Get into a habit? Great. Fall in love? Even better. But don’t get addicted. There is a big difference, but sometimes a blurred line between being healthy and unhealthy. Even exercising too much and focusing too much on eating "healthy" can be a bad thing. I know. I personally have been down this path, but thankfully had the support of friends and family to help me through it.
The feeling of a great workout is truly euphoric! It's not surprising that you can get addicted to it. It is this, along with the mantra that you have to always give it everything you’ve got, that led to my unhealthy addiction to training. It came to a point where it'd ruin my entire day if I was unable to train or get some form of exercise in! Although I knew full well the importance of proper recovery and rest, I kept on pushing myself. Perhaps it's because I thought I was different, or I thought it wouldn't negatively impact my health, goals, and personal life. Quite honestly, I can't tell you why I behaved that way, but I did. But I’m not alone. In fact, there are studies suggesting a condition known as “exercise dependence,” which defines exercise as an addiction that can lead to interference with an individual’s health, family relationships, and personal wealth (Leuenberger, 2006). There is a body of research that is investigating this topic, so if you’re experiencing what you think may be an addiction to health and fitness, know that it is real, it can be problematic, you should work to correct it, and you’re not alone!
Watch out for these signs that you may be developing unhealthy habits related to fitness and health.
1.) You find yourself obsessing over every calorie consumed or expended in your day: even when you have no competition, photoshoot, or other big date/event in sight. Seriously, diligently accounting for every calorie like this can lead to unnecessary and unhealthy habits.
2.) You skip out on social events to exercise or because of fear you may not find something to eat. Sure, training is important and eating well is important, but so are social relationships and living life. Allow yourself some social time and be okay with missing a workout or deviating from your diet. As for what to eat, either treat yourself or opt for a "healthier" menu option – restaurants are readily willing to accommodate customers’ needs.
3.) You're always preoccupied with thinking about when you will train next, what precise time your next meal(s) will be, etc. Don't get too caught up in these details and overthink them. Be in the moment. Enjoy time with your friends and family, and your alone time. Focus on what you're doing instead of dwelling on training and diet. You want to control your life. You don't want your supposedly healthy habits controlling your life! Again, there may be a time and place for tracking at this level of detail, but it doesn't need to be all year long!
4.) You jeopardize relationships. Let's face it, for those of us who have prepped for a show, photoshoot, or some other big event, you need to be selfish at times – especially as that date gets closer. So, if you find yourself losing friendships or struggling in relationships, be sure to evaluate what the cause may be. Don't let it be from health and fitness. They're not mutually exclusive – you can have both, and plenty of people find that healthy balance in life!
5.) You're chronically fatigued and mentally and physically worn out. If you train too much and eat too little, for too long, it will take its toll – you can be certain of that! If this sounds like you, and you still find yourself training every day, doing cardio, and depriving yourself of calories, you need to step back and seriously question if you've developed unhealthy habits!
6.) You are obsessed with your body. Fitness should be primarily about health, not really how you look. Obsessively critiquing every little detail of your body can take a toll on your self-esteem and emotional wellbeing.
Okay, so what if you have one, several, or all of these behaviors? How do you fix them? Well, the first step is simple recognition, so hopefully this article helps. Second, prioritize what's truly important in life. Be honest with yourself and really think about how important family and friends are to you. They are not worth losing.
How to derail the addiction train? Here are some tips:
- Take a break. Are you taking at least one day off per week? Good, but also try taking a longer break, too, like 3 days. However, that block of time when you are usually at the gym will need to get filled with something else. Instead of exercising, go get a massage, relax in the tub with some Epsom salt, sleep in, go to a sauna, get a deep-tissue massage, foam roll, go for a walk, spend time on your other hobbies, or go visit your grandparents! There are plenty of good, healthy, and productive options.
- Give some attention to your other hobbies. If you don’t have any, then give something new a try.
- Overhaul your social media. Is your entire feed filled with only fitness? Start following some new pages and only continue to follow your absolute favorite fitness folks. Sometimes being bombarded with fitness tips, pictures of cheat meals, or too many picture-perfect bodies can be detrimental to your overall health.
- Self-reflect and figure out what kind of help you need. Whether it's a friend, family member, support group, or even a doctor. It's much easier to do it with help than by yourself! There is no shame in getting professional help or joining a support group – you’d be surprised how many other people do it.
Over the last decade or so, I have faced these challenges myself and know many other people who have. Thankfully, I have overcome them. Hopefully, this article can help you identify whether you’re facing similar challenges. And you never know what someone else may be struggling with, so let’s be supportive of each other, help each other, and refrain from judging or criticizing others.
Leuenberger, Andrea. "Endorphins, Exercise, and Addictions: A Review of Exercise Dependence." Impulse: The Premier Journal for Undergraduate Publications in the Neurosciences
(2006): 1-9. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.
Article Written By: NutraBio Athlete, Zane Hadzick