercise bulimia treatment
In this article

What is exercise bulimia? 

Exercise bulimia is a subset of bulimia nervosa (BN), an eating disorder characterized by cycles of binging and purging. Those with BN utilize various unhelpful behaviors as a way to "compensate" for the amount of food eaten during a binging episode.

With exercise bulimia, excessive and compulsive exercise is the primary compensatory behavior, with working out used as a means to "purge" calories.1

Warning signs of exercise bulimia
Dangers of exercise bulimia

Do you have exercise bulimia?

Not all exercise is bad, which can make it particularly tricky to parcel out who has exercise bulimia and who is simply a gym enthusiast.

Aside from the common warning signs of exercise bulimia, one significant indication that someone is struggling with a deeper problem would be the concurrent symptoms of bulimia, including body image issues and binge eating episodes that generally trigger excessive exercise.

Another good way to find out if you have exercise bulimia is to take an exercise bulimia test. But remember: These quizzes are not the same as a proper medical evaluation. If you're worried about your behaviors or that of a loved one, it's important to consult your primary care physician, therapist, or another trusted medical professional.

Exercise bulimia test

The Compulsive Exercise Test (CET) is composed of 24 self-report statements that are designed to assess the core emotional, cognitive, and behavioral features of compulsive exercise.8 The exercise bulimia test assesses aspects of compulsive exercise on five subscales:9

  • Avoidance and rule-driven behavior
  • Weight control exercise
  • Mood improvement
  • Lack of exercise enjoyment
  • Exercise rigidity

Each self-report item is rated on a scale from 0 (never true) to 5 (always true). The higher a person scores on the test indicates more significant compulsive exercise pathology.8 Examples of self-report statements on the exercise bulimia test include:8

  • I feel extremely guilty if I miss an exercise session
  • I usually continue to exercise despite injury or illness unless I am very ill or too injured
  • I feel less depressed or low after I exercise
  • If I feel I have eaten too much, I will do more exercise
  • My weekly pattern of exercise is repetitive

How to get help for exercise bulimia

The good news about exercise bulimia is that exercise bulimia treatment does exist.

If you’re concerned about your behaviors surrounding exercise and food, it’s important you seek professional help. The longer you allow these behaviors to rule your life, the worse the potential impact on your physical and mental health.

Treatment for exercise bulimia typically requires a multi-pronged approach, which includes implementing coping strategies, developing healthy eating habits, maintaining healthy self-esteem and body image, and redirecting exercise goals with the gradual incorporation of moderate physical activity. (10)

Exercise bulimia treatment will be tailored to your own needs and may include the following therapies:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This form of talking therapy investigates the connection between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to help you understand the underlying reasons behind your exercise behaviors. Through CBT, you’ll learn to challenge your disordered beliefs and change them to ones that better serve you.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): Through this talking therapy, you’ll work with a therapist to help increase your psychological flexibility so you can become free of the rigid exercise rules you impose on yourself. ACT also encourages you to identify your core values and make choices that align with them.
  • Nutritional counseling: A nutritionist helps you to debunk the myths you hold surrounding food and learn the nutritional value of food. You may also receive help planning and shopping for nutritious and balanced meals to keep you well-fuelled.
While at times it may seem impossible, exercise bulimia recovery is possible. Contact someone you trust who can help you find the support and treatment you need.
Get help

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

Resources

  1. Compulsive exercise. (2018, February 22). National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed May 2023
  2. Exercise bulimia. (2017, February 20). Bodywhys. Accessed May 2023
  3. O'Keefe, J. H., Patil, H. R., Lavie, C. J., Magalski, A., Vogel, R. A., & McCullough, P. A. (2012). Potential adverse cardiovascular effects from excessive endurance exercise. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 87(6), 587–595. 
  4. Smith, A. R., Fink, E. L., Anestis, M. D., Ribeiro, J. D., Gordon, K. H., Davis, H., Keel, P. K., Bardone-Cone, A. M., Peterson, C. B., Klein, M. H., Crow, S., Mitchell, J. E., Crosby, R. D., Wonderlich, S. A., le Grange, D., & Joiner, T. E., Jr (2013). Exercise caution: over-exercise is associated with suicidality among individuals with disordered eating. Psychiatry research, 206(2-3), 246–255.
  5. Lichtenstein, M. B., Hinze, C. J., Emborg, B., Thomsen, F., & Hemmingsen, S. D. (2017). Compulsive exercise: links, risks and challenges faced. Psychology research and behavior management, 85-95. 
  6. Bulik, C. M., Sullivan, P. F., & Kendler, K. S. (2002). Medical and psychiatric morbidity in obese women with and without binge eating. The International journal of eating disorders, 32(1), 72–78.
  7. Sunder, A., Mohanty, B., Singh, A., & Yadav, P. (2019). Rhabdomyolysis - Exercise induced nightmare. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, 8(1), 305–307. 
  8. Meyer, C., Plateau, C. R., Taranis, L., Brewin, N., Wales, J., & Arcelus, J. (2016). The Compulsive Exercise Test: confirmatory factor analysis and links with eating psychopathology among women with clinical eating disorders. Journal of Eating Disorders, 4, 22. 
  9. Schlegl, S., Vierl, L., Kolar, D. R., Dittmer, N., & Voderholzer, U. (2022). Psychometric properties of the Compulsive Exercise Test in a large sample of female adolescent and adult inpatients with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 55(4), 494– 504. 
  10. Jee, Y. S. (2016). Exercise addiction and rehabilitation. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 12(2), 67–68. 

FAQs

What is exercise bulimia?

Exercise bulimia, also known as compulsive exercise or exercise addiction, is a disorder where a person exercises excessively to compensate for calories consumed through regular or binge eating. 

Do I have exercise bulimia?

If you feel compelled to exercise excessively to control your weight or to give you permission to eat, you may be suffering from exercise bulimia. Further signs that you’re living with exercise bulimia include feeling anxious when you can’t exercise, continuing to exercise even when injured, neglecting other commitments to exercise, and constant body checking.

Where can I find help for exercise bulimia?

If you’re worried about your behaviors around exercise, reach out to a trusted loved one or health care professional for health.

The experienced care team at Within Health will be able to recommend a personalized treatment plan that addresses the underlying cause of your disordered behaviors. This will help you to regain a healthy relationship with your body, movement, and food.

Further reading

Black History Month spotlight: Joycelyn Elders—Building a stronger future for our children

Black History Month is an important time of year to reflect on the many unsung accomplishments of African...

Black History Month spotlight: Paul Cornely—Keeping the Civil Rights Movement strong

They say if you have your health, you have everything. And Dr. Paul Cornely worked to ensure everyone could...

Interpersonal psychotherapy for eating disorders

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN), binge eating disorder (BED), and bulimia nervosa (BN) can...

Black History Month spotlight: Mary Kenner—The unsung pioneer of women’s health

While scientific advancement is generally considered a collaborative effort, there are many unsung heroes...

Exercise bulimia vs. anorexia athletica

Many people know at least a little bit about eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia...

Binge eating recovery

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States, characterized by...

ARFID treatment at home

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a common eating disorder, though not widely understood...

How to treat eating disorders at home

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that affect millions of people around the world. In...

Bulimia treatment at home

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is an eating disorder characterized by cycles of binge eating and purging, with these...

Anorexia home treatment

Treating anorexia nervosa (AN) is often a tricky prospect. While weight restoration and recovery from this...

Within Summit Q&A with Kevin Hines: The power of lived experience

Many people have said this story saved or changed their lives. People recognize they too can overcome...

Eating disorder support groups: Finding healing in community

Eating disorders like binge eating disorder (BED), anorexia nervosa (AN), and bulimia nervosa (BN), can be...

Within Summit Author round-up

Looking to deepen your wisdom from the Within Summit? Speakers from this year and last year’s Summit share...

Within Summit Q&A with Dr. Luana Marques: Understanding avoidance

I grew up in Brazil with a single mother, and moved in with my grandmother at 15. I faced a lot of adversity..

Within Summit Q&A with Dr. Kate Truitt: The power of gentle, soothing touch

Anybody can learn the self-havening protocols, which involve different kinds of gentle, soothing touch, and...

Within Summit Q&A with Eric Wood: Envisioning a new model for college campus counseling

The trauma of the pandemic has definitely contributed to the increased need for mental health services...

Emotion-focused therapy for eating disorders

Emotion-focused therapy (EFT), sometimes called emotionally-focused therapy, is a type of therapy that...

Experiential therapy for eating disorders

Experiential therapy is a form of insight-driven or action-based therapy that immerses a patient in an...

Comparing the different levels of care in eating disorder treatment

While all eating disorders are serious mental health conditions, eating disorder symptoms may present at...

Can a therapist diagnose an eating disorder?

Struggling with an undiagnosed eating disorder is often a difficult thing to talk about. Even if you're...

Bulimia self-help recovery

Like other eating disorders, bulimia nervosa (BN) has the power to significantly affect a person’s life and...

10 ways to be gentle with yourself during eating disorder recovery

Eating disorder behaviors are often characterized by profound shame, guilt, and isolation. Eating disorder...

Overcoming food aversion

Food aversion is an intense dislike of a particular food. People may experience this emotion with foods...

How to choose the best eating disorder treatment program for your needs

When it comes to choosing an eating disorder treatment program, people’s specific needs may vary. A program...

Practicing mindfulness and mindful eating

The practice of mindfulness originated through Buddhist meditation, but its introduction into Western...

The health benefits of pet ownership

Coming home to a fur baby or animal companion can feel like coming home to unconditional love. And the...

How chanting helps with meaningful living

Chanting is a type of meditation that has been part of human behavior for thousands of years, practiced by...

Meditation and eating disorder recovery

Practicing meditation can help with internal healing by offering the opportunity to bring mind, body, and...

How yoga can improve mental health & help with eating disorder recovery

Practiced for thousands of years, yoga has long been heralded for its potential to improve mental, physical...

Eating disorder recovery and meaningful living

Eating disorder recovery is an incredibly personal and vulnerable journey, and everyone’s process may look...

Can you be addicted to exercise?

Exercise is an important part of health and wellness for both the body and mind. For years, it’s been...

The importance of intersectionality in eating disorder treatment and research

Eating disorders affect people of all genders, sexual orientations, races, cultures, weights, sizes, and...

Therapy for eating disorders

Overcoming an eating disorder can be a long and challenging journey. But there are many types of therapy...

Learning to develop distress tolerance skills

Life can be challenging, as it’s full of ups and downs, meaning most people will have to navigate through...

Compulsion and eating disorders

Do you sometimes feel the urge to eat large quantities of food or exercise excessively, to cope with...

Using self-compassion and radical acceptance to overcome perfectionism in eating disorder recovery

Perfectionism is a trait many people can have and is associated with eating disorders. And often...

Learn about eating disorder treatment

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can impact all aspects of someone's physical...

Aftercare for eating disorders

When you approach the end of your residential or partial hospital program...

How to find a therapist for eating disorders

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED) are...

Helpful interventions for eating disorders

If you suspect your loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, it can...

Trauma-informed care for eating disorders

There is a strong link between eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa...

Group therapy for eating disorders

Group therapy, sometimes called group psychotherapy, is not a specific type of therapy but rather a term to...

What to look for in a quality eating disorder treatment program

With so many eating disorder treatment programs available today, both...

What is anorexia athletica?

Many people have heard of eating disorders like bulimia nervosa (BN) or anorexia nervosa (AN), but these...

What causes exercise addiction?

Exercise in moderation can be a key component in maintaining mental and physical well...

Exercising too much: signs and symptoms of overexercise

Over-exercising symptoms can occur when you’re exercising too much and/or not giving...

Exercise addiction treatment & recovery

Exercise addiction is an eating disorder that can do serious damage to the body, with up...

Night eating syndrome treatment

Night eating syndrome (NES) is a highly disruptive eating disorder affecting as many as...

Treatment of pregorexia, pregnancy-related eating disorders

Pregnancy-related eating disorders, also called pregorexia, encompass any eating disorders...

Orthorexia treatment plan

Orthorexia nervosa (ON) is a serious eating disorder that can be very tricky to detect, as...

Diabulimia treatment & recovery

Diabulimia is a complex eating disorder that involves the deliberate underuse or restriction of insulin in...

Anorexia nervosa treatment therapy options with proven results

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious mental health condition that manifests in a number of physical, mental...

Bulimia treatment therapy plans with proven results

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is a dangerous and potentially deadly disorder, affecting someone’s mental, physical...

How to find a binge eating disorder treatment plan

Treatment plans for binge eating disorder (BED)—or other eating disorders and mental health conditions—are...

ARFID treatment: avoidant restrictive food intake disorder

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder that involves a severely limited...

What are the symptoms of exercise addiction?

Exercise addiction hasn’t yet been formally entered into the Diagnostic and...

Self-help and eating disorder treatment

Human resolve can be a formidable force in any endeavor. Recovering from an...

Partial hospitalization programs for eating disorders

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are highly-structured day therapy programs that can be used for...

Intensive outpatient treatment for eating disorders

While all eating disorders are serious mental health conditions, symptoms span a spectrum of severity. To...

Inpatient care for eating disorders

Mental health conditions of all types, including eating disorders, occur on a spectrum of severity...

Exercise bulimia treatment and recovery

Exercise bulimia is not as frequently talked about or as well understood as other eating disorders. But...

Group therapy for eating disorder treatment

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that have deep impacts on many people. By some...

What is exercise addiction?

There’s no doubt that our bodies require regular movement to function at their healthiest level. But it is...

Exercise bulimia: What it is and how it’s treated

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is an eating disorder that affects about three percent of women...

The role of the care partner in ED recovery

Struggling with an eating disorder can be a lonely and isolating experience...

The importance of community during eating disorder recovery

Often, stories of eating disorder recovery focus on the individual, what they...

The signs and effects of exercise bulimia on the body

Exercise bulimia is perhaps a lesser-known eating disorder than anorexia...