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Crazy Colleen: The OTHER bulimia

Posted Apr 07 2011 10:03am

by Colleen Baker, mental health blogger


Lately I’ve been on an exercise kick, trying to make it to the gym at least once a day in preparation for my summer vacation. Just getting there for 40 minutes or so has been enough for me, but being so health conscious has been awakening strange memories from my past. I wanted to use this week’s post to spread information and awareness about an issue that affects a surprisingly large amount of people. As per usual, I wanted to introduce this idea with my usual story time:

If you’ve read my previous posts, you are well aware of my past history with bulimia, specifically in eighth grade and the beginning of high school. I purged at least twice a day, counted calories and found any way to keep the amount of food in my body at one time at a minimum. My treadmill became the fastest, easiest way for me to rid myself of unwanted calories and shape up my body quickly. I found myself hopping on the treadmill, and forcing myself to keep running until I had gotten “rid” of every calorie I had consumed.

This is called exercise bulimia, described by About.com as “the new eating disorder.” They describe this new phenomenon as “hard to diagnose since everyone talks about how great it is to exercise. If you do more, isn’t that good? Not if you’re taking it too far. If you use exercise to purge or compensate for eating binges (or just regular eating), you could be suffering from exercise bulimia,” (About.com).

To me, this was a healthier alternative to purging. I suppose when in comparison to purging, exercise bulimia could be seen as healthier. I remember watching the calorie-loss counter go up, making my way into my third mile straight (which for me, was like running a marathon). My eyesight would get blurry, my muscles would tense up, and my breathing would be unbearably fast and uncontrollable.

Sure, I was getting exercise, but there is a point where healthy exercise turns into a dangerous obsession. Our bodies need calories in order to have energy and remain healthy in any way. When you think about it, anorexics refrain from having almost any food (or calories) in their bodies at any given time. This is just like exercise bulimia. If someone is denying their body the natural necessities, it only puts added stress on their heart, lungs and muscles. When you work out to an extreme extent, you may have 5 percent body fat—but it will break your body down.

Not only was my body losing every last bit of nutrients to keep me running (running on the treadmill and “running” in life), but I was straining every muscle, every organ, and exhausting my respiratory system. My body was exhausted and sick.

About.com names the following as possible dangers of this disorder:

  • Injuries such as stress fractures, strains and sprains
  • Low body fat – this may sound good but, for women, it can cause some serious problems. Exercising too much can cause a woman’s period to stop which can cause bone loss
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis
  • Reproductive problems
  • Heart problems

A friend of mine recently told me a story about someone close to her who has suffered from anorexia. But that wasn’t it. Her disease slowly morphed into an unhealthy obsession with working out, running for two hours nonstop. Her body got so fed up with her obsession, and eventually she gave herself meningitis. She didn’t catch this deathly, terrifying disease from a virus, but because she was putting too much stress on her body. It is amazing how strong our bodies can be and how easy it is to ruin them.

Now, of course, the main point here is not to suggest that exercise be taken out of your routine altogether. Exercise has enormous benefits, but when done in moderation. Once we begin engaging in severe amounts of strain on our bodies, namely exercise addiction, we may feel great for a while and see insane results. But the obsession with working out will slowly start breaking our bodies down. Everyone wants to feel young and invincible, with an infinite amount of energy and drive, but our bodies require certain things—we can’t eat and get rid of it, while stressing our bodies on top of it.

I’m now loving going back to the gym and getting back into a healthy groove, but I can’t help thinking back to how it used to be. To be honest. I’m afraid of a relapse. All I can do is focus on getting healthy—which includes eating and keeping it in AND working my body out back to a healthy weight while keeping that food around.


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