Anorexia Athletica… Sports Anorexia… Hypergymnasia… Compulsive Exercising…

There is a rapidly emerging area of eating disorders and the clue is in the name…


With eating disorders, a common motivation is the sense of control the individual feels over their body. When everything around them seems to be in chaos, eating disorder sufferers often feel that the only thing left that they do have some form of control over is what they put into their body. Therefore, the eating disorder can actually seem empowering. In the case of Anorexia Athletica, the sense of control over the body is extended to both food and exercise. This particular disorder is characterised by excessive over-exercising and fixations with working out. Signs of Anorexia Athletica include this excessive exercise, lack of actual enjoyment in the sport or exercise and valuing one’s self in accordance with your physical performance. The excessive exercising is also typically accompanied by fixations with calories and weight in quite severe cases. Denial is also a significant issue. The individual refuses to recognise that the level of exercise they engage in is beyond a healthy amount.


Anorexia athletica, despite seeming like a ‘new’ disorder, appears to be gaining significant traction, spurred on by the countless workout programmes, gym memberships and weight-control products now advertised to help us reach a ‘’fitter/leaner/thinner/more muscular/insert-buzzword-here’’ selves. If the images and advertisements we consume either consciously or unconsciously, on a daily basis, fit this ‘better’ picture, it is unavoidable that some people will begin to develop a warped perception of what it really means to be ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’. The danger is they may then develop a warped perception of themselves.


I came across drastic images on various websites not related to fitness, while I was surfing the internet. I would never look for ‘fitspiration’ images or motivational fitness posts, but even from following some fashion blogs I was confronted by such images. Some fashion bloggers are posting them themselves. Such images are directed at both men and women of all ages. A lot of it is about body image, but not the positive side. However, a key motivation for many sufferers of Anorexia Athletica is also related to performance, which in turn relates back to that sense of control and what they can push their body to achieve. It’s scary that some people would agree with some of the statements I found online like…


‘’Crawling is acceptable. Puking is acceptable.

Tears are acceptable. Pain is acceptable.

Quitting is UNACCEPTABLE.’’


Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that entire statement is unacceptable. But for sufferers of Anorexia Athletica, such quotes and the often overly edited photos that accompany them further increase the fixation on exercising to the excess. Anorexia Athletica sufferers base their self-worth on their ability to perform, train and exercise. They feel guilty when they believe they haven’t exercised ‘enough’. ‘Motivational’, ‘fitspiration’ quotes where the objective seem to be to shame those who don’t push through the pain, sweat and sickness, have a detrimental impact on those already susceptible to Anorexia Atheltica.


Like all eating disorders, both males and females can be at risk. Both can shrink to an unhealthy level of leanness and thinness for sports such as running, gymnastics, figure skating, to name a few. Both can also bulk up excessive levels of muscle while maintaining very low body fat. There are countless brands selling protein shakes, muscle enhancers and other gimmicks in any shopping malls, ‘health food’ shops, and gyms that will allow it. It is in those situations where being healthy and keeping fit becomes clouded by unrealistic images of what the ideal body is, what level of performance one should reach and how to achieve it.


Anorexia Athletica sufferers place an enormous amount of pressure on their bodies by reducing the intake of vital nutrients needed to maintain a reasonable level of exercise and then combining this with excessive exercise, beyond their body’s capacity. Sufferers become malnourished and experience adverse effects on the body’s vital organs, as is the case with any serious eating disorder. Regardless of gender, both men and women struggling with Anorexia Athletica continuously push their body to it’s most extreme limit, as a result of their fixation with performance, body image issues and desire to regain control in their lives.


Various media outlets, for example the advertisement of food supplements and supposedly ‘motivational’ ‘fitspiration’ images, play a dangerous part in the case of Anorexia Athletica. Understandably, some people, whether they are professional athletes or weekly gym users, may be more susceptible to the advertisements than others. Other factors like need for control also plays a role. Coaches and parents, encouraging athletes to train to their limits may also be unintentionally feeding into the disorder. A sufferer first needs to recognise they have a problem, before they can begin to seek help. But how likely is that to happen when there are ‘motivational’ mottos like this?


Here are some resources…

The Unhealthy Side of Mind-Body Interaction: Anorexia Athletica, Chrstine Ristow, EatingDisordersOnline, 15 February 2013

Male Athletes Struggle With ED, Catherine Pearson, The Huffington Post, 16th August 2011