Anorexia Athletica

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Anorexia athletica is not, as yet, considered to be a medical condition as listed under DSM-IV. Eating disorders listed, include Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, Binge Eating disorder and Eating Disorders not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS).

The term Anorexia Athletica was first used in the 1980s by NJ Smith in the article ” Excessive weight loss and food aversion in athletes simulating anorexia nervosa ” published in Paediatrics in July (1980 66(1) pages 139-142). It is a disorder that is most often recognised in competitive athletes, but it can affect anyone with a preoccupation with weight and /or diet and is also commonly known as Compulsive Exercising. It occurs when someone is obsessed with exercising and will do so in an amount of time or intensity that is beyond normal and generally is combined with other eating disorders, as mentioned above.

Someone who is suffering from Anorexia athletica will force themselves to exercise to control a body image that is often distorted by their own perception. The adrenal highs achieved from the excessive physical regime may also become an addiction. As with all eating disorders, the sufferer has a need to control an aspect of their life which may otherwise be chaotic and to make any headway with these problems underlying issues will need to be examined.


Anorexia Athletica Signs & Symptoms

  • Exercising beyond the requirements for good health
  • Obsessive dieting or fear of certain foods
  • Compulsive or obsessive exercising/ overtraining
  • A refusal to eat with teammates/ tries to hide dieting
  • Stealing time from work, school, and relationships to exercise
  • Focusing on challenge and forgetting that physical activity can be fun
  • Defining self-worth in terms of performance
  • Rarely or never being satisfied with athletic achievements
  • Always pushing on to the next challenge
  • Justifying excessive behaviour by defining self as an athlete or insisting that their behaviour is healthy
  • Desire to keep losing more weight despite already being below a healthy body weight
  • Mood swings/ angry outbursts
  • Menstrual periods may stop

Women, most commonly, but also men who do more than six hours of intense aerobic exercise per week, strictly for weight control (not playing a sport, hiking, or recreational activity) may well be at risk of anorexia athletica. Because an intense exercise regime can be regarded as a sign of good health, this particular eating disorder is more likely to be overlooked unless there are other signs such as obsessive dieting or extreme weight loss.

If you are worried about someone that may be excessively exercising and who is showing some of the other signs referred to above, speak to a health professional for further help. The following site, is also helpful:

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