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Are You Exercise Obsessed?

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As many of us struggle to keep up with a regular fitness program for good health and a balanced lifestyle, there is a flipside to good intentions called "exercise addiction.

As many of us struggle to keep up with a regular fitness program for good health and a balanced lifestyle, there is a flipside to good intentions called "exercise addiction."
Although there are not many statistics or studies to support its existence, as a health and nutrition coach specializing in weight loss and body image, I see this masked condition frequently in young women and men. To the common eye, it appears as if these people have a deep commitment to exercise, and they are often admired by their friends. However, the underlying root of their motivation is fear-based and unhealthy.

The exercise addict needs exercise. Unfortunately, there can be costs to both physical and emotional health. Too much exercise and the body breaks down physically. Bones suffer, as do tendons, ligaments, even muscles. People become more susceptible to colds and flu. Osteoporosis may set in. In extreme cases, the menstrual cycle may cease.

Emotionally, the person is consumed with thoughts of exercise always feeling he or she isn't doing enough. Exercise becomes the number one priority. Eventually, other areas of life begin to crumble relationship, intimacy, work, school, family and friends. With exercise always on the mind, exercise addicts constantly calculate when they're going to the gym, how hard they worked out, how many calories they burned and what that allows them to eat. Even when they're sick or injured, they cannot stop working out.

A previous client illustrated this obsession very well. She ran a marathon with acute shin splints and trained for a triathlon with her arm in a cast. Despite doctors forbidding her from exercise for fear she could permanently damage her wrist, she continued to abuse her body because of her intense fear of weight gain.

In cases of exercise obsession, there are two aspects to getting hooked: 1) the visual stimulant and 2) the chemical stimulant. For good or bad, the body changes as a result of exercise. Thinner thighs, smaller midriffs, bigger biceps exercise-obsessed people get hooked on the changes they see in the mirror and want more. The chemical hook is a result of the release of endorphins that produce a feeling of euphoria, the so-called "runner's high" to which people can become addicted. Does this sound familiar?

Take the accompanying self-test. If you answer "yes" to one or more of the questions, you may be suffering from some form of exercise obsession, in which case there are several things you can do.

  1. Incorporate rest into your routine. Take the day off or do a "light" workout every other day. This way you will reduce your chance of injury and improve your performance and appearance. Rest repairs the body from the wear and tear of exercise and everyday life.
  2. Talk to someone who is familiar with exercise addiction. Sometimes we need help to move forward. At times, we get so immersed in our "stuff" that we need help sorting things out. Seek help from a professional.
  3. Journal your thoughts and feelings daily. Connect with your emotions. Exercise is filling a void in your life. It is helping you control something with which you feel out of control. Journalling helps you get in touch with what this is.

Symptoms of Over-Exercising

  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Overall sense of fatigue or run-down feeling
  • Achy muscles and joints
  • General feeling of malaise/loss of interest in exercise or other activities
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances

Take this Test…

Check all that apply. If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, you may be exercise obsessed.

  1. Are you consumed with your weight or becoming fat, no matter how thin you are?
  2. Is working out your number one priority?
  3. Do you feel compelled to put everything else aside to exercise?
  4. Does working out justify your eating?
  5. Do you avoid food when you haven't done your workout?
  6. Do you panic when you cannot work out?
  7. Do you feel guilty when you eat?
  8. Do you exercise even when you aren't feeling well, have an injury or are exhausted?
  9. Do you take painkillers before a workout?
  10. Do you criticize your body?
  11. Do your friends and/or family comment on how much you exercise?
  12. Do you need to push yourself 100 per cent for every workout in order to feel like it was worthwhile?
  13. Do you constantly compare yourself to others in the gym or magazines?
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