Addicted to Exercise

“She goes from one addiction to another. All are ways for her to not feel her feelings.” ~Ellen Burstyn

Have you ever been addicted exercise? It’s similar to the topic of Over-training, which I’ve written about before. Addiction is a funny thing. Drugs, food, even positive things like exercise can turn into something negative…

I’ve been guilty of both over-training and exercise addiction. Thinking back to certain points in my weight loss journey I can pinpoint three different times when I was definitely bordering on an addiction.

When I first started losing weight and exercising, I was terrified that I’d be derailed and fail. It was definitely an “all or nothing” frame of thinking (which I am guilty of a lot). I’d made the decision to lose weight and I was NOT failing. I ate the same food every day and counted my calories. I stopped doing social things like happy hour, dinner in restaurants, desserts with friends, parties, holidays…I didn’t think I could be strong enough to resist the overeating these social events could cause.

I also became very rigid in my exercise schedule. I swam certain days of the week and I did not deviate from that. Why? I was worried that once I stopped, or took a few days off, that I’d quit exercising completely.

Once I got settled into my new routine of counting calories, eating better, and swimming I calmed down. The obsession improved and I no longer felt like I would fail if I took a break. I developed a much healthier relationship with food and exercise.

This healthy relationship worked well for about a year and a half. Then around 175 pounds I plateaued. I was frustrated at the long plateau and I thought the answer was more exercise. I exercised in some form every day for 28 days. That was way too much. After that experience I realized that I had to build in 2 Rest Days a week to my routine. No matter what. Since then I’ve calmed down. Plateaus are frustrating but they don’t send me to the gym for an obsessive workout now. I’ve learned to listen to my body and not freak out. Exercise is not always the answer. And exercise SHOULD NOT be a punishment!

The third time that I experienced some addictive tendencies was when I was running. I was training a LOT for Hood to Coast. I was definitely over-training and my body was telling me in various ways (bursitis in my ankle, strained sacrum, IT Band). My body was letting me know I was pushing it. That running high was hard to give up though. I kept pushing it–and injured myself. A break from running was much needed and ended up being a positive thing.

What is exercise addiction? “Exercise addicts may have a very rigid fitness schedule to which they always adhere. They may compulsively exercise alone to avoid attracting the attention of others, including trainers and gym staff. Addicts will exercise even though they are sick or injured, in the end causing more physical problems for themselves. They may miss work, school, or other social obligations to exercise.”

Excessive exercise can be a symptom of anorexia/bulimia. “Exercise addiction, on the other hand, is a chronic loss of perspective of the role of exercise in a full life. A healthy athlete and an exercise addict may share similar levels of training volume — the difference is in the attitude.”


Some things to ask yourself:

  • Do I neglect all social situations to exercise?
  • Does missing a workout makes me depressed, irritable and stressed?
  • Have family or friends have told me I exercise too much?
  • Does my body hurts all the time because I never rest?
  • Do I not have any other hobbies beyond the gym?
  • Do I set unrealistic goals for myself?
  • Do I have unrealistic goals for how much I should weigh?
  • Do I ignore the signs of injury and over-training?
  • Am I spending hours in the gym each day?

How to End the Addiction

Most of the time something like this will just work itself out. For me it just took time and learning some lessons on my own. The longer I went maintaining my 100 pound weight loss the less anxious I was about gaining it all back. Now? 3 years later? I know that I’ve changed my lifestyle in a positive way and I’ve created a balance in my life with vigorous but moderate exercise, rest days and healthy eating. That’s not a recipe for gaining 100 pounds.


I learned that the hard way (IT band). But the injury turned into a blessing and I’ve definitely been much happier and healthier living in a balanced way.

  • Rest: Listen to the body—if it’s sore, rest! Schedule at least 1 rest day/week. (I do 2 a week.)
  • Get support from friends and family.
  • Sleep: don’t neglect your body’s basic needs.
  • Drink water.
  • Meditation: Find a positive mantra and do it every day.
  • Cross train: try swimming instead of running.
  • Get help. Therapy is a wonderful thing. It’s helped me over the years in different ways.
  • Don’t take out your frustration on loved ones. (I’ve definitely been guilty of that when injured.)
  • Get a new hobby. Maybe a cooking class? Something once a week that will allow you to have a break from exercising but will keep you occupied.
  • Schedule time with friends. Especially friends who AREN’T workout buddies. Grab a happy hour and enjoy it!

“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.” ~Carl Jung

QUESTION: Have you ever been addicted to exercise? How did you overcome it and find a healthy balance?

Author: Lisa Eirene

About Lisa Eirene Lisa lost 110 pounds through calorie counting and exercise. She swims, bikes, runs, hikes and is enjoying life in Portland, Oregon. Her weight loss story has been featured in First Magazine, Yahoo Health, Woman's Day and

13 thoughts on “Addicted to Exercise”

  1. I think I have a very addictive personality and it used to be directed towards food, and recently I’ve transitioned it towards healthy food and working out. I’ve never really struggled with exercise addiction though. I think there’s a fine line because a lot of times a training schedule can seem really rigid, but at the same time it’s important to train yourself well for events so you perform well. I agree with your point that the most important thing is paying attention to your body’s signals!

    1. I definitely have an addictive personality. I went from being addicted to food and sugar to exercise. But I think that’s a healthy addiction to have….until it crosses the line. But I think I’ve worked it out of my system. If I miss a workout I don’t feel like it’s the end of the world anymore.

  2. i, like beth, have an addicted personalty, and when i first started working out i would get depressed if i did not work out but that was the worst of my symptoms and what helped my overcome that was in some way fitting in some sort of exercise even if its walking in the mall or a couple crunches before getting out of bed just something everyday.

    1. Jill–as someone who has struggled with depression my whole life, I found that when I started exercising on a regular basis that my depression was “cured.” At least–as long as I KEPT exercising. For two years my depression was gone. Exercise was the magic cure. Then, like any drug, you need more and more to get the same experience/feeling. So I’d exercise more, harder, longer, etc. to get that same “high.” That’s where I ran into trouble with the running.

  3. I also think I have an addictive personality. Exercising too much hasn’t been a huge problem for me, but I can see that I am starting to punish myself for NOT working out, even when I’m sick, which isn’t good. Since I’ve been sick for the past few days and haven’t worked out, I feel a bit of panic that I’m going to gain weight back or that I won’t get myself to the gym when I’m feeling healthy again. But I know that won’t happen. In fact, I’m hoping to feel well enough to do a short workout this afternoon. But the addiction to food was definitely there, and rears its ugly head from time to time. Learning balance is the key!

    1. I used to be that way! If I got sick and couldn’t work out I would panic, feel like I was going to gain back all my weight…but I don’t feel that way anymore. I realized that I would not gain 100 pounds in 4 days because of not exercising. Last time I was sick I took 4 days off and couldn’t care less. 🙂

  4. I know I have an addictive personality. I have been addicted to both dieting and exercise. I continue to work on it each and every day. I decided to leave the gym I was a member at. I know lift weight at home and walk every day it seems to be helping me.

  5. When I was in college and losing my 33 lbs for the first time,I got a little carried away. It was one thing to do aerobics every day without fail, but eventually I found myself walking 45 mins each way to the gym AND working out once I got there (all aerobic, no weights). It was taking hours out of my day. The next time I got into regular workout, I was dedicated but much healthier about it. I wish I weren’t so black and white about it. Especially since I haven’t been to the gym in months. Great topic!

    1. I’m pretty black and white about things too, which is probably why this happened to both of us. When I went through my obsessive running phase last year I was running all the time, including lunchtime and on days I didn’t run at lunch I’d walk for 60 minutes. Like fast, speed walking. Too much!!

  6. It’s been a bit hard for me not to get addicted with my running right now. For almost my whole life, I was overweight, and these last few months I have lost a lot of weight. I took up running, and while it has helped with being able to maintain my weight, there is still a bit of fear that I won’t be able to have the stamina to run. I guess that’s why it’s hard for me to be able to miss more than 2 days of running. I’m also training for a 5K the end of March, so that’s partly why I’ve wanted to keep going so much. I have had to loosen up a bit, b/c my body has told me that it’s doing too much!

    1. I know the feeling! Once I lost the weight and COULD exercise for long periods of time, or run a lot, I wanted to do it more! It was addicting in a positive way.

  7. Thid topic is great!!!!!!!

    I’m a typical person who gets to addicted to things when I start to put my hands on it…

    I’ve been going to gym almost every day recently and 2 hours each time, i kind of feel like I’ve been expecting for the gym time every morning when i wake up, and the rest time is just of no value. It’s a life style like “if I ‘m not in gym, i’m in the way to gym” and white style is really not good, as u can not stick it long time .

    My MC is to come soon and I had been worried that i could not exericising during MC. Now i really need to get rid of that thoughts, not only for losing weight but also for life

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