Treadmills & Eating Disorders

This is a guest post by Aaron O’Connor, a former track & field athlete, currently a writer and amateur fitness trainer in Washington state. blog

Johnson T7000 Treadmill @ TaiSPO 2006.
Image via Wikipedia

In general, exercise is a healthy behavior that encourages physical fitness and well-being. Yet for those individuals who suffer from eating disorders, exercise can become an obsession or compulsion, acting as a type of drug. Due to the fact that those with eating disorders have a distorted view of their body image and look for ways to stay as slim as possible, exercise dependence becomes a part of the disease. As a result, working out becomes the most important thing in the person’s life and can even take precedence over family, friends, careers and hobbies.

Connection Between Eating Disorders and Treadmills

Exercise dependence is a common symptom of those suffering from eating disorders, especially as individuals become consumed with their body image. Although treadmills are great exercise tools, they can also become sources of this dependence, as they allow individuals to exercise continually for long periods of times. Commonly, the pattern starts when someone suffering from an eating disorder wants to control their body shape or image, then falls victim to exercising all the time, sticking to a specific schedule or routine that takes over his or her life. When this type of compulsive behavior occurs, victims find themselves becoming reliant on the calories burned and the length of the workout, instead of focusing on an overall healthy regime.

Unfortunately one of the worst parts of working out compulsively is that it can also influence how others view exercise. In order to avoid spurring this behaviors on in others, encourages parents to think about their own workout habits, as exercising for the wrong reasons can trickle down to kids and teens. The online directory uses the example that when a kid sees their parent running on a treadmill for five hours in order to keep burning calories, it sends the wrong message — that exercise is simply a means to an end. Working out should be used to promote physical fitness, health and relaxation, not just as a way to burn an endless number of calories.

Signs of Unhealthy Treadmill Use

At this time, reports that exercise dependence is not viewed as a primary disorder, but is instead considered to be symptom of eating disorders. Thus, if you are concerned that one of your friends or family members is exercising compulsively or has an eating disorder, it is important to carefully monitor how they utilize a treadmill. Some of the main signs that someone is using a treadmill in an unhealthy way are:

– Working out alone or in isolated settings
– Working out until the point of pain or injury
– Skipping work or school; opting out of activities just to workout
– Fixation on weight loss and calories burned
– Exercising when sick or hurt
– Continually following the same exercise pattern; never skipping a day
– Repeatedly working out for more than two hours a day

Developing a Healthy Attitude toward Treadmill Use

If you notice that a friend or family member is exhibiting any of the behaviors mentioned above, it is important you get them help. Luckily, the VNA Care of New England offers helpful tips for approaching exercise with a healthy attitude. These tips center on maintaining a healthy weight and body image, and having realistic expectations that can be achieved in a safe way. If you are feeling down about your weight it’s also important to acknowledge that being thin doesn’t mean you will become more successful or popular. While many treadmill reviews claim that working out until you’re skinny will be the key to happiness, this as little bearing on reality, as life won’t automatically become better as soon as you drop a few pounds.

Similarly, it is essential to have a rational approach toward diet and exercise. Those who suffer from eating disorders focus on losing weight in any way they can, even if it means putting their health and body at risk. Instead, form a meal plan that incorporates healthy eating. To develop a nutritious eating plan, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests customizing your own food pyramid based on your weight, height, age, gender and activity level. This plan should focus on eating balanced meals that are beneficial to one’s health and nutrition, instead of relying on diets, which can strip the body of essential nutrients.

Developing Coping Mechanisms

Sadly, having an eating disorder is a lifetime struggle and even if you’ve overcome the disorder, stress and anxiety can cause you to slip back into extreme dieting and exercise. However, there are a few strategies you can employ to deal with any setbacks that you experience. First and foremost, know your triggers. Oftentimes strong emotions bring individuals back to an unhappy place that causes them to engage in destructive behaviors. As such, knowing how to deal with these emotions is crucial. Some ways to cope with them include writing in a journal or starting a blog, talking with a trusted friend or therapist, or taking part in an art therapy program. Meditation, yoga and relaxation techniques can also work wonders in tense situations. These approaches to handling emotions are much better than binging or starving yourself.

It is equally important to recognize that not everything is in your control.
Accepting that you can’t do everything perfectly and instead focusing on your individual skills and accomplishments will help you stick to healthy exercise and eating, even when you’re feeling out of control. If you feel that you are losing control, are back to unhealthy eating habits or are becoming too dependent on numbers (such as calories burned or the length of your workout), talk to a doctor right away. With proper intervention, you can prevent yourself from relapsing.

Final Thoughts

Those who suffer from eating disorders generally experience a variety of symptoms, and becoming dependent on a workout program is one of them. While using a treadmill is an excellent way to burn calories, it is also important to make sure that you are using it in a healthy manner. To do so, use the programs that are offered on the machine or establish a reasonable time limit several times a week that will be dedicated to running. Thirty to 60 minutes of exercise 3-5 times per week is adequate. If you find that you have unhealthy motivations for exercising, talk with a doctor or confidante who will help you get back on the right path again.


  1. This is why I would much rather use a treadmill in the gym, rather than have one in my home. It would be calling my name every second if I had one at home. Good article!

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