How do you know if you have an exercise addiction? After all, one hallmark of addiction is denial that it exists. In “Fit or Fanatic: When Does Exercise Become an Unhealthy Obsession?,” authors Carolyn Costin, MA, M.Ed., MFCC, CEDS and Dawn Theodore, MFT of Monte Nido and Affiliates lay out the criteria to use in making your assessment.
Here are 11 questions to ask (adapted from Yates, 1991 and Maine, 2000):
Do you maintain a high level of activity, not resting or taking time off even when ill or injured?
Do you depend on exercise for self-definition, self-worth and mood stabilization?
Do you judge your day as good or bad based on how much you exercised?
Do you have an intense, driven quality to you exercise?
Are you resistant or angry about any suggestion to reduce the amount of exercise you do?
Do you seem to have or even express the lack of ability to control or stop your exercise?
Do you lie about, deny, make excuses for and defend your amount of exercise?
Do you avoid or cancel family or social engagements in order to exercise?
Do you continually feel the need to increase your exercise, e.g., adding laps, miles, time and weight?
Have others expressed concerns about your exercise?
Have you stopped menstruating, lost weight, or show other signs of inadequate nutrition for your amount of exercise?
As Costin and Theodore explain, we live in a culture in which exercise isn’t just getting out and moving your body to have fun, but is considered a chore, a drudge and an obligation—or excessive exercise is societally sanctioned and all the rage. Now we exercise to be thin or thinner, to lose or not gain weight. Remember that these are external motivators as opposed to engaging in activities for enjoyment or to become healthier and fitter, which are internal motivators. Those of you who’ve been following my blogs and books know that studies prove that internal motivators work more successfully than external ones. In fact, pride in self-care is the best motivator you can have. You’re simply not taking care of yourself if you exercise too much or too little.
If you suspect you have an exercise addiction, who could you talk to about it? You’ll want someone who’s non-judgmental and has your interest at heart. It might be scary, but you’ll feel proud of yourself after you’ve taken this first step.