In order to begin to understand this topic a little better, we should go into what an obsession actually is first. This is in order to establish exactly what we’re talking about and learn more about how an exercise obsession or addiction starts and develops.
According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, an obsession is “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable ideal or feeling”. Meaning that an obsession is something that makes us feel a compulsion to do something which is sometimes irrational or not often relatable to the majority of people.
One can have an obsession with almost anything, and the subject of obsession can be as random as ever, in some cases. But an obsession which has been becoming more and more common is an obsession with exercise.
Yes, you may be thinking that there is nothing wrong with being really enthusiastic about exercise and fitness, we agree. There’s a fine line. This is between it becoming a healthy part of your life and routine and it actually taking over your life.
When and Why Does Exercise Become an Obsession?
The first point we should take into considerations is the initial reason a person begins to exercise and the drive behind the action. 9 times out of ten, a person begins to exercise with a completely healthy intention in mind. But 1 out of 10 people may begin to exercise out of self-image insecurity or something along those lines.
Even if the individual begins their new work-out routine with healthy intentions at the beginning, this doesn’t mean it can take a dark turn. Those who begin to exercise in an unhealthy way will be at risk of developing an obsession. (That actually goes for anything, under certain circumstances).
These days (with social media as one of our main sources of entertainment, etc) we are all exposed to images of what we should look like and how we should act; what we should wear and what we should eat – it is just a part of modern day life. But what is that doing to our self-esteem and self-image?
Well, a study shows that 90% of young women and men would change their bodies in some way. This means that the people who wouldn’t change their bodies are a minority, as opposed to what should be the other way around.
More than half of the younger population is exercising and/or dieting in some way, and 40% of these people are likely to continue to do it throughout their lives.
This is, of course, great! We need to exercise and we need to keep our health in mind throughout our lives. It is proven that if you start to form habits like exercising and eating well while you are young (or in your formative years), you are most likely to continue these habits through adulthood and on.
But we must exercise and diet according to what we are doing on a day to day basis in order to stay healthy. Believe it or not, exercising too much can actually harm our bodies.
Strains on our muscles, joints, and bones are common if our exercises are too frequent and intense, and if we don’t do them correctly.
Also, many times exercise obsession is associated with other disorders such as anorexia athletica, body dysmorphic disorder, and non-purging bulimia. These lead not only to over-exertion at the time of exercise, but also lead to unhealthy behaviors in terms of diet and self-perception.
With that in mind, take into consideration that around .3% of all the population is at risk of becoming obsessed with exercise. This isn’t including people who already struggle with it, which would bump the number up to .5%; or the people who simply do not exercise.
What Can Be Done To Diagnose, Treat and Prevent Exercise Addiction?
There are a few options that are available to help discover if someone has or hasn’t got an exercise addiction. One of the most convenient ways to go about the diagnosis is by speaking to a doctor about individual habits or doubts and then completing the “Exercise Dependence Scale” questionnaire or something similar.
The results of this type of questionnaire can then be analyzed by a professional who will be able to assess the individual’s situation and begin to treat them in the correct way.
Another way to begin a diagnosis is by speaking to a therapist who may be able to diagnose the addiction or refer you to someone who specializes in the field. Then the person can proceed as directed by a professional.
The treatment, however, is a bit different from that of other addictions. For example, substance abuse, as the goals of this recovery are not the same.
Exercise addiction is treated similarly to eating disorders. The goal is to determine whether their habits are healthy or unhealthy. It’s about repairing and reinventing the relationship the individual has with these things in order to live with these habits in a healthy way without going too far or being obsessed. The purpose of the treatment of an exercise addiction is not stopping exercise altogether.
There are different programmes conducted to help treat this addiction. The 12-step format is one which relies on internal support between people in the same situation, and a step by step guide that helps people overcome their toxic relationship with exercise.
Also, many help centers for people with eating disorders are also commonly in-touch with exercise addiction, since the two, unfortunately, go hand-in-hand in many cases. So visiting a facility for eating disorders may be a good way of approaching this situation.
Recovering from an exercise addiction will be different for everyone. But there are some things that all people have in common on their journey towards healthy exercising. One of them is the struggle to find a point in reforming their exercise habits (since “it’s exercise. It’s good). The treatment center and specialists will help you to find the perfect balance between exercising in a healthy way and not.
If you feel like you may be struggling with an addiction of any kind, we recommend visiting the lighthousenetwork.org or calling the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Contact your doctor or therapist and speak to them about it. Most importantly remember that you are not alone and there are people that want to help you. It’s all about accepting your limitations, forming a healthy relationship with your body. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being healthy in body and in mind.