Title/Topic: Could Your Child be an Exercise Addict?
Posted On: 6/18/2009
June 18 2009 (The Mirror, UK) – We’re always being told to exercise more, but it can become a compulsion. One girl explains how her obsession took over.
Her desperately thin arms and legs pumping, teenager Lynsey Bowman ran round and round her school’s sports field as fast as she could.
Firmly in the grip of anorexia she weighed just over Xst* but Lynsey was still trying to burn off every calorie she’d just eaten.
Her terrified parents had called in experts who’d given Lynsey a special diet plan and the 15-year-old was told she had to eat everything.
Her mum Elaine even went into her school at lunchtimes to make sure she stuck to it.
“I’d leave all my friends and sit in the car with Mum until I’d eaten everything,” Lynsey says. “She thought I was going straight back into school, but in fact I was running it off.
“I ran round and round the sports field until the end of lunchtime.
“If they upped my food intake, I upped my exercise.
“I also did sit-ups in my room and did so many I tore open the bottom of my back. The wound kept reopening because I just wouldn’t stop doing them.”
Lynsey’s case sounds extreme, but eating disorders can take different forms. Some sufferers starve themselves while others binge then purge by throwing up or abusing laxatives.
But for many their unhealthy relationship with food is made much worse by a dangerous compulsion to exercise to excess.
Already ravaged by restricted diets and harmful purging sessions, some sufferers put their weakened bodies through gruelling fitness regimes. They even ignore physical injury to push on and banish calories.
For men and women with anorexia or bulimia whose bones, kidneys, heart and muscles are often damaged, excessive exercise can be extremely dangerous even fatal.
This is something Lynsey, now 19 and recovering, is only too aware of.
“I was 14 when the signs of my eating disorder started. At that stage I was 5ft 2ins and weighed Xst Xlb*. I only wanted to lose a little bit. All I did was cut out the fatty stuff like junk food at first.
“But pretty soon I started going to the gym three or four times a week, doing as much as I could on the treadmill. It was a lot for a 14-year-old.
“Soon I started eating only low-calorie food. My weight dropped quickly and before long I was Xst Xlb*. Then my mum told me I’d done enough and should stop dieting.
“She cancelled my gym membership but I just couldn’t stop losing weight, I didn’t want to. Even though my parents wouldn’t let me go to the gym any more, I’d go for a four-mile run around the village.
“I did hundreds of sit-ups and stretches in my room so I was never sitting still. I even hated sitting down at meal times not only because I had to eat but because I wanted to be moving constantly to keep burning calories.”
Mary George from eating disorder charity Beat says fitness professionals should be on the look-out for compulsive exercisers. “Although exercising regularly is an enjoyable and healthy pastime, sometimes it can be taken to extremes,” says Mary.
“When it becomes this compulsive the harm to the individual, whose health is already severely compromised by an eating disorder, is potentially dangerous.
“Bones, heart muscle and kidney function can all be seriously damaged, with long-term or even fatal consequences.” She adds: “We are aware of a few fitness centres who do ask for medical confirmation that the individual is safe to exercise.
“We would like to see practices like this put in place across the whole industry.”
In the end Lynsey’s exercise addiction wasn’t just confined to her spare time soon it was affecting her education too.
“At school I was always anxious because I hated sitting still in lessons. I’d make any excuse to get out of the classroom, saying I needed to go to the toilet anything,” she says. “Then I’d go to the stairs and run up and down as many times as I could.”
By 15 Lynsey’s periods had stopped and she weighed just Xst Xlb*. Her worried mum took her to the doctor who said her heart-rate was dangerously low. She says: “I wasn’t allowed to run, walk upstairs or do any exercise at all. But I kept on sneaking out for as many runs as I could, even though I knew my heart was weak. I was supposed to be getting better, but my weight fell even further to around Xst Xlb*.
“By then I was eating an apple or a fat-free yoghurt for breakfast, a slice of bread and an apple for lunch and if I could convince Mum I’d eaten already, I wouldn’t eat anything in the evening.
“Otherwise I’d drop stuff on the floor or move things around on my plate. Mum even started giving me smaller portions to avoid my tantrums.”
Soon Lynsey was sent to a psychologist who gave her the special diet and her mum Elaine gave up her job as a beautician to go into school with her.
But with Lynsey’s weight falling towards Xst*, her parents were desperate. Lynsey says: “They were watching me closely, especially with mum off work. But she still had to go out to the shops and things, and I was always ready to go running at any opportunity.
“Somehow I got through my GCSEs that year. But I’d lost even more weight because I took advantage of all the study leave to do hundreds more sit-ups and secret runs.
“As soon as the exams were over my parents decided it had gone too far and made me go to the psychiatric unit as an in-patient.
“I flipped out and tried to throw myself out of the car on the way there. Security had to drag me inside while I told my parents I never wanted to see them again.”
At 5ft 4in and under Xst*, Lynsey was forbidden to do any form of exercise and had strictly controlled meals.
After a month in the hospital she was allowed home and, though she has relapsed several times, now weighs Xst*.
“My periods have come back thankfully and although I have a lot of joint pain from my weakened bones because of the intense exercise I did, I don’t have osteoporosis which a lot of anorexic people get.
“I know how important it is to eat well and exercise sensibly. I can now have some chocolate and alcohol without feeling worried about the calories. It’s been really tough, but I’m much happier now.”
Do you have dangerous exercise habits? Do you continue to exercise when you know you are ill or injured?
Do you often exercise to compensate for eating too much or instead of having a meal?
Do you feel very anxious if you can’t take exercise when you have planned to?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you could have a problem with exercise.
Speak to your doctor or call eating disorder charity Beat for advice.