How do you know when something that is meant to be healthy and life-sustaining becomes too much of a good thing and potentially dangerous to your health? The weather is warming up and in Colorado that means I’m seeing more and more people outside enjoying the sunshine while engaging in some form of exercise, whether it be jogging, yoga, bike riding, walking, or hiking . . . The benefits of exercise are well known yet for some exercise can become too much of a good thing. In my work with clients who exercise, one of the things we explore is what their relationship with exercise looks like. Is it leading to increased vitality and health? Or is it getting in the way of living the life they want to lead? What are their motivations for exercising? Is it guilt-driven or meant to compensate for calories? Do they enjoy exercising or is it a form of self-punishment?
As a therapist who specializes in eating disorders and body image issues, I see a wide range of relationships with exercise. I believe that exercise can be a healthy part of a person’s life and I enjoy supporting people in identifying what that would look like and how to move in that direction. That being said, it is important to know whether someone is engaging in compulsive exercise which can lead to serious problems including injuries, fatigue, osteoporosis, amenorrhea, heart problems, and reproductive problems. Below are some of the signs and symptoms of compulsive exercise:
- Working out despite being injured, sick, fatigued, or in pain
- Feeling tremendously guilty/seriously depressed if you cannot exercise
- Finding time, no matter at what expense, to do the exercise (i.e. missing work, skipping school, missing parties, hiding in the bathroom, and skipping appointments)
- Not giving yourself any “rest days” or “recovery days” between workouts
- Working out for hours at a time, beyond what can be considered safe or healthy
- Talking excessively about working out and on health topics
- Obsessed with training details
- Self-worth and a “good” day is determined by the productivity of the workout
We live in a culture that perpetuates the idea that there is no such thing as too much exercise which is not true. So what does a healthy relationship with exercise look like? Check out these guidelines from Something Fishy, a great website with lots of resources related to eating disorders (and check out my resources page here for other great ED resources). If you are concerned that an athlete you know may have an eating disorder and want to know how to respond, check out this previous post with lots of great resources. It is possible to get out and enjoy this beautiful state we live in in a safe, healthy, and life-fulfilling way.
Catherine S. Tilford, MA, NCC offers individual, couples, and group therapy services in Westminster, CO and specializes in eating disorders and disordered eating, body image, depression, anxiety, and personal growth. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or to schedule an appointment.