The Meadows Blog

Saturday, 22 October 2011 20:00

Compulsive Exercise: A Good Thing Gone Wrong

Eating Disorder Treatment Eating Disorder Treatment

At 39 weeks pregnant, a runner recently made national headlines following completion of a marathon. She ran 26.2 miles. Her doctor gave her permission to run an impressive 13.1 miles of the race, yet she opted to double her doctors orders. She ran the entire race and then embarked on her second endurance event of the day...childbirth. It was also the second marathon she completed during her pregnancy. Impressive? Compulsive?

Compulsive exercise is often overlooked in a health conscious society. Certainly, pregnant women are encouraged to exercise for maternal and fetal health. Doctors suggest that exercise is a 'good thing' on a regular basis for most men, women and children. Regular physical activity can reduce health risks and improve overall wellbeing. In moderation, exercise can even have a positive impact on troublesome anxiety and depression. However, for some individuals this 'good thing' can go wrong when done to excess.

Compulsive exercise can have adverse impacts on physical, social and emotional health. Physical activity ceases to be a good thing when it negatively impacts major aspects of life or hinders the use of other coping mechanisms. Compulsive exercisers often experience significant emotional disturbance if the schedule of activity is interrupted. They may experience withdrawal symptoms, as they have become addicted to the 'rush' of neurochemicals and the trance-like state that often accompanies intense activity. Withdrawal symptoms can include depression, anxiety, lethargy, irritability, insomnia, preoccupation with fitness or body weight, etc. Ironically, some of the symptoms of compulsive exercise can mimic those of withdrawal.

Compulsive exercisers may also find themselves struggling with physical overuse injuries and relationship underuse damage.

The roots of compulsive exercise are generally found in emotional and relational disturbance. Not surprisingly, compulsive exercise is also highly correlated with eating disorders, perfectionism and/or issues of self-control. Furthermore, relational avoidance can fuel the desire to workout. It is hard to devote energy to the sometimes strenuous work of emotional intimacy if adhering to a time consuming workout schedule. The next athletic achievement may cost more than just running shoes or a gym membership. It may cost a loving and gentle relationship with self and family.

Like other addictions, behavioral intervention and trauma resolution are helpful in addressing issues related to compulsive exercise. Physical activity can be a component of optimal living if done in moderation. In combination with other healthy coping skills, exercise can be a complement to sober living. Trama resolution therapies can address the core issues leading to behaviors of excess. Resolving intensity and moderation issues can restore the spontaniety and 'good things' to exercise...sobriety, good health and joy.

Anne Brown, a primary counselor at The Meadows since 2008, has a master's degree in counseling from Johns Hopkins University; she specializes in treating sex addiction, co-sex addiction, eating disorders, co-dependency, and the underlying trauma issues of addiction. She has been working in the counseling field since 1999.

Anne completed her undergraduate studies in psychology at the University of Maryland.

She then went on to receive an MS in counseling at Johns Hopkins University. In 1994, Anne began her career in the mental health industry working with adolescents in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1999, she began work in the addictions field as an individual and group counselor working in residential, hospital and outpatient settings.

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