4 Tips For Overcoming Exercise Addiction

Any recovering exercise addicts out there?

Well, I’m not sure if I can even consider myself “recovered” because I went from being an ultra-marathon runner to literally doing nothing in a day’s time.

One day I was running a 40 mile race, and the next I was off to treatment. 100 to 0 real quick.

When I went to treatment I had three disordered aspects to tackle:

  • fear of food/eating
  • extreme body dysmorphia
  • exercise addiction (with a concentration on running)

I was forced to face my food issue head-on from the minute I walked into the Carolina House. And the body image work came alongside the weight restoration and countless group sessions centered around that healing.

But exercise…

I was not allowed to participate in body movement while in treatment due to my level of addiction before entering along with a back injury. So, I never faced my exercise addiction while in the care of the inpatient home.

When I went to PHP and IOP, I decided on my own that I was not ready, in body or mind, to begin a healthy regimen of body movement. So I did nothing.

However, I did try to swim laps at the local indoor pool once. During that swim I proceeded to “race” the older gentleman next to me, watch the clock consistently for my time, and force myself to do “one more lap”. Of course, that turned into “one more lap” over and over again. Then I had a panic attack in the locker room after the swim.

2/3 healed

Here I am, two years in recovery, and I realize that I have only faced 2/3 of my eating disorder issues. I believe in moving your body for pleasure and health is great. Yet, I haven’t learned how.

I decided to sit down and talk about this with my doctor yesterday, and she gave me some great suggestions. Hopefully, some of these suggestions can be helpful for you as well.

4 tips for healing from exercise addiction:

1. Join a gym for the classes (and ONLY the classes)

Tell an instructor about your exercise addiction struggle and only take classes led by that instructor. Do NO MORE than what the class is doing.

And once the class is over… LEAVE and nourish your body in a necessary way.

2. NEVER exercise alone

I can tend to get in my head a little (okay, A LOT) when I’m exercising alone. My ED brain takes over and completely ruins any enjoyment of the activity.

Having someone with you can help keep you in your wise mind.

3. Play!

We tend to forget that exercise doesn’t always have to be running or lifting weights. Things like tennis, badminton, basketball and dance classes are great ways to move your body too.

Doing a more playful, recreational form of movement can be easier than the repetitive motion in running, swimming, or biking that may be deeply rooted in your eating disorder.

4. Take your time

Rome was not built in a day.

And recovery from anything is not linear.

Give yourself grace and start slow. Although moving your body is healthy, there isn’t only one clear cut way to do that. What society pushes is not always correct. Do what’s best for you. 

I share this with you because I know  there are others out there staring at their running shoes. There are others who are at a loss for what the next steps are in their exercise addiction recovery.

And I want you to know that I’m right there with you, Warrior. We can do this together

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  1. says: Elle

    These are fantastic tips. Thank you for sharing. As a recovering exercise addict, I completely agree with reframing exercise as fun, and also recruiting friends! It’s so important to stay out of your head.

  2. says: Caroline

    This is such a great article, thank you for writing it! I’ve found that listening to a lot of pro-recovery/anti-diet culture/health at every size podcasts has tremendously helped shift my mindset surrounding body movement. Intuition also helps a lot; taking the time to think about what type of body movement for that day would truly make me feel physically and mentally good is critical. If the activity would genuinely be fun to do, and if it will leave me more energized, rather than totally depleted, then that is a good option! And, of course, sometimes what sounds best is not moving at all at that time. 🙂

  3. says: Susanna

    Going through a relapse in my recovery after becoming obsessive over exercising again. I have my days where I struggle. Because right now I’m “cold turkey” but reading this is helping me fight the addiction so that one day I can get back to a healthy regimine that makes me happy.

  4. says: K

    Do you think there is a difference between a runner who then has energy deficit and the ED gets triggered which then makes the running obsessive, and a person with ED who decides to take up running to burn more calories? I think the former could return to running if healthy boundaries are in place, but the latter couldn’t

  5. says: Susan

    It’s hard. Very hard. I say this as a 57 year old suffering a second time from exercise addiction and eating disorder. I don’t think you can recover without dealing with the reason you’re exercising.

  6. says: Laurie Free

    What a great blog. I had running anorexia over twenty years ago and I still struggle. My biggest “helper” is being involved in group therapy for just “isms” (anything that drives that disordered thinking of perception). Talking about it with people who are having the same thoughts. Also, I have social anxiety so there are tons of email support groups (I can’t do the Facebook ones) . Really really great tips. I love fitness classes and although i have gone overboard with that..I stick to the classes that I truly luv bc they make me feel good. Thank you!!

  7. I think it depends on where they are in their recovery. I think that would also have a lot to do with how much they actually enjoy running as an activity and not for its calorie burning effects. If they took time away and discovered that they truly enjoyed running in moderation I’d like to hope that they may be able to go back to it one day. In general though it would be very specific each individual person.

  8. says: C

    I love this article! I’ve read and re-read it a few times as I try to remind myself why I’m doing this even though some days it feels completely miserable. I’ve spent too many weeks staring at my running shoes, even going so far as planning to run, only to remember if I ever want to get back to it without the ED mindset I have to trust my team’s guidance. I will think I’m ready to start it up again only to find that after a few days I’m no longer in the driver seat and I find myself saying, I’ll just do one more mile, minute, etc. I 100% agree with doing the classes and not exercising alone! Something that’s helpful for me in the classes, when possible, I try to get a spot in the front so there is a reduced chance of comparing or competing with others! I try to just focus on the instructor!

  9. says: Courtney

    I am a personal trainer and group exercise instructor. I haven’t paid for a gym membership in 7 years. I almost never workout alone except to ride my bike to the gyms. I am addicted to hustling classes and I get paid to work out. At one time I worked at 22 gyms at one time on a regular rotation, but have cut back to 3-4. This has not done much for me. I’m struggling to keep weight on at this point, but I can’t stop exercising. I’m an addict in the worst way possible. I have tried to change my habits to only exercising in the morning hours, but this has done little for me. I can’t manage to consume enough calories to maintain the lifestyle. I know I need to chill out, but I can’t. I love what I do, but I know I need to stop before I fall.

    There have been so few studies on the subject of exercise addiction that it is not a widely recognized topic, however I understand it falls into the same category as eating disorders, drug addiction etc. I have sought medical attention from multiple sources only to be misunderstood and dropped from care. I hope that there will be more studies in the future regarding the subject so that others may get the care they need.

    I am really grateful for this insight and to know that there are others who are fighting the same fight. I am hopeful that I can overcome my addiction, so I can have a more balanced life. It’s easier said than done, but this post is really insightful. Thank you.

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