The Fit Life: Addicted to the good stuff
Can it ever be too much of the good thing?
Addiction is never good. And the specific addiction I am talking about here is hard to spot. It just seems that you are committed to your wellness and fitness. Therefore, it is socially acceptable and even reinforced. Kudos to those who train, run, weight lift, and bike… right?
Normally, yes. But if you feel down, anxious, depressed or irritable when you do not work out or if your workout load does not match that of the previous day, you might suffer from anorexia athletica.
We often associate exercise with sweat, tiredness, and discomfort. Therefore, it is hard to imagine that you might start liking it “too much” and get addicted to it.
So, what are some symptoms of anorexia athletica? Getting overuse injuries is one. Avoiding social settings/friends/parties/ family because the time with them can be “better spent” while training is another big red flag. If you organize your life around exercise, rather than fit exercise into your life, watch out. If you go to sleep at 7PM to wake up for that 3AM run or your partner feels neglected because you disappear for hours in the local gym, check in with yourself. Eating to barely replenish the fuel for your next training session, rather than enjoying it, is also a warning sign. Measuring your portions and how many carbs, fats, and proteins you eat. Locking into your daily exercise routine... If exercise was fun and gratifying, but now controls your daily life, this is the sign of things gone wrong.
Excessive exercise sometimes takes this turn because of the usual mixture of hormone reaction to it. When we exercise, lots of “feel good” hormones (endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin) get released. Therefore, the “runner’s high”. And this feeling can be highly addictive.
Who am I to write about relaxing or a notion of that?... 😉 Still, try to implement an intentional day of rest into your weekly exercise schedule. On that day, replace exercise with another activity which would have nothing to do with exercising. But both mind and body need to relax, from time to time. Aim at those breaks in order not to… break down.
If you are addicted to exercise, scheduling or implementing those rest days doesn’t feel right. Excessive exercise gives you a sense of control over your mind and, especially, body. Taking a break might feel like losing that control.
Hypergymnasia leads to things breaking down. Sooner or later, you would get injured or burned out or both. You will be easier fatigued at your “regular” level of exertion, the limbs will ache instead of cooperate. That soreness will affect your performance. You will not be able to perform at “the same” level and you will need longer periods of rest to catch your breath. You will feel depressed, tired, not motivated, have mood swings, have problems with sleep. Your adrenals can produce only that much cortisol at a time. Your resting heard rate will stay up for no reason.
Excessive training for weight loss often comes hand in hand with other eating disorders, and it affects many perfectionist athletes, who are in need of control. They become “obligatory athletes”. And by the term “athlete”, I don’t envision spandex-clad top of the country, who are paid for what they are doing. Everyone is an athlete at their own level. This is one of the reasons why this disorder is so hard to detect. You might have a regular, non-athletic life, yet still suffer from the problem of anorexia athletica.
At first, only reducing the time/intensity of your training might feel almost impossible. But this is the first step, before taking a half and then, full day off. Also, develop alternative exercise plans: sometimes, you might be training over and over the same way. This gives you a bit more of the sense of control. If, normally, you hike, try gardening instead. You don’t need to right away drop your biking and spend the day in front of the TV. But take that first step, which will reaffirm for you that you might still feel happy and well even if you do not bike precisely the 5.82M which you have been doing for the last two years and three days.
Of course, not everyone who likes to exercise a lot is an addict. Some people see exercising as an opportunity to socialize – for example, bikers often love riding in groups! Runners, especially long-distance runners, often tend to be more solitary than bikers. One group would exercise to meet people, then, and the other, to be alone. Solitary activities are often chosen by the perfectionists, so group forms of exercise, such as a small group Pilates or yoga class, are one of the ways to treat perfectionism-fueled exercise addiction.
Apart from self-help solutions which I suggested above, some cases respond better to counseling and therapy. Just like for any other type of depression, eating disorders, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Magdalena is the owner of the Be Fit Fit Personal Training Studio (www.befitfit.biz). Visit her “Be Fit Fit” blog at www.verdenews.com.