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Exercising away from an eating disorder can, in the worst case, aggravate the disorder.

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This is what Cathrine Nitter, who is a lecturer in ROS (i.e., a Norwegian institution that provide counceling to individuals and families affected by eating disorders), writes in an article on

She says that many people with eating disorders have either too extensive or ambivalent relationship with exercise, and warns against focusing in the direction of "exercise the eating disorder away."

Like other mental disorders, eating disorders are complex and multifaceted, and as for the general population, the road to a better life cannot be solved with only diet and exercise. However, exercise can serve as an important supplement to ordinary treatment, something that is supported in the research literature.


Often a strained relationship with exercise

An important point in the article is that people with eating disorders often have a strained relationship with exercise.

Previous studies from the Norwegian Sports Academy show that around 80 percent who have anorexia, and 50 percent with bulimia, have a strained relationship with exercise. By this is meant that the training is compulsive, or that you train more than what is healthy.

In addition, there is the large group with overeating disorder, which represents the majority of those with eating disorders. They often have a very ambivalent relationship with exercise.


When the desire for health takes precedence

Cathrine Nitter focuses on the fact that in our society there are strong ideals related to body and appearance, which makes it easy for many of us to seek happiness in cultivating our physical appearance. 

For many, exercise has become a body project, and words like health and beauty have almost become synonymous concepts.

For people who develop eating disorders, this "body project" can be extra significant, and it is not uncommon for exercise and health hysteria to become a central part of the eating disorder itself. Cathrine Nitter describes this:

It is troubling when excessive exercise is promoted, in which self-discipline is largely a favored trait. 


Warns that exercise alone can aggravate the symptoms

Nitter points out that an eating disorder is a mental disorder that is basically not about food and the body, but about deeper problems.

In the treatment, one must therefore take into account that an eating disorder is a mental illness. The focus must be greater than diet and physical activity, she writes.

What worries me is that attempts as "training away an eating disorder" can stimulate a more compulsive and ambivalent relationship with exercise. It can also promote the illusion that exercise alone can solve the problem. In the worst case, such attempts can aggravate the symptoms.



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