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Social Media & the Rise of Anorexia Athletica

Despite no official recognition as a mental health disorder, anorexia athletica is nonetheless a dangerous phenomenon that seems to be spurred in part by social media.

What Is Anorexia Athletica?

Anorexia athletica goes by many other names — compulsive exercising, exercise bulimia, sports anorexia and hypergymnasia. It is an obsessive way of controlling weight gain or body image by exercising compulsively. Exercise is, of course, healthy when done in moderation, but anorexia athletica can push individuals to dangerously low body weights via exercise. Someone with anorexia athletica may appear to be addicted to exercise. That is, they exercise even when doing so many be detrimental to their health (including vomiting or fainting), or they may cancel other plans and commitments in order to exercise. But anorexia athletica is also considered a type of eating disorder because individuals may suffer the same side effects as anorexia nervosa or bulimia: malnourishment, organ failure due to malnourishment and even death.

What Does Social Media Have to Do With It?

Some anecdotal evidence suggests that social media may play a role in the rise of anorexia athletica. In particular, social media is seen as a place to display gym selfies or other photos promoting a certain body image. When viewed by others, especially those who already tend to have obsessive-compulsive or addictive personalities, idealistic photos might put them in competition with those images. Particularly concerning is the intersection between adolescents and social media. Adolescents are still developing mentally and emotionally, which may make them more susceptible to images about body ideation that they may come across on social media. That said, social media is just one potential risk factor for anorexia athletica and other eating disorders, and such disorders can affect people of different ages and genders. If you or someone you love seems to be developing an unhealthy habit of over-exercising, be aware that the danger of anorexia athletica is real and that help is available. Resources

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