How to Deal with a Teen who has Compulsive Exercise Disorder

Most people agree that regular activity is a good thing for the body. Exercise triggers the release of endorphins in the body. This hormone is responsible for the feeling of well-being that often comes after exercise, sex, or eating chocolate. Called the endorphin rush, this has a number of beneficial effects for the body – such as increasing pleasure and reducing pain. Exercise strengthens the heart and the muscles, gets rid of unwanted weight, lowers the amount of fat in the body, and reduces the risk of disease. All of these contribute to an overall sense of well being.


Compulsive Exercise Disorder is simply a condition where the craving for physical activity and exercise is uncontrolled and obsessive and results in harmful behaviour and consequences such as physical injury, extreme weight loss, negative effects on the sufferer’s health, work, and/or relationships.


Teens are already under stress due to hormonal changes, changes in how they navigate relationships, school and athletic performance, and issues with their changing bodies and their body image. Being a teenager can be touch at the best of times and exercise can help to alleviate some of that stress.

Typically, there are two main reasons why youth may over-exercise:

Athletic performance:

The higher the level of sports in which the youth is involved, the more competitive, and the tougher it can be for them to achieve and maintain maximum performance. This internal pressure from themselves, and external pressure form parents, coaches or team members may lead them to over exercise to lose weight, build muscle, or increase their fitness. An athlete (of any age) may want to win a particular sporting event, or get selected for a particular team, so much, that they exceed the normal amount of harmless physical exercise that their bodies can take. Over exercising or overtraining can lead to fractures and muscle strains and sprains.

Weight loss:

Influenced by social media, their peers, magazines and TV shows that emphasize the benefits of being thin, teens may have unrealistic expectations about losing weight and their self worth is often tied to how their body looks and how much they weigh. This can result in compulsively over-exercising to lose weight quickly – especially if they’ve been frustrated with previous weight loss methods. They may see weight loss as a simple intake and output formula and increasing output seems like a certain way to lose weight – so their logic suggest – the more, the better.


Compulsive exercise in a teenager often comes coupled with an eating disorder and this can have potentially serious consequences when left unchecked. If you suspect that a child has this disorder, watch for several behaviors:

  • Working out for extended periods of time or more than once a day.
  • Rapid weight loss.
  • Frequent weighing.
  • Putting exercise above schoolwork or friendships.
  • Refusal to miss a workout – even if they are injured, tired, or feeling sick.
  • Showing anxiety if they do miss an exercise session.
  • Irregular periods
  • Stress fractures or other injuries

When you suspect that this condition is present, inform a counselor or a psychologist and see a doctor to have your teen checked. Lack of nutrition due to not eating and too much exercise can lead to a number of physiological and physical problems later on which can even prove fatal.

Over-exercising disorder can also threaten the teen’s relationships with others in the family or with friends and can prevent the teen from functioning effectively in school, at work or at home. Therapy is the best way to deal with this disorder. It uses counselling to uncover the underlying causes for the obsession with exercise as well as medications to control the obsessive or compulsive actions. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven effective in treating obsessive compulsive disorders by changing the persons beliefs and thinking patterns.

A supportive network of family and friends, who focus on optimal health, rather than weight and performance is also important when it comes to treating a person with an obsessive compulsive desire to exercise. Intervention is often necessary for some teens who either do not know they have a problem or are having a tough time accepting that they have a problem. When the disorder reaches a point where it can lead to serious physical harm, an intervention is in order.

If you require help for you or your teen who is dealing with excessive exercising, Insight can help. contact us today.