“A Short Run Won’t Do Any Harm, Will It?”: Dangers of Exercise Addiction

I only have one tattoo. It’s located on the inside of my left wrist, and simply says, “Stay”.

I got it immediately after leaving my first ED treatment center at 18 years old. I haven’t gotten another one since. It’s the most important message from myself, to myself. It’s also the reason why I feel like less than awesome today.

Just a short run…

I recently went on a trip to Hawaii. It was my first trip since being back from living abroad, about 9 months ago. I was VERY excited. Many things happened on the trip, but one thing in particular turned my world upside down:

I went for a run.

Let’s rewind a bit.

When my eating disorder began at age 14, I had been playing soccer my whole life, but suddenly I felt the need to take up cross-country.

Needless to say, as my ED developed, so did my solo exercise career. My days were consumed by running by myself for hours on end. Usually until I finally collapsed from exhaustion.

It has been years since I went to a gym. In the past 9 months I have eliminated exercise completely, mainly to help with weight gain. So when I began running in Hawaii, I didn’t expect I would last long. Maybe a couple of minutes, since I was completely out of shape. Wrong. I ran. And ran, and ran.

A blur

After that, the days were a blur. If I could have, I would have run 24/7. All of a sudden, my craving was sky high. No matter how many miles I ran, I never felt satisfied.

It was back: the unquenchable thirst, the bottomless well. The more I ran, the more my body hurt the next day. And the only thing that made it feel better was to keep running.

So I did.

Until the blackout spells got longer, the muscle spasms more frequent. Then eventually fainting became a daily nuisance.


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Learning to stay

After all of these years, I didn’t think I still needed my tattoo to remind me NEVER to numb my emotions with running.

But here I am now, four days run-free. The only thing keeping me from sprinting out the door is the word engraved on my left wrist, which I am repeating over and over: “Stay, stay, stay.”

“STAY!” I command myself. Stay here. Stay in this moment, this precious moment. Stay present with your emotions. Stay steady. Stay strong. Stay, for you cannot run from yourself.

It is scary how quickly I fell back into my addiction. The illusion that my running obsession is “under control” has been shattered.

A new awareness has set in. Fighting the urge to run is exhausting, but not worth the small “escape” it provided while I was on vacation. Looking at my tattoo is helpful, but it does make me regret not having done so a week ago, before taking my first run.

Despite this, I am 100% committed to turning this into a learning experience, rather than allowing guilt or shame to take me down.

My heart goes out to you

For those who can relate, my heart goes out to you. I am with you now. Praying the urges subside for all of both of us.

I know there is someone else out there experiencing this exact same thing, in this exact same moment, and that knowledge strengthens me. It reminds me that I am not alone. If such a person happens to be reading this right now, my parting words are for you:

We can do this. We are doing this. We are becoming who we are meant to be, and we are improving the world by doing so.

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