What Is Gymnorexia?

November 12, 2011

Some people are addicted to drugs, others to cigarettes, others to alcohol, others to sugars as for myself I guess that my addiction is exercising.
I can’t deny it, I have an addiction and I’ll admit it. Everyday I have to sweat it out by either running, swimming, biking, practicing yoga, hitting the gym...but I have to do something. If I don’t I just feel miserable: I need my daily dose of endorphins and that’s final!
I always thought that among all the dependecies a person can possibly have mine was probably the best one.
Actually I thought it was not even worth of calling it addiction (a word with an underlying negative meaning) but more of a good habit.
I was happy about this until I found out that there is quite some literature on this “addiction”...to the point that lately it has also been officially labeled as “‘gymnorexia” or “exerciseorexia” or “exercise bulimia”.
And some doctors started warning about the serious damages people can do themselves  through developing a compulsion to workout excess.
In the UK, at Berkshire’s Huntercombe Hospital, people addicted to exercise are treated as strong as any associated with drink or drugs.
I personally think that this might be little bit too much so it's best to find out more!

Gymnorexia explained

How do you know if you’re gymnorexic? Experts says that it can manifest in with several different behaviours but the most common one is the compulsion to workout no matter what including being willing to sacrifice your social or, even, your love life.
Some health professionals have estimated that around 20% of the gym-going public has a degree of exercise dependency.
And when those affected can't have their drug of choice, like any other drug-addictic, they become despondent. Withdrawals effects can be mood swings and getting grumpy and irritated.

The road to addiction

Gymnorexia is a relatively new disorder and both men and women can be subject to it. This addiction has been brought on by two things: the spread of fitness-club culture and the increasing pressure for men to be both lean and muscular and for woman to be thin and fit.  
The emphasis that modern days bring on looking a certain way makes working out a vital part of people's lives, and it's very easy to lose balance. You're going to find this problem anywhere in the world.
Gym “junkies” have a hard time believing that they are actually addicted to something.
However, some health professionals have found similarities in the “highs” gymnorexics get after a workout and the ones a cocaine addiction gets after snorting cocaine.
Both affect the mesolimbic dopamine system in the brain's pleasure center, which rewards behaviors (like, say, running) that contribute to survival as well as those (like snorting cocaine) that do not.
When the body rewards an action by making you feel good, you feel compelled to repeat that action. However, as it’s the case for drugs, the more you get used to exercise, the less dopamine you produce and the more exercise you need to do to reach that high.

The possible counter-effects of overexercising

Apparently exercise may lead to health problems if extreme workouts are paired with restricted calories regimens. And this is based on the belief that you will build a higher proportion of muscle if you restrict they total calorie intake. But in reality you lose both muscle and fat, putting your health at risk
Of course, overexercising can cause damage to the body as you become more prone to injuries. For instance women can experience premature osteoporosis if while restricting their calories they cut-off substantial amounts of calcium intake. Men may use steroids and protein powders to help them achieve their goals, leading to other health problems.
Overexercising can also cause stress fractures and constant repetitive exercise can cause wear and tear on the body's muscle, bones and joints (in severe cases making joint replacement surgery necessary at a young age.)

What is a healthy level of exercise?

I guess that at this point what we really want to ask ourselves is: what is too much exercise? When we are at risk of becoming gymnorexic?
I believe that an healthy level of exercise is when you do think about your fitness and workout often but you're not obsessed with it all the time.
From time to time you may exercise too much, rely on it to burn off extra calories that you've eaten or beat yourself up for missing a work out, but on the whole your exercise routine and mindset is healthy.
However, we should be aware that any level of exercise obsession can be a slippery slope. If you find yourself feeling the need that you "must" work out longer or more often, or if you begin thinking about fitness more or experience a lot of anxiety or guilty at the thought of missing just a single workout, retake this quiz to make sure that your relationship with exercise isn't becoming unhealthy.

The Iron You


  1. Ops...I think I may have this one!

  2. really interesting article!
    Guenda http://guendastoptoptips.blogspot.com/

  3. The best possible addiction you can actually have!

  4. very interesting!

    Seems like it is a very fine line between building a good healthy habit and having an addiction.

    Great food for thought!

  5. People should realize that using drugs will make their body deteriorate. Thanks.