Exercise Addiction — When a Healthy Habit Goes Sideways

In All, Fitness, Jenna Maye, Lifestyle, Uncategorized, Workouts by Jenna MaxwellLeave a Comment

As some of you may know, I recently started doing a double workout on Sundays. I’ve been attending a high-intensity circuit training class or creating my own circuit at my studio then following it up by a SoulCycle session in Yaletown. This is not most people’s idea of a relaxing Sunday morning, but it’s been a great opportunity to challenge myself to push myself to the next level, without the time constraints I deal with during the week when I’m training my clients.

But since I started doing this, a lot of my friends and family have either given me an eye-roll or shot me a concerned look. I get it — I’m a personal trainer, I already work out 5-6 days a week. Why force myself to go TWICE on my one day off a week?

After my first double workout Sunday, I felt amazing. Because it was two different types of training back-to-back, I really felt invincible and I knew I wanted to do it again the following week. It was addicting! If you’re serious about fitness, there’s always a next level to push yourself towards — and when you hit that point, you plateau unless you challenge yourself to level up again.

I’m just going to come out and say it. Addictions are everywhere, and it’s important to be aware that even something healthy like exercise can become harmful if done in extreme doses.

Exercise addiction is a serious problem that can negatively impact your life, and it’s more common than you may realize. You may be thinking, “Boo-hoo! There are WAY worse things to be addicted too”. And while I’ll definitely agree that there are many other horrible addictions out there, exercise addiction is just as real a problem, and can just as easily affect your life.

Addiction has been on my mind this week and it definitely brought up some personal issues for me. As someone who is a bit of a ‘’control freak’’, I have turned to exercise when other parts of my life felt out of control. There has definitely been a time in my life where I was addicted to exercise. At the start of my personal training career about nine years ago, I jumped into it aggressively. I was in a shitty relationship and I needed an outlet, and hours at the gym felt right for me. There were no days off. I felt guilty if I didn’t burn enough calories, or if I didn’t get enough hours in at the gym every day. I had huge fights with my boyfriend at the time, who didn’t understand why I couldn’t just chill out and take a rest day. If I wasn’t working out for at least 2 hours a day, 7 days a week, I felt like I was doing something wrong. Part of it was feeling out of control in my life and the other was my addiction to that exercise high.

Getting exercise and working out is good for you. It releases endorphins, helps manage stress, and can help combat depression and anxiety. And it’s for exactly all of these great reasons that exercise can become addicting.

That warm glow that we get after a workout is an easy one to chase because it makes us feel better and gives us more energy. But it’s crucial to find a balance. For me, realizing that I was using it as a tool to run away from my life was a huge light-bulb moment for me. No hours on the treadmill were going to stop my verbally abusive boyfriend from being an asshole or help me with my family drama.  It was time to stop beating myself up physically to dull the feeling of never being good enough.

I feel hugely lucky that I was able to recognize that I was letting my workouts control me in an unhealthy way. Breaking up with that boyfriend was a huge shift for me and by regaining control of my life in other ways it has made it easier to have a healthy relationship with exercise. It has taken years of analysis but I have now been able to figure out ways to structure exercise into my life in a healthy way so that I feel more balanced in my work and personal life. The realization that not every workout has to be super intense to be good enough was a hard lesson to teach myself but I feel like I have learned it.

As a trainer, I’ve witnessed several clients and co-workers struggle with exercise addiction. How do you help someone who has extreme knee pain but won’t stop running? Or someone who persists through a fever when their body is clearly telling them to rest? In my experience, like any other addiction, people who are addicted to exercise won’t be willing to take any advice until they recognize that they have a problem and they’re ready to start taking steps to get better. Many people push themselves until they experience a serious injury that forces them stop cold-turkey, and they aren’t able to do an activity that they love anymore.

This brings me to the scary part. Exercise addiction isn’t something you can heal overnight, and I’ve seen cases where someone will substitute one addiction with another. Often people will turn to other addictive behaviours that activate the same reward pathway. For example, someone who can’t work out as much anymore because they’ve pushed themselves to injury may turn to painkillers to drown out the disappointment and pain they’re feeling. This is obviously a dangerous habit to get into.

I’m constantly reminded that it’s critical to find a healthy balance between all the things in your life. If you consistently beat yourself up if you need to take a rest day, feel compulsion to work out, or guilty if you don’t — do yourself a favour and analyze where that feeling is coming from. Even professional athletes don’t condition their bodies at a high intensity level every single day!

So yes, while I will admit that my double workout Sunday isn’t for everyone, I have managed to achieve a balance with how I treat my body the rest of the week. I don’t work out every day, I vary my styles of working out, and I certainly don’t feel guilty for taking time off if my body is telling me that I need it. Through my business I’m constantly surrounded by exercise, but I’ve struck a happy balance and know what my limits are.

I recognize that a lot of you reading this don’t have an exercise addiction, but I encourage you to take a look at your behaviour and see if you can recognize habits that you rely on. Self-awareness is super important for helping you walk the line between habits and addictions. And while addiction may seem like a severe word in this case, I want to be open with you guys because addictions can affect anybody at any time.

When I started this blog, I knew I wanted to be open and transparent with you. We’re all real people trying to navigate the good and the bad, and I’m hoping that hearing about some of my personal struggles will help you reflect on your own. Above all, never hesitate to reach out if you’re struggling with an addiction, no matter what it is. Nobody is perfect and its important to accept our journey and the lessons that life teaches us along the way. 

xo Jenna

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