There’s more pressure than ever on woman to look like the fit, thin bodies idolized in celebrities. Exercise addiction is unique in one aspect: It’s almost universally viewed as something to aspire to. If you drink or smoke too much, your friends start to worry. Exercise a lot, and everyone envies yours dedication and commitment. As a former exercise addict, I know this all too well. My addiction rose from fitspo shame and the desire to look like a fitness magazine cover girl.
When I went from being a couch potato to working out twice a day, I received all sorts of compliments and admiration. My self-worth depended on how much I could push my body. I told myself I was a badass for pushing through the pain and digging deeper. I ignored the warning signs that I was doing too much, and I told myself, “oh well, my body will just have to adapt.” I was clocking in anywhere from 14 to 20 hours of working out a week. Forget rest days; forget taking it easy, I was on a mission to get as shredded as possible at any cost. If I couldn’t workout per my usual schedule then I would cut back on sleep, guzzle down an energy drink and get my sweat on even if it meant waking up at 4am to do so, or staying up till midnight. I got it done and nothing would stop me.
If for some reason I couldn’t complete a workout, anxiety would ensure. I would go batshit crazy just thinking about how many calories I was consuming, how my body wasn’t getting any stronger, and I was terrified of not reaching my already impossible goals. The amazing thing about the human body is this: just because you choose to ignore the warnings signs, doesn’t mean they will go away. One way or another, if your body needs the rest, it WILL force you to shut the fuck down. And that’s exactly what happened to me. I woke up one morning in complete and total pain and exhaustion. I could barely move.
I spent a week on the couch recovering, and then when I did finally get the energy to begin working out again, I injured my knee almost immediately. That set me back another couple of weeks. Oh but it didn’t stop there. Shortly after I began again my insane regimen, I injured my foot sooooo badly, the doctors were surprised it hadn’t completely broken. I couldn’t walk on my foot, I had to be on crutches, and it took well over four months for it to fully heal. At that point I couldn’t deny what my body was trying to tell me. After back to back injuries, I had no choice but to listen. Sit and listen as to why my body was breaking down.
Stories like mine are surprisingly common. I was part of a growing tribe of women who double up on their workouts, take back to back classes, and push their bodies to the breaking point. Theres a misconception that more is better. Everyone preaches the importance of exercise right? So the more you do it the better right? Wrong.
Theres a difference between exercising to feel healthy and strong, and exercising because of poor body image issues. exercising to maintain a healthy mind and body is great. Using exercising to self-medicate, cope with internal distress or based on feelings of inadequacy, is a whole other thing.
Signs you might be hooked on exercise
-You have racing thoughts if you miss a workout
-You refuse to take the necessary down time to recover from an injury
-You push through any pain
-You become irritable and moody when you don’t get your sweat on
-You exerpeince depression
-You start obsessing over your calorie consumption
-You stress over the fear of gaining weight
-You feel shame and guilt when you see others posting about hitting the gym
-You’ve become fanatical about how hard you workout and how often
So how can you go from being an exercise addict, to a more healthy relationship with working out? Like any other addiction, it takes time, and patience to break free from the bonds that tie.
- Recognize you have a problem. As with any 12 step program, the first step is always the same, you hae to fully acknowledge and admit that there’s a problem. Share how you feel with a friend, family member, significant other or your community. It’s critically important to embrace the truth no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
- Free write/journal. You need a safe place to vent. Sometimes we just don’t feel comfortable talking to friends or family, or we’re so overwhelmed and confused that you don’t even know what to say to them. That’s where the beauty of free writing or journaling comes into play. It gives you a safe place to let out all that you’re feeling without worry of judgement, editing, errors, or saying the wrong thing. In this place you are free to say it all. Both the ugly and beautiful truths. When you free write you don’t have to hide, or hold back. You are free to say it like it is.
- Meditate. Now you don’t have to be a hardcore yogi to experience the benefits of mediating, nor do you don’t have to do it for hours on end. Take 10 minutes out of your day, every day, and sit comfortably. Breath in and out through your nose, and focus on the breath going in and out. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. Mediating helps you to live in the now which puts YOU in control and not your addition. It helps you to develop compassion and self-love. This branches out into you being more aware of how you treat and care for your one and only body. Mediating helps counter act the anxiety and depression that you may experience at first when you start to cut back on your exercising.
- Do your research. Have you noticed how popular 30 minute workouts have become? Nowadays most trainers all have them,and there’s a reason for that. Research studies show you only need 30 minutes a day to reap the many fitness health benefits. Your body was not meant to endure backbreaking workouts day after day, after day. Too much of this actually begins to break you down. That’s why injuries occur,and exhaustion begins to become the norm Do your research and find out why more and more trainers are recommending 30 minutes of exercise versus the usual 60-90. Having the scientific evidence that constant extreme workouts can be detrimental to your body, will help reassure the Type A part of your brain that wants to go hard all the time.
- Ask yourself, why am I working out? Exercise is so beneficial for many, a many conditions. Depression, anxiety, disease, weight loss, etc. But if your ‘’WHY” is rooted in self-hate, peer pressure, negative body image issues, a feeling of inadequacy, or the like, then it becomes nothing more than a form of self-medicating. Some people turn to alcohol, drugs , and food to cope with whatever may be going on in their lives, an exercise addict turns to the elliptical machine. While it may help you momentarily to ease the feelings you may have, it’s no more than a mask for your symptoms. Treating the root cause behind what you feel is the only way to truly let it go, move on, and begin working out from a healthy intention instead of a negative one.
- See a therapist. Depending on what level of addiction you may have, seeing a therapist that specializes in exercise addiction, or body image issues may be the answer for you. They can provide you with all sorts of tools you may need to get past this, and as a bonus, they are bound by confidentially laws so you can feel safe to open up to them and really express how and what you feel.
What is your relationship with exercise like? How has it helped you? Has it at times NOT been beneficial for you?