National Eating Disorders Association

Compulsive exercise is not a recognized clinical diagnosis in the DSM-5, but many people struggle with symptoms associated with this term. If you are concerned about your or a loved one's relationship with exercise, please speak with a treatment professional.

What is Compulsive Exercise?

  • Exercise that significantly interferes with important activities, occurs at inappropriate times or in inappropriate settings, or when the individual continues to exercise despite injury or other medical complications.
  • Intense anxiety, depression and/or distress if unable to exercise.
  • Discomfort with rest or inactivity.
  • Exercise used to manage emotions.
  • Exercise as a means of purging.
  • Exercise as permission to eat.
  • Exercise that is secretive or hidden.
  • Feeling as though you are not good enough, fast enough or not pushing hard enough during a period of exercise.

Warning Signs

  • Overtraining.
  • Exercise takes place at inappropriate times and places.
  • Exercise takes place despite injury or fatigue.
  • Depression, anxiety and/or irritability.
  • Feeling guilty if not exercising or if a workout is missed.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family.

Health Consequences

  • Bone density loss.
  • Loss of menstrual cycle (in women).
  • Female Athlete Triad (in women).
  • Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S).
  • Persistent muscle soreness.
  • Chronic bone & joint pain.
  • Increased incidence of injury (overuse injuries, stress fractures, etc.)
  • Persistent fatigue and sluggishness.
  • Altered resting heart rate.
  • Increased frequency of illness & upper respiratory infections.

Did You Know?

An estimated 90-95% of college students diagnosed with an eating disorder also belong to a fitness facility. 

An estimated 3% of gym-goers have a destructive relationship with exercise. Some studies have found that number may be even higher, including a 2008 Paris study that found that up to 42% of gym-goers have a destructive relationship with exercise.

A study involving fitness professionals revealed that 100% of the participants believed that they would benefit from further education and guidelines for identifying and addressing eating disorders.

There is a strong link between exercise compulsion and various forms of eating disorders.


Berczik, K., Szabo, A., Griffiths, M., Kurimay, T., Kun, B., Urban R., & Demetrovics, Z. (2012). Exercise Addiction: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Epidemiology, and Etiology. Substance Use & Misuse, 47, 403-417.

Lejoyeux, M., Avril, M., Richoux, C., Embouazza, H. & Nivoli, F. (2008). Prevalence of exercise dependence and other behavioral addictions among clients of a Parisian fitness room. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 49, 353-358.

Manley, R. O’Brien, K. & Samuels, S. (2008) Fitness instructors’ recognition of eating disorders and attendant ethical/liability issues. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 16(2), 103-116.

McLean Hospital:

Thompson, R. A., & Sherman, R. T. (2010). Eating disorders in sport. New York: Rutledge.

Written by Jodi Rubin, ACSW, LCSW, CEDS, Destructively Fit®, Private Practice