Ask Amy: Can Overexercising Be a Kind of Eating Disorder?

November 9, 2016

This story originally appeared in the October/November 2016 issue of Pointe.

Can overexercising be an eating disorder? My friend says she’s not anorexic, but she’s obsessed with cardio as a way to be skinny. —Emma

Most dancers do some form of cross-training outside of ballet—and that’s okay. But obsessive overexercising can be a sign of an eating disorder if your friend’s behavior interferes with her personal and professional life. Dr. Constance Quinn, DSW, site director of The Renfrew Center of New York (an eating disorder treatment facility), says that while there’s no formal diagnosis for it, compulsive exercising fits into the composite of an anorexia-binge-purge disorder. “The idea that you can’t eat unless you exercise afterward, and the obsessive/compulsive drive behind it is harmful,” says Quinn. “What at one point was an exercise routine can become something completely disruptive, to the point where the person can’t live without it.”

If you decide to approach your friend, choose your words carefully. “We often assume we know what’s going on,” Quinn says, but that’s not always the case. Keep questions very general, and be supportive and compassionate: “Is everything okay? I’m here if you want to talk.” If she doesn’t admit to having a problem, don’t push. But if she doesn’t improve, be more direct: “We never see you anymore, and I’m worried about you.” Eventually, you may need to tell a trusted adult what’s going on.

Have a question? Send it to
Pointe editor in chief and former dancer Amy Brandt at [email protected].