Does your daily fitness routine resemble an Olympian’s training program?
By Catherine Orda | Lead photo by Dylan Nolte/Unsplash
Exercise addiction is real. And while this might not come as a surprise to some, it seemed necessary to point that out if only because doing so might help get to the root of the problem.
We celebrate physical activity. We glorify exercise and admire those who can do it consistently and constantly. We don’t tell overenthusiastic gym goers that they’re overdoing it; instead, we congratulate them and aspire to do the same.
And in the middle of all that praise, in touting athletes and personalities as fitness inspirations, we seem to miss the possibility that some of them might actually be battling something more serious than meeting a fitness goal. This glorification allows for a culture that feeds a stealthy addiction: The exercise-obsessed walk among us, and we don’t notice them—even if we’re one of them.
Exercise addiction is a behavior addiction fueled by a natural high brought on by a rush of endorphins. This cause-and-effect scheme seems harmless enough—until it doesn’t. It’s possible to get to a point in which you obsessively seek out that high. Meaning to say, you’ll find that at one point, you will feel like you have to run longer and longer or lift heavier and heavier weights in order to achieve that high. Again, exercise addiction is a real problem (about 42 percent could be at risk of exercise addiction, a study reports), and if by this point, you’re starting to believe that it is, here are some signs you might want to watch out for:
Working out is your only commitment
This one is obvious enough: You might be addicted to exercise if you spend majority of your time exercising. And we’re not using the word majority lightly here. Following a daily fitness routine is fine, but if that means taking two to three classes per day and sacrificing work and personal commitments, you need to do some reevaluation. Another thing: If missing a single class or a workout session is a painful idea to you—one that causes guilt or anxiety and pushes you to work twice as hard the next day to make up for that lost workout time—then you might possibly be addicted to exercising.
Jodi Rubin, a psychotherapist based in New York told Self: “Ask yourself, ‘How do I feel if I don’t take the second class—or skip a day or two altogether?’” If the answer has something to do with stress or feeling bad about yourself, and then promising to exercise harder next time (even if you’r tired, sick, or injured), then that’s your sign.
You can’t enjoy it anymore—but you keep doing it anyway
The fixation with excessive exercise begins as something fun and pleasurable, but as this escalates, so does the extremity of your routine. You work out harder, convinced that you need to run longer and lift heavier weights in order to feel that satisfaction you got when you first started working out. But it is exactly because of this conviction and the addictive behavior it entails that make exercise-induced high harder to attain.
Of course, a large part of exercise is pain and discomfort, but if you can no longer derive any kind of joy or sense of fulfillment from it, then you need to reevaluate. Ask yourself these questions: Do you still get excited about the idea of exercising, or do you actually dread it (but push yourself to go all out anyway)? Do you leave the gym feeling strong, fit, and accomplished? Are you having fun?
You exercise in order to moderate your emotions
If all you depend on in order to feel positive emotions (feeling accomplished, fulfilled) and alleviate negative ones (stress, sadness, anger) is exercise, then you could be setting yourself up for some serious harm. Gloria Petruzzelli, a clinical psychologist tells Men’s Journal: “If you rely on exercise to elicit these feelings on a daily basis you could be on a dangerous path—especially if you’re also not enjoying the exercise and only feel relief with the accomplishment.”
You’re constantly getting injured
You know you’re training too much if you don’t give your body the space and time it needs to recover from all the strain you’ve subjected it to. Not every training session needs to be dangerous. But addicted athletes are almost incapable of moderation. For them, it’s like every set should be extreme enough to court injuries. “Addicted athletes are the ones that typically have some ailment constantly going on,” Petruzzelli says. So again, a sign of real danger is having a strong (and acting on that) impulse to train despite an ongoing injury or ailment.
You exercise based on weight loss alone
Besides the rush of endorphins, what exactly is it that pushes you to exercise? What are you planning to achieve in the long run? Losing weight or changing one’s physique are not unexpected answers, but if it’s the sole catalyst to all the excessive exercise then this motivation might be a sign of obsessive behavior. This sign is particularly serious and requires equally serious action. So before it’s too late, do the necessary reevaluation. Moderate yourself. “Having a healthy balance between your everyday life and your training can make you a better athlete and person,” Petruzzelli says.
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