The term addiction brings up negative images in your mind – a drug addict sprawled over the floor or a chair, overdoses, death, and rehabilitation centers. Someone looking shriveled because of drug abuse, and they do not look their best unless they recover.
While this is true to some extent, addiction is more than that, though. It may seem strange, but there is such a thing as ‘exercise addiction’. If you have ever seen someone who is obsessed with all matters fitness and going to the gym beyond a healthy desire to stay in shape, then they probably qualify. It is just as harmful, even though it does not seem like it.
First off, what is exercise addiction?
Similar to other addictions that result from unhealthy habits, exercise addiction is an obsession with exercise and physical fitness. The reason behind it is mainly disorders regarding eating and body image.
The signs are the same as that of other addicts, and they include obsession over that particular behavior, doing the behavior in secret, doing it even though it is clearly leading to damage of their health, and doing it even if they want to stop.
For you to understand how exercise can be obsessive, you need to know what happens in the body when you engage in it. The reason you feel great after an exercise session is because the body releases dopamine and endorphins, which is a part of the reward system in the brain. This hormone gives you a sense of pleasure, so the addiction to it may be because the person is addicted to this feeling of pleasure they get.
This means that exercise addicts have the same reactions as drug users like trazodone abuse, or junk food addicts. When they stop exercising due to one reason or another, they no longer feel the endorphins in their system, and they feel they need to exercise some more to feel some pleasure again.
Like all other addictions, exercise addictions start off as harmless, since they are efforts to help you stay in shape and live a healthy lifestyle. However, the risk of addiction increases when the person suffers from an eating disorder, such as bulimia and anorexia; or they have problems with their body image, also known as body dysmorphic disorders.
The results from it include extreme loss of weight, as well as other conditions that have a correlation to loss of weight.
What are the risk factors?
When you are under pressure to get and stay in shape, you have a higher risk of developing the condition. In addition, individuals that are overweight or obese and start out as wanting to get fit can also develop the condition, especially when they go through a weight loss regimen that is extreme.
In addition, it is interesting to note that many exercise addicts seem to also suffer from other addictions. In fact, a study done by the University of Southern California revealed that at least 15 percent suffer from addictions to illicit drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. 25 percent of them also have other addictions, such as shopping addiction.
Certain cases also involve a former drug user turning to exercise to satisfy the void that has been left by not consuming drugs anymore. In a way, it is similar to how a smoker quits cigarettes but then becomes a caffeine addict.
What are the signs to look out for?
The signs are not obvious unless you observe the person keenly. They include feeling withdrawal symptoms after going for a long period without exercise, a buzzing feeling after exercise sessions, as well as having an uncontrollable desire to exercise. Others include spending long periods recovering from an exercise session, reduction of other activities in your life, and having an inability to stick to reduced routines – even for short periods like two days.
The problem is not easy to diagnose though. On the surface, an exercise addiction seems like a good thing, and many addicts do not realize there is something wrong tin their behavior or exercise approach. After all, the goal is to stay fit and healthy, so they do not report it. In addition, there are no specific guidelines from the APA (American Psychiatric Association). This means that it is not possible to get any standard measures to use when diagnosing the problem.
The main signs to look out for include decreasing levels of social activity, as well as a corresponding increase in the obsession with exercise and fitness. Doctors may advise you to keep a journal where you can record all the things you are experiencing to give them a better idea of what is happening in your case, and also assist them to know if there are any abnormal patterns.
Once it is diagnosed, how can you manage it?
Most cases regarding exercise addiction are easier to treat compared to other addictions, and the main issue here is you requiring self-control. That comes with the knowledge that you have a problem and are willing to correct it, by taking active measures to control your exercise activity. Keep in mind that too much of something is unhealthy for you, even if it is a good thing.
An exercise addict can end up changing their form of exercise, or they reduce and keep their current sessions under control. In some instances, your doctor may advise you to stop the routine for some time to help you regain some control over the need to do an exercise session. That also includes reducing your trips to the gym and limiting the amounts of daily exercise you do.
When considering a routine, it is very important that you give your body some breaks to rest. If you cannot function without it even for a day, that should signal a problem, and you need to talk to your physician about what you can do.
Exercise is good for you because it helps you stay in shape. However, when it gets out of hand, you need some help in controlling it – no matter how good it is. In addition, the time you spend in overcoming will depend on the levels of addiction, so it is important to be patient and commit to your recovery.