People with an eating disorder are nearly four times more likely to develop addiction to exercise, which may lead to mental health issues, and injury, according to a study.
The study, published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, is the first to measure rates of exercise addiction in groups of people with and without the characteristics of an eating disorder.
An eating disorder is defined by abnormal eating habits that negatively affect a person’s physical or mental health. They include binge eating disorder, where people eat a large amount in a short period of time.
The meta-analysis examined data from 2,140 participants across nine different studies, including from the UK, the US, Australia and Italy.
It found that people displaying characteristics of an eating disorder are 3.7 times more likely to suffer from addiction to exercise than people displaying no indication of an eating disorder.
“It is known that those with eating disorders are more likely to display addictive personality and obsessive-compulsive behaviours,” said Mike Trott from the Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in the UK.
“We are also aware that having an unhealthy relationship with food often means an increased amount of exercising, but this is the first time that a risk factor has been calculated,” said Trott.
The researchers noted it is not uncommon to want to improve our lifestyles by eating healthier and doing more exercise, particularly at the start of the year.
However, it is important to moderate this behaviour and not fall victim to ‘crash diets’ or anything that eliminates certain foods entirely, as these can easily lead to eating disorders, they said.
“Our study shows that displaying signs of an eating disorder significantly increases the chance of an unhealthy relationship with exercise, and this can have negative consequences, including mental health issues and injury,” Trott said.
Health professionals working with people with eating disorders should consider monitoring exercise levels as a priority, the researchers said.
It is because this group has been shown to suffer from serious medical conditions as a result of excessive exercise, such as fractures, increased rates of cardiovascular disease in younger patients, and increased overall mortality, they said
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