When you think about addiction, what comes to mind? Alcohol? Drugs? Maybe Food? Something I never thought I would understand was when my Dr. told me I had an addiction to exercise in 2009. The truth is that I had been practicing the same behavior for years. I had always been an athlete since I was young. I loved pushing myself to new limits + it felt good to be strong. All of this was great until it wasn’t, though.
At the age of 20, I dove head-first into summer courses at my college + quickly noticed my time for exercise was dwindling down. I didn’t have that extra hour or 2 on my lunch break or after practice to get that cardio in or to hit the weights. My body was looking a little different as a result + I gained a few pounds. I became desperate to “get back to” where I used to be. I needed that gym time + I had to “lose the weight”. I hated the way I looked even though my clothes still fit. I was missing my 2-a-days + hated myself for what I had allowed to happen. Who was I becoming? This was when my eating disorder started catapulting from restricting + heavy exercise to bingeing + purging. Yikes.
When I saw Dr. Karp at my inpatient hospital in 2009, he told me I was an over-exerciser + that I was addicted to exercise. I was finding any waking moment to have an excuse to be alone to do sit ups, push ups, squats, you name it I was hiding this behavior from everyone just to get a chance to move + CHANGE MY BODY. I was in complete denial + insisted that working out + exercise was part of who I was. I hated that he didn’t understand that about me. As I worked through treatment for the next 5 years, I learned that I really did have a problem with exercise. I found myself arguing with my Registered Dietitian + bargaining with the point of time when I could get back to it. I started hating everyone who told me “No, it’s not the right time to exercise”. Even though I hated this response, I listened because each day I let go of my exercise regimen, the urge to actually exercise started going away. I found that letting go of the obsession to exercise a few hours a day allowed for me to let go of the holds I had on certain foods I allowed myself to eat + enjoy. This relationship seemed to go hand in hand with one another + I was happy to see that maybe my treatment team was right. I had a problem + I needed to fix it.
While I was able to change my relationship with exercise, the way my body looked as a result of giving it up was another story. I probably gained 20 pounds, needed to go up a few jean sizes, my face was round, my thighs rubbed together when I walked + I was absolutely mortified when I looked in the mirror- I couldn’t look at myself. But something changed with this shift in my life. I started to love myself more because I was forced to look inside of me instead of looking for something to escape my emotions. Ever had the need to just go for a run when you had a bad day at work? That’s what I did all the time, except when I was happy, sad, angry, in pain, feeling love- you name it. I got pretty down to earth with what was most important to me + as a result, I was eventually able to go back to exercise within a reasonable timeline. At first, it started with 3, 30 minute walks per week (I hated this). Then I was allowed to use a treadmill or stair master 20 minutes at a time, 3 days a week as long as I didn’t go crazy + could remain exercising at a reasonable timeframe. Introducing those timelines + learning to balance a good pace helped me to learn I didn’t always have to push it to the limit because that was all I knew. I had to be open to make these changes to have a healthy relationship with exercise again.
I now exercise when I want to. If I find myself feeling the “need” to hit the gym, go for a run or lose a few pounds, I shy away from exercise all together because that’s how my addiction slowly creeps back in. Ever heard about an alcoholic not being able to have another drink or it snowballs? Yep, it’s kind of the same mentality with exercising. I only do it when it feels good- not when I need to take the edge off. I am starting to slowly introduce a few things back into my routine + it feels really good! I was able to run my first half-marathon with my best friend last spring + I proved to myself that I can train for something + have a good relationship with it. I did have to skip a few days because I was craving that run + feeling the sweat down my face + that’s ok.
I have been hesitant to share this story + my relationship with exercise for a long time because I knew I had to give it up to gain my life back + truly recover. I didn’t want to share triggering pictures or topics to my readers working to recover too. But the truth is- it’s important to know there is an end to the madness if you work hard for it. You don’t have to give up things you enjoy forever- sometimes it’s just for a period of time until you can prove to yourself that you can change + grow. I’m happy to share that I’ve made amazing shifts in my life since conquering my addiction to exercise + if you have an addiction, I’m sure there is a way you can overcome your obstacle too. Keep fighting.