This article is very personal for me, because I struggled with compulsive exercise for years. Today, I don't workout or exercise; I move my body. I move to cultivate clarity, creativity and energy. Whether or not I take a rest day, get to a dance class or jump in the pool is up to my body. I trust and honor her wisdom, and I’m passionate about helping others do the same in their own lives.
For many people, getting motivated to exercise is either incredibly challenging or just something they do easily because they love to stay healthy. However, a small percentage of people struggle with exercising too much. Their relationship to working out can swing toward an addiction and be harmful. Any healthy activity can be dangerous when taken to an extreme or done in excess.
So, how do you know if you’re dealing with an addictive behavior or just a healthy love of getting your sweat on?
The following list can help you explore this. It's based on both my personal and professional experience.
Below are 12 signs that your relationship to exercise is unhealthy:
- You judge your day as “good” or “bad” based on how much you exercised.
- You feel anxious, depressed or guilty if you can’t find the time to exercise every day.
- You exercise even when you’re sick, tired or exhausted.
- You get sick frequently and can’t seem to recover.
- Your self-worth is based on how much you exercise.
- Your self-esteem is maintained by how much you exercise.
- You get really mad when something (weather, surprise dinner dates, illness) interferes with your exercise.
- You arrange work meetings, social obligations and family engagements around your rigid exercise schedule.
- You cancel work meetings, social obligations and family engagements to exercise.
- You feel worse instead of better after your workouts.
- You only exercise alone because others slow down your progress, intensity and calorie burning.
- You exercise to compensate for overeating (or simply eating).
Moving From Fanatic to Healthy
If you experience most of the items on this list, exercise may be a problem for you. And if you’re in any type of disordered eating recovery, this problem will interfere with your progress. There are a few steps you can take to begin to find your way back to a healthy relationship with exercise.
1. Ditch the rigid exercise schedule.
Many people who have a problem with exercising too much maintain a rigid schedule. Which may be helpful when working towards a goal, but when exercise is doing more harm than good, a schedule can be detrimental.
See if you can let your schedule go for a couple of days and instead take cues from your body’s wisdom. Before you head out for your morning workout, ask yourself, “What would feel fun and nurturing to my body today?” Not, “What’s going to burn the most calories, or sculpt my arms and abs?”
2. Find an activity that allows you to appreciate your body’s strength, power and all-around amazingness.
Most of the over-exercising clients I’ve worked with are participating in activities on a daily basis that leave their bodies feeling beat up. They’re hoping to feel strong, powerful and amazing, but in actuality the grim marathon workouts and brutal boot camp classes leave them feeling depleted.
If you relate to this, try something new; dance, ski, swim, rock climb or go for a hike. Decide how you want to feel in your body and choose an activity that supports that.
3. Connect to meaningful motivation and inspiration.
Many people who over-exercise do so to burn calories, lose weight, or change the body. If these are your only motivating factors, then guess what? You’ll never be satisfied.
What if you stopped exercising to change your physical appearance and started moving to cultivate clarity, creativity and energy? If clarity, creativity and energy don’t land with you, what does? Find what’s meaningful to you and give it a try.
If the way you exercise is leaving you tired, depleted and feeling like you’re never good enough, then I invite you to find one thing you can do today to move toward a healthy relationship with exercise. I know how challenging this can be, but I also know if you keep it simple and take small steps, you can make big changes.