Each day thousands across the globe hit the gym and eat their carefully chosen foods in order to feel good and perform at their best. We all know that exercise is great for us and years of evidence support this. Exercising is good for our health – period.
The endorphin rush that comes with a workout, the accomplishment in improving strength or dropping a few kilos is hard to beat. It is motivating and inspiring and is often the driving force that keeps us going back for more. For most, this healthy habit is something that enhances our quality of life, but for a subset of the population it becomes more sinister. There is a fine, invisible line that exists between healthy and harmful, disciplined and obsessed, committed and addicted. Many who are on this slippery slope aren’t aware of their distorted habits because it is difficult to identify. Especially given that it is easy to mask problematic behaviours under the guise of being ‘focused’, ‘disciplined’ and ‘motivated’. Unfortunately compulsive exercise, disordered eating and the combination of the two are increasing at alarming rates, and is a topic that needs attention and awareness. Not sure if you have crossed the line? Here are some signs that you may have a problem with your exercise relationship.
Those with a healthy attitude to exercise will allow themselves to heal if they are ill or carrying an injury. They will tune into their body and give it the adequate amount of recovery time.
It is normal to feel a little grumpy if you miss your workout but experiencing high levels of guilt, frustration or anxiety is not. If you feel like you need to get your ‘fix’ of exercise to make these feelings better the chances are you are experiencing exercise withdrawal symptoms.
A healthy lifestyle is one where exercise is an important part of it, not the sole focus. If you are missing out on family or social events, getting to work late or cancelling plans in order to workout, you are exhibiting a problematic behaviour.
Everyone needs appropriate amounts of rest and recovery. People with unhealthy exercise habits will disregard the need to rest, and will continue to push through even if their body is desperately needing to stop. This is why people with exercise compulsion suffer from muscle aches and pains, injuries and exhibit over training symptoms.
There are times where working out for a long time may be a necessary part of achieving a goal. Those who do will balance this out with ample rest and recovery. Needing more exercise to feel satisfied, or unintentionally going for longer are red flags.
This goes without saying; if you are recording every calorie that you eat and ‘burn’ and you feel the need to ‘burn’ off your food calories you are displaying obsessive tendencies. While it is important to have a grasp of your energy balance, meticulously counting and recording your calories is not helpful.
At this point you know you have a problem with exercise, you feel of control and don’t know how to fix it. You would love to be able to sit on the couch and hang out with your family but the need to exercise is consuming and overwhelming.
If you are a disciplined or focused person, or someone who likes to work out for a long periods, don’t panic, it doesn’t automatically mean you have an exercise problem. Exercise obsession is very difficult to pinpoint but if you see yourself, or someone you know, in any of the above signs, please seek help. You can reach out to your personal trainer, staff at the gym or a suitably qualified health practitioner.