When Does Exercising Become Unhealthy?
By Joanna Hardis, LISW-S
As we enter a new year, everywhere I turn I’m seeing commercials for home video programs promising body transformations; I’m receiving countless offers for weight-loss and fitness programs; and I cannot open a magazine without being inundated with exercises guaranteeing a better, leaner body.
It’s the time of year where conversations seem to center around people’s New Year’s resolutions to start the latest, greatest fitness craze or just to exercise more. Juxtapose these scenarios with individuals that feel as if all they can think about is exercising. They feel compelled to exercise no matter how they are emotionally and they forgo everything until their workout is finished.
A question I hear a lot during a client’s initial assessment is, “How can exercise be a problem if I’m supposed to do it because it’s good for me?”
To me, the answer lies in a balance between healthy and unhealthy exercise. How do you know when you may be exercising for the wrong reasons?
Below I’ve included NEDA’s comprehensive list of unhealthy exercise red flags. If some of these or all of these bullets describe you, it may be time to seek help.
- Constant preoccupation with an exercise routine or intrusive thoughts about exercise that interfere with your ability to concentrate and focus
- Finding time at any cost to exercise, like cutting school or taking time off from work
- Exercise is your social life – you turn down social activities so as not to miss your scheduled workout
- You feel overly anxious, guilty or angry if unable to exercise and you can’t tolerate changes or interruptions to your exercise routine
- You exercise alone to avoid having your routine disturbed
- Your exercise is driven primarily by a desire to control your weight, shape, and/or body composition
- Food choices based solely on exercise (you exercise as a punishment for eating “bad foods,” to purge calories or you overly restrict what you eat if you can’t exercise)
- You lie about exercise or you always exercise alone
- You can’t take rest days or time off from exercise, even if you are injured or ill
- Persistent desire and/or unsuccessful attempts to control or reduce exercise (e.g. can’t take a day off during the week or time off periodically throughout the year)
- You engage in excessive exercise beyond a sensible fitness or training program (more than once a day or for long bouts of time and/or beyond what a coach advises)
- How you feel about yourself on a daily basis is based on how much exercise you perform or how hard you work out
- Exercise isn’t fun or pleasurable or you’re never satisfied with your physical achievements
- In females: amenorrhea (loss of 3 consecutive menses or failure to begin menstruating by age 16 and/or stress fractures)