The Last Stronghold: Exercise Addiction

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Kristen McDiarmid


date published

May 11, 2016, 9:27 p.m.


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One of my eating disorder’s last “strongholds” was exercise addiction.

But truthfully, I’m not sure if exercise addiction is the right word. You see, I was “working out” 3 times a week, and certainly not in a way that outsiders would see as excessive. But it was the thoughts and motivation behind exercise that called it into question.

Missing a scheduled day of exercise resulted in anxiety and guilt that spilled over to my interactions with others. But worse, I found myself disconnecting from “life” so that I could stick to my exercise regime. Deep down, I knew that exercise had become an unhealthy crutch – another rule to follow and one where I could base my value as a person.

I traded “skinny” for “fit” – but it was just a new label for unhealthy behaviour.

And to be honest – I thrived on all the positive attention. I would get an instant self-esteem boost if someone commented on my dedication to exercise or my “strong” physique. I was still using external sources to validate my worth as a person. But if I wasn’t skinny and I wasn’t fit, then who was I?I wasn’t able to tackle this question until I completely stopped exercising and actually listened to my body- I needed to take a break.

Some of you may be thinking “but I’m going to become unhealthy if I don’t exercise”. I understand this thought process. We’ve been taught to believe that formal exercise is the only way to be “healthy”.

But what does healthy really mean? Is healthy forcing yourself to hit the gym when you’re sick, tired, or injured? Is healthy scrambling out of the house and missing story time with your kids  or time with your friends because you have exactly 1 hour until the gym closes, and a workout doesn’t count unless it’s a full hour?

I choose to look at health in the broader sense and firmly believe that finding mental peace and health will naturally lead to physical health. Now that I no longer equate physical activity to punishment, I find happiness in long walks with my kids. I am excited to de-stress at a yoga class or try out a beginner’s Zumba class. But I’m equally happy to kick back and relax, and read a book on the couch if that’s what my body wants.

So what are some signs an individual might display when they experience an unhealthy relationship with exercise?

These are some signs to consider:

1.  Skipping out on social events if they interfere with an exercise schedule

2.  Approaching exercise as a means of changing their body or “undoing” a perceived wrong action (“overeating”)

3.  Holding themselves or others in higher regard because of their exercise habits

4.  Forcing exercise despite injury or illness

5.  Judging a workout by calories burned, miles ran, or any other “external” factor

6.  Only allowing certain foods on “workout days”

7.  Irregular menstrual cycle, or are missing it altogether

If you experience more than one of these signs or feel you meet the criteria for exercise addiction in any way, I encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional who specializes in body image issues, eating disorders, behavioral addictions, or obsessive-compulsive habits.

Your first step can be to contact NEDIC’s Support Line: 416-340-4156, or toll free 1-866-633-4220.


Image Credit: Francesco Gallarotti

Kristen McDiarmid is a 35-year-old mom, accountant, and passionate blogger. Having lived in pseudo-recovery from an eating disorder for over 15 years, Kristen wants to show others that full recovery is possible. She believes that dieting, guilt, and body shaming - no matter how pervasive they may be - prevent us from living life to its fullest. Kristen's Blog is dedicated to helping women live their best life. Weekly blog posts explore a wide range of topics intended to challenge your views on diet and exercise. It is a place of support and community, whether you're well along your journey to freedom or starting from ground zero. You can follow Kristen on Facebook.

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