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Dr. Drew talks with expert on exercise bulimia

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Is there really anything wrong with lots of exercise?

After all, some addictions can be good, can't they? Not so, says Patricia Pitts, chief executive officer of the Bella Vita Eating Disorder Treatment Program in Los Angeles.

What is exercise bulimia?

Pitts recently appeared on the Dr. Drew show to discuss the topic of "exercise bulimia," a condition characterized by obsessive exercising in order to burn calories. According to Pitts, it can be difficult to spot and even harder to treat, given that exercise is a healthy habit and one that is necessary for all of us.

Experts note that people with exercise bulimia often think they're not doing anything wrong, unlike someone with anorexia or bulimia, since taboo behaviors like vomiting or pill-popping aren't included. Pitts elaborates:

"It's really difficult. One thing we look out for is when somebody working out daily for say an hour and a half per day, maybe two hours per day, really intensely to burn calories--that's when we start seeing some things that would be more exercise bulimia."

Dangers of the condition

The negative effects of exercise bulimia can be devastating to the body. Common side effects include exhaustion and fatigue, injuries, dehydration, arthritis, heart problems and reproductive issues. According to Pitts, people suffering from the disorder often need a comprehensive treatment program that includes support groups, individual therapy sessions and sometimes an inpatient rehabilitation program.

And while exercise bulimia can be hard to spot, Pitts notes that the thing to look for is extreme behavior that starts to interfere with daily life, such as missing work or breaking commitments to exercise, feeling anxious and depressed when not able to exercise or never taking rest days.

If left untreated, the behavior can also lead to other types of eating disorders.

According to Dr. Ira Sacker, director of the Eating Disorders Program at Bookdale Medical Center in New York, about 4 percent of Americans exercise excessively, and the numbers are growing rapidly.

Sources: Medicine Net, PR Web, HLN