dangers of over-training

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?