Preventing Eating Disorders with Moderate Exercise

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Preventing Eating Disorders with Moderate Exercise: Background

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are often characterized by the relationship the patient has with food. In the case of anorexia nervosa patients tend to greatly restrict their food intake, seeing food as the enemy in their mission to reach extreme thinness. With regards to bulimia nervosa patients tend to binge eat massive quantities of food and then purge this food, as though they were purging poison from their bodies. When a man or woman without an eating disorder embarks on a diet for weight loss they can easily develop this relationship with food, which may lead to a serious eating disorder.

Exercise in all its forms is as important a component of weight loss and a healthy lifestyle as is a healthy diet. Without exercise the person trying to lose weight will have to restrict their calorie intake significantly more, putting a great emphasis on their relationship with food. It will also be unlikely that they will achieve the toned body that they imagine will result from their weight loss.

Not only does exercise play a significant role in weight loss and achieving a toned physique, but it also enhances mood and increases energy. This mood enhancement decreases the need for comfort eating, and the energy boost lessens hunger that may arise from fatigue or boredom.

How Moderate Exercise Prevents Eating Disorders

In Western society many people lead sedentary lifestyles, making the need for regular exercise even more important. Although some patients with eating disorders develop an obsessive view of exercise in the same way that they develop an obsessive relationship with food, regular exercise has been found to be an effective component in both preventing eating disorders and treating existing eating disorders. Preventing eating disorders with moderate exercise works by alleviating some of the anxiety surrounding food, helping people to develop a proactive attitude towards weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. It also contributes to the improvement of body image.

Moderate, regular exercise causes visible changes in one’s body that will help people feel better about themselves. These types of changes are far more desirable than those that would occur through starvation. Moderate exercise also allows people to eat an acceptable food intake without gaining weight and feeling guilty. People will begin to view food as necessary fuel for their bodies and not as their enemy or as a source of comfort. Participating in exercise is proactive; it involves adding something that is beneficial to the body rather than taking something away, as is the case with restrictive eating.

Cardiovascular exercise works well in getting the heart pumping and making people feel like they have really worked out. Running, cycling, aerobics or swimming at least four times a week will burn off fat and help to keep the heart and lungs healthy. Yoga and pilates are also beneficial as they tone and strengthening the body and relieve stress.


Hoegar, W.W. & Hoegar, S.A. (2008) Fitness and Wellness. Andover: Cengage Learning.

Austin, S.B. (2000) Prevention research in eating disorders: theory and new directions. Psychological Medicine, 30, 1249-1262.