Anorexia Athletica

What is Anorexia Athletica? 

Anorexia Athletica is a sub-type of the eating disorder, Anorexia. It references a compulsive obsession with exercise alongside symptoms related to restricting food intake and, often, maintaining a low weight with regimented eating.

The diagnosis was first used in the 1980s but has only recently come into common vernacular and is sometimes referred to as “compulsive exercise”, “hypergymnasia” or “sports anorexia”.

People with Anorexia Athletica have a tendency to focus on athletic performance and measure their self-worth against other people’s performance and body types. That being said, there are often complex emotional underlying causes that force an individual to look outside of themselves to cope. 

What are the common symptoms?

Because exercise is typically associated with healthy living, it is often difficult for GPs and other healthcare professionals to spot that, in some cases, exercise can cause a significant negative impact on someone’s physical and mental health.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that eating disorders manifest in different ways. They are unique to the individual and anyone can develop one. This means that there is no right or wrong way to have Anorexia Athletica and you may not “tick all the boxes” of the diagnosis.

That being said, there are common behavioural patterns and emotional and cognitive characteristics that help in diagnosing the illness, such as:

  • A preoccupation with exercise
  • Guilt and shame associated with missing exercise and routines
  • Low body weight and/or pursuit of a low body weight
  • Regimented eating and/or lack of intuitive eating
  • Prioritising exercising over family time, social lives and/or their career
  • Exercising regardless of health, for instance when ill or injured
  • Maintaining secrecy around exercise, particular the amount or intensity
  • Basing self-worth around exercise and athletic performance

How do you treat Anorexia Athletica?

Despite how it may seem, Anorexia Athletica is more than simply compulsive exercising.

Orri understands the complexities of eating disorders such as Anorexia Athletica, and our team have spent their careers working alongside people living with eating disorders and their families so that recovery becomes possible for all.

To us, recovery involves healing the underlying causes – not just the physical symptoms – of the eating disorder to ensure full and sustained recovery. Our particular area of focus is specialist day treatment through a stepped approach. By taking a stepped approach, we can provide the right level of support as individuals maintain their careers, go to school or university, and return to their lives alongside recovery.

Recovery is a gradual process that won’t happen on any particular day but will deepen and strengthen with time. Our commitment is to the individual and their journey, as well as to the support system around them of family and carers.

What should I do if I think that I, or a loved one, may have it?

Anorexia Athletica can have a detrimental impact to someone’s physical and mental health. It’s important that if you have concerns, you reach out to an eating disorder specialist to get advice and guidance on next steps.

Last updated by Kerrie Jones, Clinical Director of Orri, in September 2019.

Recovery from Anorexia Athletica is possible. We’re here, just reach out.

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