When You Can't NOT Exercise

Perhaps you work out harder than most people you know, and you don't feel ready to face the day unless you know you'll get your workout in, rain or shine. You might turn down social engagements to make sure you exercise. And, if for any reason, you aren't able to get your full workout in, you are concerned and uncomfortable, and try to get more in later, or the next day.

Many people focus on their exercise, especially if they are training for a specific activity such as a competition, or getting ready for a vigorous vacation. But they can easily take a day off to attend an event, or a couple of weeks or even months if they are injured.

If you can't easily back off of exercise when circumstances dictate that (even something as small kipping your workout because the only time the movie your partner wants to see is showing is during your workout time), you may be a compulsive exerciser.

This means you are driven to be physically active. You may feel in total control of what you are doing and others probably envy your "dedication," but deep down you don't really have a choice, you must exercise. It is as if you are addicted to exercise. And you are probably fine with this, even if it interferes with your life.

Those who exercise compulsively rarely seek treatment because they view their exercise as a problem and want to stop or manage it better. They typically seek treatment because they cannot continue.

What they don't realize is that this driven exercise is a means of coping, a way to deal with feelings (tension, stress, anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, etc.). It seems like it is about weight or shape or performance, but it isn't. The compulsive exerciser's focus is on the desire to exercise, but what that does is push down these feelings. The compulsive exerciser works out their bodies rather than their problems

When they are unable to exercise, the thoughts and feelings which have been avoided and denied flood back. They become uncomfortable, and interpret that discomfort as, "I need to get a workout in." As soon as they workout, the feelings are pushed down. Until they are not. And then another workout is needed.

Without effective coping mechanisms, all these feelings remain unresolved, and you are compelled to exercise over and over again in an attempt to keep the discomfort at bay.  

It can become a vicious cycle, especially if you are terrified of weight gain. However, many compulsive exercisers have gone on to have a healthier relationship with exercise without weight gain.

If your interest is peaked, consider reading this article on "exercise dependence," which also discusses how to quit being so cumpulsive while still being able to exercise.

About Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LDN, SEP

Karin can help you escape food and body angst and learn to manage your eating and weight naturally. Visit www.EatingWisdom.com for free handouts, online courses and more tips on mindful, intuitive eating and healing disordered eating.

© 2017 Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LD/N