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The sunny warm weather is conducive to outdoor sports and activities. Countless adults and more especially students out of school for the summer are participating in tennis, soccer, cross country running, gymnastics, and other sports. These student athletes and others who engage in recreational sports and exercise can be vulnerable to excessive training for all the right and wrong reasons. Parents, family members, coaches, teachers, athletic trainers, friends and health providers must be aware of potential for exercise abuse…as part of the “fitspiration” movement.

It takes only a cursory glance through social media to become aware of the “fitspiration” movement. This catchy term may accompany posts of workout videos, pictures depicting physical activity, or pictures of individuals showing off the muscular bodies they obtained through dedication to rigorous exercise regimens. In a sense, exercise and fitness have become trendy in our society, with more strenuous exercise routines being perceived as more impressive. Cars boast bumper stickers with numbers such as “13.1,” “26.2,” or even “50,” referring to the distances so proudly conquered by runners. When we hear a friend has decided to commit to a rigid training schedule to complete a marathon, we are often in awe of their self-control and motivation, wishing we were that dedicated. But can exercise be a bad thing? The answer is complicated. Exercise is one of the best things we can do for our health. I have heard physicians say that if all the benefits of exercise could be bottled up into a pill; pharmaceutical companies would be fighting for the chance to sell it. However, it can get complicated when one’s reasons for exercising stem from a potentially destructive place, rather than a pursuit of health.

Exercise Bulimia/Anorexia Nervosa

Exercise bulimia is a term used to refer to the excessive use of exercise to burn calories or try to keep a low body weight. It is not a medical diagnosis in and of itself, but the notion of using exercise to make up for excessive calorie consumption or maintain an unhealthily low body weight can occur in both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Moreover, when excessive exercise occurs in combination with a significantly low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, a disturbed body image, undue influence of body shape on self-worth, or a failure to recognize the seriousness of the condition, an individual would meet the criteria for anorexia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa can cause serious complications in all body systems. Some examples include disrupted functioning of the heart, reduced lung capacity, hormonal imbalance, amenorrhea, (loss of the menstrual period in women), changes in brain structure, and in severe cases, difficulty with memory. The hormonal changes associated with amenorrhea, especially when coupled with extreme exercise, can lead to reduced bone density and can put women at high risk of stress fractures. Stress fractures are breaks in the bone that occur from overuse through large amounts of exercise rather than the traumatic bone breaks we typically think of where an obvious event results in a broken bone.

Warning Signs

Because exercise bulimia can be a part of an eating disorder with potentially life-threatening consequences, it is important to be aware of the warning signs that someone’s exercise routine might be part of an eating disorder. Signs of exercise bulimia may include:

Not Clear Cut

While the definition of exercise bulimia implies a voluntary engagement in excessive exercise for weight loss, my experience from being on female track and cross country teams in high school and college has shown me that anorexia nervosa does not always fit the mental picture we may have of someone who refuses to eat at all or even of exercise bulimia where an individual compulsively engages in excessive exercise. During cross country, the mileage we ran likely would have been considered excessive by the average person. Our team often trained 7 days a week with run-length ranging from 5-12 miles. Most runs were at least 7 miles, and some of my teammates had long runs in excess of 12 miles. The men on our team ran even farther. In hindsight, one of my teammates may have met the criteria for a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. Her weight was significantly below normal, she feared weight gain, did not eat sufficient calories to replenish what she burned on runs, and despite knowing she was thin, did not fully recognize the potential health consequences due to her low weight. However, it was not a clear cut problem. She was not an obvious candidate for an eating disorder because she was not pursuing the excessive exercise; she was simply following her coach’s training plan. If she did not exercise to the extent she did, the amount of food she ate would have been considered normal, so seeing her eating habits alone did not trigger any red flags. Finally, cross country runners are known for being lean, often even emaciated; it was a common side effect of the sport often not given a second thought. Thankfully, this runner never fell victim to the dangerous downward spiral that is sometimes seen in patients with anorexia nervosa. However, it is important to be aware of the unsuspecting ways in which an eating disorder can sometimes present.


Treatment of eating disorders typically involves a multi-pronged approach with nutritional counseling, psychotherapy, and general medical care playing a role. The nutritional counseling aims to help the patient restore a healthy diet to attain a healthy weight, the psychotherapy aims at getting to the root of the issues that may have contributed to the onset of the eating disorder, and general medical care may be necessary to manage any complications from the eating disorder depending on its seriousness. Educational programs about eating disorders and risk factors have also been shown to be successful in helping to prevent eating disorders.

It can sometimes be a fine line between a healthy passion for exercising and eating well and the start of an eating disorder. Especially in athletes where extreme exercise is part of the sport and putting in extra training is rewarded, it is valuable to be aware of the signs and symptoms of exercise bulimia to help prevent a loved one from crossing over that line. Though serious health consequences are possible in the setting of an eating disorder, treatment and recovery are very possible.

GCSOM Guest Author: Mary Pelkowski, Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine MD Class of 2022.

For More Information:

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.     

Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”  

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.

For all of Dr. Paul's articles, check out our exercise forum!

For those trying to lose weight or “get in shape” for the New Year (number one resolution), a better understanding of the role sugar plays in your diet and overall health may be valuable. You have probably noticed a lot of attention being paid to sugar lately. Many television stars, like Ellen DeGeneres, have shared their experiences using a “sugar cleanse” when they need to lose a few pounds and get healthier.  I have had several patients and friends tell me the same thing.

For 4-6 weeks these people decide to avoid all refined sugars with the goal of losing weight and improving their health and wellness. Well, what is all the fuss about? Terms like simple sugars and simple carbs, which are purported to be bad, and complex carbs, suggested to be good, are being used ad nauseam. While medical research does not support the value of a short term “sugar cleanse,” it may have value for another reason. For example, it would be very beneficial if one engages in a “sugar cleanse” for the purpose of changing their palate with the hope of developing long term healthy eating habits, especially for those with diabetes.

So, with this in mind, I decided to find the answers to some simple questions about the fuss over sugar. What is a simple sugar? What is a complex sugar? Which sugars are good for you?


Sugars, along with starches and fibers, are one of three types of carbohydrates (also referred to as a carb). A carb is “simple” or “complex,” based on its chemical composition and how it is processed in the body. It gets a little complicated because some foods have both simple and complex carbs.  Typically, simple carbs are chemically more “simple” and basic, and therefore they are broken down more easily and serve as a quick source of energy. Some of these carbs are naturally simple (like fruit and milk) while others are processed or refined sugars such as those used in candy, soda and baked goods.

It is Good Sugar or Bad Sugar?

To determine if a food product has good or bad simple sugar, you must also know how much fiber, vitamins and minerals are in the food. A food with a higher sugar content combined with a low fiber, vitamin or mineral content will be worse than  a food with the same sugar content but high fiber and vitamins or minerals. For example: a candy bar, which is high in sugar without fiber or vitamins or minerals, is not as healthy as a fresh orange, which contains fiber, vitamins and minerals along with its simple sugar (fructose).

Examples of simple carbs:


Complex carbs have a more complicated chemical makeup and take more time for the body to break down for use as energy. Therefore, these are considered “good” carbs because they provide a more even distribution of energy for the body to use during activity. They cause a more consistent and gradual release of sugar into the blood stream (as opposed to peaks and valleys caused by simple carbs) and provide energy to function throughout the day. Additionally, “good” carbs have the added benefit of providing vitamins, fiber, and minerals that are missing from simple carbs.

Examples of complex (carbs):


Remember that carbohydrates fuel the body and are an important source of energy, especially for active and athletic people. However, carefully selecting the type of carb you eat is critical to peak function and performance.

Simple Carbs

Complex Carbs


Sources:;; Mayo Clinic

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”  

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.

For All of Dr. Mackarey's articles: visit our healthcare forum!

82 million adults spend an estimated 28 billion dollars on gym memberships each year! WHY? There are many reasons we exercise. Some people exercise to prevent illness such as cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis. Others exercise for mental health and as a stress release; others do it to improve strength, flexibility, and endurance to prepare for a sport. However, the number one reason people exercise is TO LOOSE WEIGHT!

When it comes to losing weight, patients have asked me a wide variety of questions over the years. However, certain questions are consistent. “What exercise is the best to burn calories?” “Even though I exercise 2-3 times per week, why can’t I lose weight?” “What is BMR?” “If I eat a Snickers bar, how much exercise do I need to do to burn it off?” “Are there any tools that I can use to help me track my calories and exercise output?”

Which Exercise is the best to burn calories?

Have you ever heard people say that they never felt better or burned more calories as they did when they ran? Well, they may be right! The following numbers are based on the average male weighing 150 pounds: running 6 miles per hour will burn 700+ calories (11-12 calories per minute); vigorously skipping with jump rope or fast cycling will do the same; vigorous walking at 4 miles per hour and moderate biking will burn 600+ calories (10 calories per minute). The 400-500 calorie club includes the following activities: slow jogging, swimming, football, basketball, baseball, tennis, skiing, and moderate walking (3.5 miles per hour).  Light gardening burns more calories than golfing using a cart (250 vs. 180).

Why you may not lose weight even though you exercise? What is BMR?

How many times have you heard people say, “It is hard for me to lose weight because I have a slow metabolism?” What does that mean? To explain this in detail you first must understand BMR. BMR is basic metabolic rate. It is the number of calories that your body requires to operate basic body functions that you don actively control, such as continuing to breathe, and keep your cells and organs working each day. The BMR is influenced by age, height, gender, body fat, and fitness level. BMR is inherently different (high or low) in each individual. While you can’t change your gender or height, you can influence some things to influence your BMR and burn more calories at rest. One, exercise for longer durations, with greater intensity and more frequently. Two, lower your body fat by eating less calories, especially fat and carbohydrates in your diet. Simply, eat less calories than you burn! Three, improve you muscle/fat ratio by weight training.

Basic Metabolic Index (BMI):

BMI:           < 18.5  = Underweight

BMI:   18.5 – 24.5  =  Normal Weight

BMI:    25.  -  29.9  =  Overweight

BMI:            >30.    =  Obestiy

For example, I am a 57 year old male, weighing 150 pounds at 5 feet 8 inches tall with a BMI of 22.8

*Calculate you BMI by entering you gender, height and weight and find how many calories per food item at:

Are there any tools for tracking calories and exercise?

There are several tools available for free online to help with tracking calories and exercise visit Prevention Magazine at: or try the App “Lose It”

BMI Calculator – to calculate your BMI

Calorie Burner – to calculate how many calories are burned with various activities

Daily Calorie Calculator – Find how many calories are in specific foods and what you need to do to loose or gain weight.

So remember, the number one reason we exercise is TO LOSE WEIGHT! But depending on exercise alone to lose weight is an exercise in futility. Losing weight is an intelligent and consistent combination of a balanced diet with portion control, proper nutrition, adequate exercise and activity grounded in lifestyle changes.

Read Dr. Mackarey’s Health & Exercise Forum – every Monday

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor  in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.