Compulsive Exercise Test: Do I Struggle?

by | Eating Disorder Recovery

When we have concerns about our wellbeing, we often take to Google to look up signs, symptoms, and treatment options. Therefore, I wrote this blog about a compulsive exercise test to support you in looking into various symptoms of compulsive exercise. As well as hopefully encouraging you to get help if you struggle. 


Please note: this compulsive exercise test is not intended for diagnostic purposes. If you think you are struggling with compulsive exercise. (Or any other feeding or eating disorder). Please consult your doctor, your dietitian or your therapist.  You deserve treatment.


I have a rigid schedule with exercise.


Rigidity with an exercise plan is one sign of compulsive exercise. In other words, exercising even if you don’t want to. Or prioritizing exercise over other activities. Or working out for a set amount of time even if you start to get tired. You might also notice that you work out a set amount of times a week or on certain days. 


I exercise to burn calories.


Movement is about celebrating and enjoying your body. Yes, movement does “burn calories”. However, this should not be a reason we choose to move. This means our intentions are more about manipulating our bodies and food than enjoyment. Plus, if the intention is to burn calories, it’s likely that you’re not eating enough to compensate for the calories that were burned. 


I exercise to change my appearance.


Ask yourself: Would I still exercise if my body stayed the same? If you answered no, that means exercise is used as a manipulation tool. While you still might “enjoy” moving, exercising to change appearance results in feelings of pressure, rigidity and guilt.


I feel guilty if I skip a day of exercise.


Despite popular belief, it is totally normal to take rest days from movement!! Regardless of whether or not these rest days are planned or unplanned. If you feel guilty about giving your body rest, this can be a sign you may be struggling with your relationship with exercise. 


I exercise in order to eat food or certain foods.


Giving yourself permission to eat is an important part of a positive relationship with food. For instance, if you feel like exercise gives us that permission, this is a sign you might struggle with disordered eating or an eating disorder. Working with a dietitian trained in eating disorders is an important part of your recovery. Enjoyment of food should come without any sort of bargaining. 


I eat less on days I exercise less. If I don’t, I feel guilty. 


This is a sign you may be using exercise to compensate. As well as giving yourself permission to eat food when you exercise. The amount of food we eat each day fluctuates. If you’re intentionally eating less on “rest days” or days you exercise less, this could mean you’re overthinking the relationship between food and exercise. 


I feel obligated to exercise on vacation.


On vacation, there likely won’t be an opportunity to exercise! Plus, it’s normal and totally okay if you don’t want to exercise on vacation. Sleeping in, resting your body, seeing sights and spending time with loved ones is more important. If you have urges to move on vacation or feel guilty when you don’t, it’s possible you have a negative relationship with exercise.  


I prioritize exercise over other activities. And/or I’ll plan out my day to fit in exercise.


It’s great if you enjoy movement and try to incorporate it on a weekly basis. However, prioritizing exercise over other activities could be a sign you’re struggling with compulsive exercise. It’s important to participate in activities that bring us closer to our values. It can become problematic if exercise gets in the way of our values. 


I’ll exercise through pain or injury.


If you’re injured or in pain, stopping movement is a must. Otherwise, you’re not listening to your body’s cues that it needs a break. Which is another sign of compulsive exercise. You might want to consider working with an eating disorder specialized dietitian.


Exercise sometimes or often feels like a chore.


Once again, movement is supposed to be enjoyable! Movement makes our bodies feel good. However, we shouldn’t ever feel like we have to move. If it feels that way, your body/mind is telling you to take a break. 

If you relate to any of these statements on the compulsive exercise test and you’re looking for support on these behaviors, contact us at Courage to Nourish today. Our eating disorder dietitian nutritionists are located in College Park MD, Columbia, MD. Alexandria, VA, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. Read more about the Courage to Nourish team here. We’d love to support you in eating disorder recovery.

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Alex Raymond, RD, LD, CEDRD

Alex Raymond, RD, LD, CEDRD-S

Helping my clients cultivate meaningful connections and interests outside of their eating disorder is a true passion of mine. I like to think my clients and I are on a team to navigate recovery. I love working with high school and college students as well as athletes seeking to have a better relationship with exercise. I am a proud anti-diet dietitian and work with my clients through a Health At Every Size © and intuitive eating framework.

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