How Fitness Becomes an Addiction

We all know someone, probably, that seems to take exercise too far. We also probably know by now that anything can become an addiction. Eating, not eating, sex, wine, harmless bickering or cleaning all seem like great things but we can take them too far. I’ve been exercising a lot lately and I don’t think anyone is worried about me yet and there is an end to all this training in sight. But it got me thinking about how, especially this day in age fitness can and does become an addiction. I don’t think it’s something I’ve ever crossed the line into or gotten into the red zone on but I can see how it happens for some from where I’m sitting. This is not a signs or what to do post about exercise addiction, I already wrote that one it’s over here by the way, but rather how does is happen. How does exercise start off as the best thing you can do for yourself and evolve into an addiction. I’m going to present this as a series of steps, talk about my personal experiences because that’s what makes sense to me. If you don’t hit every step let alone in order you’re not necessarily out of the woods. Rather take the read as a whole and decide is that mostly me? or not and take note of how far along you are. Also where do problems start to sink in?

fitness addiction
Not all y pics are happy and full of energy sometimes they reveal just how tiered I am.

Step 1: You start a new program or activity

This decision might even save you life and it’s not a bad decision. Maybe you’re looking for.a bikini body or a health scare get’s you to get off the couch.

Step 2: You love it or see results or both

Either you love your new activity or you can’t deny you look and or feel better. This is actually totally normal and healthy. Almost every time I try a new activity I love it at least for a few weeks or months. Doing a new activity also works new muscles in a new way no matter how fit you are otherwise.

Step 3: People notice, social media and it starts to give your life more meaning or at least makes you more interesting

You’re in love with you’re new activity and maybe it even encourages you to post on social media. Don’t laugh Nike running, race photos, group sports and stunning views on your bike are more fun to post than food and party pictures and crafts a better image for you. You might even be like a real life before and after picture at this point. People post encouraging comments and these pictures quickly become your most liked. It could also be comments from friends and co-workers who notice physical changes or that you’ve got more energy. Maybe you feel better and your sex life and relationship improves with all that extra confidence. It’s all great!

Step 4: You do something you never thought possible

Maybe you couldn’t run mile before, run a 10k, enter and place at a fitness contest, bike a century or even lift a heavy weight and now you can. That’s an incredible accomplishment and you’re proud of yourself and you should be! Doing something you never thought you could can be life changing and for good reason. Keep up the great work!

Step 5: Then something else

Then you do it again. Even after you accomplished that last thing you didn’t think this would be possible but look at you go. You might start to feel unstoppable at this point and you kinda are!

Step 6: Your exercise habits are more intense than most others

This sounds like a bigger deal than it really is. MINIMUM healthy living guidelines call for 150 minutes of vigorous activity a week and less than 5% of the population is that active! So doing the minimum will have you more active than 19 of 20 people. So this isn’t automatically cause for concern. If however you look around at all those fit active people in your life and you’re still at the top end of that then maybe think about your trying schedule a bit more. Which brings up a new theme we’re going to go forward with and that is training plans. If you’re training for something sometimes (often) you might dip your toe into some of these pools. If you train for one or two bigger races a year then you’re fine but read this post on why you need to spend time NOT in training every year.

Step 7: Your identity is now linked to your sport

You now consider yourself a runner, or a cyclist or a gym rat. Your histogram bio is something like Mother, engineer, triathlete. Your social media feeds are well and good taken over and never mind being important to you any more your sport is part of who you are!

Step 8: Your mood suffers or you get antsy when you can’t exercise or have to skip a workout

Alright we’re starting to enter the yellow zone where maybe you should proceed but with caution. Start thinking long hard and truthfully about why you are here. If it’s a temporary thing late in a training program you get a pass but if not, well it’s a slippery slope from here so tread carefully. If you can’t exercise because the weather is bad, you’re busy at work, your kids are in Christmas recital season or someone you know is getting married and it feels like it’s happening at you. One you’re not alone and two that’s a bit unusual. If that felling makes you cranky, stressed or anxious that’s not a great sign. If you’re in a program while that can happen because a skipped workout means the rest of the week is squeezed and they just aren’t making more than 7 this week. But if you aren’t and you let a skipped workout get to you like this that’s not a good sign.

Step 9: Someone or a lot of someones say you’re nuts for doing that or they never could

Those of us that train for fitness challenges know that you could do it too and it’s the training that get’s you there. Most of the year we can’t run 70 km in any given week either. If lots of people around you are saying I could never do that, your schedule is nuts then maybe take notice of that. If some of those people are the fitness types from step 6 definitely sit up and listen.

Step 10: you exercise even though you REALLY ought to be doing something else

I’m not talking like life changing stuff but if you really ought to be like:

  • Doing chores or cleaning the house
  • Studying
  • Working overtime
  • Grocery shopping
  • taxes
  • etc

And the thing is you’ve put it off enough already yet you’re exercising instead of finally getting it done and thereby lowering your overall stress level that’s not great either.

Not my happy face

Step 11: Even for a moment a relationship suffers

Now we’re entering that red phase these are things that really shouldn’t ever happen. These are undeniably things that are making you life worse overall and that’s not what fitness is supposed to be about! One thing that might happen is that you’ve blown off the wrong thing or the same thing one too many times to get a workout in. Maybe you skipped a friend’s birthday because you had a long run in the morning, your partner is pissed about all the homework and house work they do while you’re out triathlon training or you realized too late you promised to make cupcakes for a co-workers kids birthday party. If you have put exercise over a real life relationship you’re doing it wrong. Think about the two cliche’s “we’re here for a good time, not a long time” and “you can’t take it with you.” Well in the end it’s the people you have that make you’re life what it is and not taking it with you includes a fit bod! At the very least take a whole hour sit down and re-examine your priorities.

Step 12: You feel like you HAVE to get a particular workout in

I’m not talking about it’s on the schedule so I have to but rather the feeling comes from inside you and it can’t be ignored. This can lead you to doing things like getting up so early it’s actually still late (before 5 by my definition), or getting your fitness on so late it’s actually early, being out in horrible weather or generally taking risks you shouldn’t. If you find yourself in this boat. You’ve crossed the addiction line into dependance. It’s really not significantly different than an alcoholic that feels like they need a drink. This often happens when we start reaching the point of diminishing returns you keep doing the same amount or more even though you’re not really getting fitter, faster or stronger. In fact you might even add workouts and see your results get worse.

Step 13: You workout on a day you shouldn’t or you lie about it

Maybe it’s a rest day and you need it, you’re doctor told you to take a break or you’ve promised not to. Hell at this point you might even be lying to people saying you haven’t been exercising when you have.

Step 14: You can’t imagine not being in the shape you are now

This could have been earlier but at this point you feel like all of what you’re doing is necessary and you start to believe things that aren’t true. Things that a rational part of you knows aren’t true. You believe that if you take a day or two off you’ll loose fitness even though we all know that takes at least a couple of weeks.

Even from .behind I can tell I’m not feeling it here

Step 15: A longer break than usual feels like a really BIG DEAL

If you’re told that you have to take a break or you’re injured or circumstances present themselves ad it just happens you actually shouldn’t feel like it’s a big deal. Even the elites get injured and they know it’s okay they’ll get back to where they were and you should feel that way too. Hell we have a Canadian Olympian named Clara Hughs that had to take a break from speed skating and ended up winning a medal in her rehab sport of cycling. Even if you can’t do ‘your’ thing anymore you’ll find something else you love. If that’s not the attitude you have that’s a really big problem.

Step 16: You’ve started neglecting other parts of your life or do harm to yourself or others to get workouts in

This means you’re at the point where your addiction is impacting your life and many times people with this level of addiction to other things need help to stop. This could be things  like:

  • Chronic injury
  • Severe sleep deprivation
  • Poorer performance at work
  • Fights with loved ones
  • Financial concerns
  • Health scares
  • Loosing your period
  • Low body weight
  • Stimulant or steroid use
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive thoughts

Isn’t it crazy how quickly you can draw a straight line from starting something new to an almost unarguable addiction to exercise? I personally have never passed step 10 I would say even in training. It’s not my job to be fit it’s something I like and when not in training (other than that procrastinating thing). I would say well looking back it’s in about the same place for never when not in training. Have you ever made it into the red zone?

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