When is it too much: Exercise Addiction

asweatlife_when exercise becomes an addiction

In researching this post, I discovered that the number one Google search result for “workout addict” is an article on Health.com titled “How to Become an Exercise Addict.” I had expected some glorification of the term, but an outright promotion of exercise as an addiction left me stunned. Although I may be an outlier, the concept of being “addicted to the gym” is a sensitive one for me and I cringe whenever I hear the phrase.

My relationship with fitness wasn’t always healthy. As a recovering addict, I have had a lot of warped relationships with many different things in my life. I got clean almost 5 years ago, but about a year and a half into my recovery, I let it take a backseat. What resulted was the substitution of exercise and food in place of the drugs and alcohol that I used to use to change the way I felt.

I became obsessed with running and controlling everything I ate. I would keep a separate running calendar where I would record my pace and distance, always trying to beat my previous numbers. I would get legitimately upset and preoccupied if I was unable to run or go to the gym and in turn would restrict the amount that I ate that day. Every morning I would wake up and look at myself in the mirror, expecting to see some kind of dramatic result that would somehow change my perception of myself.

I started to get shin splints, but when I started running they seemed to go away so I kept pushing myself. I decided it was a good idea to run 12 miles one day and then do it again the next. The morning after my second 12 mile run, I went to get out of bed and fell to my knees. I couldn’t put weight on one of my legs and it took me 2 weeks of complete rest before I could even attempt running again.

It was around that time that I realized my behavior was out of control. My mind had convinced me that I was behaving normally, but when I started talking to people about what I was doing it became evident that I had turned my love of fitness into a weapon against myself. I started to focus more on my recovery again and eventually I was able to work through my issues with exercise and food.

For me, exercise addiction is a legitimate thing. I need a good amount of self awareness to constantly monitor my motivations for working out. Thankfully, I don’t have the same thoughts and feelings driving my behavior as often anymore, but I can easily slip backwards if I am not careful.

There is no one amount of exercise that can be construed as “unhealthy;” every person is different. Exercise addiction does not affect everyone. I am speaking about my own personal struggles with why I exercised. I used it as an escape and then used the compliments I received on my external appearance to convince myself that everything was ok.  For me, the time when I looked the best on the outside was when I was the unhappiest on the inside.

When I start using exercise as a way to block out feelings and not deal with what is really going on in my life, I know I have a problem. When it becomes a preoccupation and I start bailing on friendships or other commitments, I need to take a look at what is really going on. Sometimes I need to run because it is meditative, but sometimes I need to go through feelings and get to the other side.

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About Erin Bahadur

Erin is the founder of the blog Erin’s Inside Job and she uses it as a way of sharing her story and helping others learn about health, fitness, overcoming obstacles and having a powerful voice in the community. A recovering addict, Erin is also an accomplished athlete, has run multiple races and ran her first half marathon in September. From recipes to workouts, reviews and tips for healthy living, readers find inspiration and interesting stories every week. She recently moved to Chicago in November and is currently pursuing her personal training certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine and interning to coach at a local studio. She is enjoying the short time that she has been in the city and hopes to create long lasting connections with the great members of the health and fitness community in Chicago!

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