Remember that taunt on the playground, “I know you are, but what am I?” or the retort, “Yea, it takes one to know one!”??
Well, I’m a former exercise addict, and I know them when I see them. And I’m not sure which is more disturbing: the fact that I was one, or the fact that I so easily can spot them. Either way, I’m glad that destructive relationship is over.
I’m the first to admit, it was not an easy break-up to make … perhaps the hardest in my life! I mean, chewing and spitting I knew was inherently bad, wrong, disgusting, gross, you name it. Quitting it was a no-brainer. But an addiction to exercise—something so good for you … just was not an easy concept to grasp. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that even things that are good for you can be abused.
And this was a very hard lesson to learn.
Exercise has always been a stress-reliever, a feel-good elixir of sorts, for me. Then as my addiction progressed, a day without it in some capacity just felt wrong. Especially since doing a lot of it (plus cutting calories) helped me lose 35 lbs in 2004. So I’ve always equated it with health — or what I thought was health.
I was quoted in Fitness magazine (March 2010 issue) about the turning point for me in 2006, where I realized my over-exercising was an actual problem … and though I’ve admittedly found myself back there on rare occasions since that turning point, with a healthy dose of exercise in my life the past few years, I’ve felt more grounded, sane, healthy.
It’s kind of funny how our relationships with food and exercise are so similar to our relationships with people. My mom always told me, “When someone starts making you feel like less of a person, they’re not worth it and it’s time to move on.”
Well, that was very much how I eventually felt about my relationship with exercise … it wasn’t making me feel good anymore. No, instead, it was making me obsessive. A fanatic. At the height of my addiction, I was working out twice a day. Skipping social functions to hit the gym. Planning my entire week around fitness classes. Feeling guilty if I missed a workout. It wasn’t healthy.
Part of me now wonders what others used to think when they saw me doubling up on workouts at the gym. I always thought it was easy to hide … different people came at night than the morning, right? But then again, at the time I didn’t care what others thought and, perhaps most telling, didn’t think what I was doing was so wrong.
There is a girl at my gym (and there’s one at every gym; I know– I used to be her) who I am pretty sure is an exercise addict. And though it’s none of my business, she’s also a weight fluctuator – she competes in fitness competitions and practically eats nothing (I hear her chatting with another girl at the gym) and works out insanely … then packs it on only to take it off again in time for competition season in the fall.
I could never say anything to her … like I said, it’s surely none of my business. But there’s a part of me that wishes I could say something to her… like “I know where you’re at … and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
If she’s anything like I was back then, I know she’d scoff at me and laugh it off. I know because I did the same when my husband, friends and family, tried to talk to me about my obsessive ways.
Now that I’m pregnant, I’ve definitely had to listen to my body even more. Today, for example, we took Rocco for an hour and a half walk in the park. But since I hadn’t done any cardio all weekend and since I had the time and we had no plans for the day, I wanted to do just a little to get my heart-pumping (our walks are leisurely at best … Rocco can’t walk two feet without stopping to sniff/swat).
Well, God must have been laughing. I literally made it 5 min. before taking a bathroom break and a total of 10 min. before I had to stop for good; the baby was still pushing down so hard on my bladder that I just knew I needed to stop. And I did. In the past, I’d bemoan feeling “weak;” today, I’m “listening to my body.”
Exercise addiction is a scary, vicious cycle — one that is easy to get swept into. But I’m not worried about going back to my over-exercising ways. What I realize now (in retrospect) is that part of the reason I found it so easy to over-do it back then was I had the time: my then-boyfriend (now-husband) lived 3,000 miles away in another country, I had no other hobbies besides the gym, and my closest friend at the time in the area was also an exercise addict and losing weight, which only fueled my competitive spirit.
Now, between being married, friends, work, Rocco, blogging, the gym .. .and now in three months or so (I’m due Dec. 19) a baby on the way … my free time is going to be even more limited. So I’ll need to be flexible with finding new ways to work out and stay fit.
I don’t know exactly how it’ll all pan out, but I do know an over-exerciser when I see it, and since awareness is half the battle, I have full faith that if I were to find myself slipping, I’d snap out of it. Fast. I definitely don’t want to go back there ever again. It was a scary, lonely, out of control time for me … yet, ironically, I’d argue now — I was completely in control … at the reins of my own demise.
How about you? How did you overcome exercise addiction? Do you know any exercise addicts?