We all know that working out is good for us: it’s a great way to manage stress, stay in shape, fight disease, boost energy and your mood. But even when it comes to healthy habits, too much of a good thing can backfire, and that applies to exercise as well. While most people suffer from lack of exercise, once you get going, it can be very addictive and some people do end up exercising too intensely, and/or too frequently.
Too much exercise can lead to injuries, exhaustion, depression and it can also cause lasting physical harm. The following seven symptoms may signal that you need to cut back a bit and allow your body to recover between sessions:
1) Exercise leaves you exhausted instead of energized.
2) You get sick easily (or it takes forever to get over a cold)
3) You have the blues
4) You’re unable to sleep or you can’t seem to get enough sleep
5) You have ”heavy” legs
6) You have a short fuse
7) You’re regularly sore for days at a time
There’s an imaginary line that exists between a healthy workout habit and a dangerous obsession, and often times it can be tough to figure out when this line gets crossed. I was once slave from over exercising and I can tell you only now that it was no fun, although back then I did not realized I had developed a disorder.
Compulsive over-exercising isn’t necessarily about the amount of exercise. Rather, it’s about pinpointing when it becomes out of balance, or when the drive to exercise is coming from a disordered (obsessive) place.
Only a few years ago, about 5 to be precise, I used to work out 1-2 times a day EVERY SINGLE DAY, with no rest day in between workouts and was fueling my body only with proteins and veggies. You are probably thinking that there is nothing wrong with that and that I was just being healthy. At the time I thought the same too, but what I failed to realize was that I had turn my healthy habits into an unhealthy obsession that kept me slave of my body and the gym for years. I would train whether I was exhausted, sick, injured or even buzzed and the few time I missed out on training I had terrible sense of guilt that would lead me to get angry if not moody or depressed. I remember one night after work I went to have happy hour with a couple of my girls. I ate, had a couple of (alcoholic) drinks and when I got home I rushed to the gym (at 10:30pm) to not skip my training of the day. Certainly not a healthy balanced behavior. It was only when I pulled myself out of this unhealthy habit that I realized how much space and energy it was actually costing me.
So how to find out whether you or someone you love have developed a disorder?
Compulsive or excessive exercising is when someone repeatedly exercises beyond the requirements of what is considered safe and often times make time to exercise at any expense (cutting school, missing/delaying work or even exercising in the middle of the night) .
But not everyone who likes to exercise a lot is an addict. Experts agree that there are certain common traits to detect when someone might have a problem:
- working out through injury or illness;
- finding time to exercise every single day, no matter the expense (time of the day/conditions etc);
- feeling tremendous guilt or depression if a workout is skipped;
- not taking any rest or recovery days between workouts;
- working out for hours at a time, or twice a day beyond what can be considered safe or healthy;
- exercising in secret;
- using exercise to balance out or compensate for food; (This means you binge or eat unhealthy but then use working out to compensate.)
- skipping activities that one enjoys because they’re not deemed a good enough workout or doing activities one dislikes because they are considered a good workout;
- defining one’s self-worth based on exercise and fitness ability;
- putting an obsessive amount of focus on how many calories one’s eating and how many they’re burning;
- using exercise as a primary way to cope with negative emotions;
- acting defensively if someone brings up this excessive exercise as a potential problem.
If you believe you or someone you know may be affected by this disorder you should let an eating disorder expert or a specialized therapist assess the condition. Although compulsive exercise is not always a symptom of an eating disorder, many individuals who suffer from eating disorders are usually guilty of it. The National Eating Disorders Association can help you connect with a specialized therapist in your area to assess the condition.
Ultimately it’s (once again) about balance and learning to listen to your body and be intuitive about exercise.
The good news is that the people who put in the time and work to recover can create some of the healthiest relationships with exercise and food. I am the living proof of it Treatment plans can vary from person to person, but most include the help of a professional like a therapist or a health coach like myself. If you feel like you need help with this you can contact me here. CONSULTATION IS FREE.
Remember: The mind is very powerful, but the body has the wisdom. We just need to learn to trust it.