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Crossing the Line from Healthy to Unhealthy Exercise and Eating Behaviours


By Columnist Eleni Psillakis  – Eating Disorder Educator:

Photo credit: Anorexia via photopin (license)

The benefits of physical activity and healthy eating behaviours for physical and mental health are well documented. The Department of Health has published guidelines for recommendations of physical activity levels and dietary requirements for various ages. On average, it is recommended that 18-65 years old’s participate in 2.5- 5 hours of moderate activity per week or 1.25- 2.5 hours of vigorous activity per week.

Your Mindset About What is Healthy or Unhealthy

It takes a decision to start participating in anything. All actions or behaviours begin with a thought. I believe that in order to determine if a person has crossed the line from healthy to unhealthy behaviours when it comes to diet and exercise, we need to look at their thoughts about themself. It may be negative thoughts that are the cause of unhealthy eating and levels of exercise.

For example, a professional athlete may train and compete for double or triple the recommended time in the guidelines for physical activity. But, does this constitute excessive exercise? They may eat appropriate amounts of all the food groups to fuel their bodies for this level of participation. So the answer to this question, is probably no.

Crossing the Line

Crossing the line from healthy to unhealthy behaviour begins when anyone, athlete or the average person, start fuelling their mind with unhealthy thoughts about themeslves. The thought ‘I need to improve my speed’ is very different to ‘unless I perform I am not valued or loved’. Often it is a traumatic event that may cause feelings of guilt and shame that lead to negative self-thoughts.

What Unhealthy Eating and Exercise Habits Actually Are

Unhealthy eating and exercise habits can become a means of dealing with the festering mess within the mind. Eating disorders are complicated. They are not a vanity issue, or merely a body image issue. They can affect anyone. The line is crossed in the thought of life and living. Irrational fears and phobia’s manifest around diet and exercise, developing into an attempt to control issues people may feel are beyond their control.

Eating habits and food become tangled with emotions and feelings. Food is labelled ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Extreme anxiety, fear, guilt, shame and worthlessness are experienced if the unhealthy rituals are ‘broken’ or disrupted. Sense of worth for the sufferer is reflected in adhering to these rituals. The longer this continues, the harder these negative patterns are to break.

We can continue to try and treat the ‘seen behaviours’, and they need to be treated, but it is the underlying emotional issues that need to be addressed if true healing is to come. It is not merely a line that is crossed. It is a tangled mess of unhealthy levels of exercise and dieting that are motivated by unhealthy thoughts. It is not merely about learning to love your body but more about learning to love who you are.

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis


Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience of eating disorder, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line that may be crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she was diagnosed with clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling, assisted with unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that has made the difference this time around.

An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.






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