Addicted to Exercise?

Good afternoon! My attempts at doing homework today have been a large fail. After lunch, I drove my car to my favorite location to do work, Barnes and Noble, and managed to take fall asleep in my car for a half hour before waking up to the sound of someone’s car alarm going off next to me.

I have finally moved my bum into Barnes and Noble to do work, but I am writing this post instead because it is a topic that I need to talk about, especially after I am feeling today! This is my story of compulsive exercising and is on my mind right now. I am taking a “rest” from working out today and I am flooded with anxiety.

I like to think of myself as an athlete. What defines someone as an “athlete” depends on the opinion of the person you are asking. I consider myself one because I work very hard to stay in shape, usually have a specific fitness goal in mind, and participate in running races and triathlons to prove the physical ability I have worked so hard to attain.

There are days that training is exhausting. Tempo runs and interval work, difficult strength training day, and even those that are both mentally and physically tiring because your mind is simply not into the workout and need to recover. These are the days where listening to your body is vital, it asking you to take a break. Recovery and rest days are the major component to a successful, healthy performance.

During recovery, our bodies replenish energy stores and repair tissues that have been damaged during physical activity. This is how muscles are built up and toned, and how a person’s endurance is improved. Without sufficient time to repair, the body will continue to breakdown from intensive exercise and can lead you very susceptible to injuries. This seems pretty obvious; if you feel a twinge of pain in your knee and continue to run on it, the pain will get much worse and could leave you with an even worse injury.

It doesn’t matter if you are a professional athlete, a person who workouts out every so often, a casual runner with no specific goal in mind, everyone needs to rest once in awhile! Makes sense right? Well, I need to listen to my own preaching on this!

This morning I woke up around 9:15 after getting about 10 glorious hours of sleep. After that amount of time I should have felt refreshed and roaring to get my day started. Instead, my alarm went off and I felt as I often do, sleepy and my whole body is exhausted from the workout the day before. Despite this physical feeling, I did my usual routine of coffee and breakfast and was getting ready for a run. Knowing the importance of a rest day and fighting against my own thoughts, allowed me to realize how much I didn’t want to run. It would have been “junk” miles, a distance pounded out with no benefit physically or mentally. I texted my friend Danielle instead and we went for an “easy” walk, which turned out to be 5 miles up and down hills. This is what I consider a rest day.

Getting what I consider to be enough exercise is something I achieve most days of the week. In my crazy mind, doing some kind of physical work for at least 60 minutes is necessary and 80 minutes is even better. Sometimes I will do a combination of things to meet this time criteria, running, spinning, elliptical, plyometrics, strength training, fitness classes, etc. For example during cross-country season, I would do about 40-50 minutes on the elliptical in the morning, and then practice later that day.

I have felt that it is no longer a choice, but an obligation. What is the fear behind this? Gaining weight of course! Without this exhausting amount of hard-core exercise every day, I will balloon, and lose everything I have worked so hard to achieve! For example, during last summer, the peak of my disordered eating, it was easy to mask my long runs, and two-a-day workouts with the excuse that I was training for the upcoming cross-country season. Although partly true, I was trying to keep my weight down/lose some. Here is the irrational side of my brain taking over the part I know that is not true. I have become addicted to exercise and become very anxious, uncomfortable and upset if I do not complete the “necessary” amount of exercise per day, at least 60 minutes of strenuous activity.

I know I meet the criteria of a compulsive exerciser, someone who feels they need exercise to maintain a peace of mind.

Warning Signs of a Compulsive Exerciser (Source)

  • You force yourself to exercise even if you don’t feel well- Check.
  • You almost never exercise for fun- Check.
  • Every time you exercise, you go as fast or hard as you can- Check.
  • You experience severe stress and anxiety if you miss a workout- Check.
  • You miss family obligations because you have to exercise- Check.
  • You calculate how much to exercise based on how much you eat- Check.
  • You can’t relax because you think you’re not burning calories- Check.
  • You worry that you’ll gain weight if you skip exercising for one day- Check!

Back to this morning, I took a 5-mile walk with my friend and was earlier contemplating going to the gym because I didn’t think a walk was enough. It is and it was a fabulous walk with my friend! But I can honestly say I cannot remember the last time I have not exercised, but it’s been YEARS.

Realizing how compulsive/messed up this is, I have forced myself to do no more activity the rest of the day. However, now the thoughts that I don’t need to eat as much food are creeping in. I mean why not just restrict a bit, then I will feel better, some of the suffocating exhausting will lessen. I mean obviously if I eat the same way as other days, I will gain weight. NO, this is not true! I must fight this, as backing off once in a while is NECESSARY. I need to scream this to myself to get it through my sometimes-thick head!

So how can I recover from this? It is a process, and “practicing what I preach” is certainly necessary. If I want to be the best athlete I can be, I need to rest, but can this be done with the suffocating anxiety that comes along with it?

One thing during the walk that did brighten my day was the first flowers I have seen of the season! Warm weather is on it’s way 🙂

I would love to hear suggestions, hints, and help from anyone on this subject! Can people relate, or perhaps once were able to?


Filed under Confession, Disorded Thoughts, Disordered Eating, Exercise, Friends, Recovery, Serious Stuff, Uncategorized, Weight

11 responses to “Addicted to Exercise?

  1. Hallie

    I’m definitely having some exercise anxiety, especially lately. My friend and I started a very hardcore workout routine in order to get in shape for our vacation to Spain and Portugal, since we’re going to be spending a ton of time on the beaches and we wanted to look bikini-ready. We were up to 2 hours of classes a day (usually an hour of weights/strength training and then an hour of cardio) and I’d sometimes go running for about half an hour on top of that. We both got injured (surprise surprise) but even now just cutting back to an hour a day seems ridiculously hard.

    I’ve been helping myself by leaving my gym shoes at home (I’m a 45 minute bus ride from my gym) if I’m going in for a Kettlebells or Pilates class (we always go barefoot to those) and then I CAN’T go back to the gym, since I don’t have all that extra time to go back to my kolligium and work out. I’ve also started just pushing myself as hard as I can for those 60 minutes, then reminding myself for the rest of the day that I went that extra distance in class/on my run/whatever, and that I need to be proud of that instead of stressing that I’m not pushing myself hard enough. It’s totally difficult though, and I know EXACTLY how you feel.

    • Hi Hallie!
      Thanks for sharing your story, it really helps when I hear that others struggle with this as well, but are working through it!
      Phew, you had quite an intense schedule going on! I am sorry to hear you got injured though 😦 Every time something feels off in me, such as a twinge from my knee, back pain, shin splints, etc, I get so nervous it could lead to something even worse and then I back off a bit. I realize that if I were to develop a serious injury that prevented me from running for example, that would make me feel about a million times worse!
      That’s a great idea you have with your shoes! Like you said, you are literally unable to do extra workouts that day. And when you push yourself hard for that hour, you should be proud (like you mention you are) of yourself for accomplishing this. And I’m sure you have heard that shorter amounts of intense exercise are actually more beneficial than longer sessions at a lower intensity level.
      Even if extra workouts makes anxiety lessen, I still have to remind myself how much time/effort I am putting towards fitness and sacrificing so many other aspects of my life. I must repeat these words to myself 🙂
      Thanks again for the comment, we can get through this girl!

  2. I am actually struggling with this as we speak. I’m exhausted after a weekend of singing gigs and that combined with rain this morning = rest day? But I can’t justify that to myself and sometimes I’ll end up pacing around my room fast for an hour or so with a book or knitting or something just so I’ll at least have done SOMETHING.
    Thanks for sharing the right-minded science behind it all as well. It is a testament to your recovery that you know the facts and where you do not meet them.

    • YES take a rest day! I feel it is a great day too because of the rain, and it sounds like you were quite busy yesterday! I obviously understand the guilt that will inevitably set in though. But as I wrote above, rest days are essential to optimal performance and I think showing the facts behind this helps this idea really get through to us 🙂

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  4. I had major issues with this last year and the year before! I thought I was different than everyone else, like you said! The biggest thing that helped me get over it (well, like 85% of it) was hearing my dietitian tell me to flat out stop exercising. I know that isn’t feasible for everyone, but for me, it was a huge relief to be forbidden to exercise because then I felt like I had an excuse to not run on the treadmill. All I was allowed to do was everyday walking, light weights and pilates/yoga. As time passed though, I saw for myself that I didn’t blow up like a balloon…in fact, my body didn’t change too much at all. The body is a resilient thing and I actually had to work to put on weight (physically…and mentally, of course). I haven’t “exercised” in almost a year, but I walk 2-3 miles a day around school, and I enjoy it! Yes, I miss running and swimming, etc, but I’m still not sure I can mentally handle it yet so I haven’t tried.

    All I can say is, is that you just have to jump in and challenge yourself and those thoughts – to me, that’s the only real way to prove to yourself that the world won’t implode, etc. Great post 🙂

    • Phew, good for you for handling that when the dietitian forbade you! I would have totes been kicking and screaming along the way. But when you did this, it helped to show, “you didn’t blow up like a balloon” and nothing drastic happened! I know in the rational part of my mind that I also wouldn’t suddenly gain 20 pounds, but I am even afraid to try and see if this happens. Like, why not just take a few days off and see what happens?! I could go back to it right away…. This is a desirable thought but actually doing it is another thing!
      Thank you for this comment, it really helps me to deal with the anxiety and you prove nothing TERRIBLE is going to happen 🙂

      • I know what you mean – it’s so hard to take what other people say and think it will apply to you as well! I think it was just a relief for me when she said stop, just because I hated it so much at that point. Like I said, that approach won’t work for everyone, and I hope you find your way 🙂 I think taking leisurely walks and accepting that as your daily activity is a good start (that was a big thing for me to accept, too). Good luck!!! 😀

  5. You KNOW I can relate to this one. After the post I just did on the topic- I see SO much of what I am going through, you are going through. I think we need to have EACH other’s back & hold each other accountable. Sound like a plan??

    • Ahh I know you can relate! That post you did really motivated me to look at my own routine and realize how freakin addicted and attached I have become! I gave advice to you on how to slow down but need to listen to my own “preaching”
      That sounds like a perfect plan, how about starting with at least ONE day off a week? 🙂

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