Is Exercise Addiction Connected to Disordered Eating?

Is Exercise Addiction Connected to Disordered Eating?

Woman bent over breathing hard after running outside.

Many people suffering from an eating disorder are also struggling with excessive physical activity. An estimated 39-48% of people with eating disorders are also suffering from an exercise addiction.1 In this article, we will walk through the signs of disordered eating, some red flags of exercise addiction, and how to get help for eating and exercise concerns.

Signs of Disordered Eating

If the thought of eating certain foods causes stress, you may be struggling with disordered eating. Many signs of disordered eating are normalized, even encouraged, by our thin-obsessed culture. However, a strained relationship with food can have a significant impact on your health and quality of life.

Some signs that you may be suffering from disordered eating include:

  • Dieting
  • Skipping meals
  • Spending much of your day thinking about food
  • Relying on food rules about when to eat, what to eat, or how much to eat
  • Avoiding certain foods or food groups
  • Avoiding eating with other people
  • Feeling guilt, shame, or embarrassment about your eating

Disordered eating is commonly related to a desire for a certain body or a distorted view of what it means to be healthy. Likewise, people who struggle with food may have a complicated relationship with exercise as well.

Could I Have an Addiction to Exercise?

It is possible to develop an unhealthy relationship with movement. Exercise addiction is a dependence on physical activity. While addiction to exercise is not officially defined by diagnostic criteria (DSM-5), excessive exercise is commonly seen in individuals suffering from eating disorders. Some signs of exercise addiction include:

  • Difficulty reducing the duration or frequency of your physical activity
  • Anxiety or significant distress if you skip a workout
  • Missing out on other parts of life because of your need to exercise, such as skipping a night out with friends so that you can go to the gym
  • Spending a significant amount of time thinking about and planning for exercise
  • Feeling a “high” or “buzz” after exercising that requires increasing amounts of physical activity to achieve
  • Obsession with changing your size or appearance

With exercise addiction, working out feels like a non-negotiable part of your day. It demands increasing amounts of physical activity to get the same “high” or relief. It may even feel like exercise and food control your life. The good news is that it is possible to experience peace with eating and movement.

Finding Help for Addiction to Exercise and Disordered Eating

Now, imagine using physical activity as a tool to bring enjoyment to your life. Skipping a workout isn’t a big deal. It doesn’t even matter to you if your workout changes your body; you are moving to feel good. This kind of freedom from exercise addiction is possible.

Here at Shoreline, our team of compassionate providers can help you explore your relationship with exercise, fuel your body well, and gain the freedom you deserve. To get started on your journey to recovery, give us a call at 562-434-6007 or fill out our contact form.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3210598/