Over-exercising or exercise addiction is a real thing, and a real struggle for many.
It’s often influenced and to be frank, glorified, by diet culture. And my clients coming to me for eating disorder recovery most commonly have or are struggling with over-exercising as well.
Are there health benefits to regular physical movement? Yes. Your metabolism increases, improves your mental well being, it helps regulate your digestive system, improves sleep, can regulate hormones, and a slew of other benefits.
But…over-exercising will negate all of them.
The thing is, excessive exercise is not sustainable. At some point, your body is going to get injured or shut down. The question then stands, “Is it worth it?” and “Is there a healthy balance between being physically active and not obsessing over it?”
And the answer is YES!
Which is why I wanted to share with you the 5 steps I took and carefully walk my clients through in order for them to recover.
5 Steps to Overcome Over-Exercising:
1.Explore the why.
This step is SUPER important. You must first complete this step before jumping to the others. If you try to bypass this step you will be left confused, frustrated, and beginning exactly where you started. My clients tend to want to skip this one because sometimes they don’t know the why or it’s difficult to think of it or it forces them to become vulnerable or it challenges their eating disorder/disordered eating mindset. I know it’s difficult but you must be able to understand your reasons and your intentions before you can begin to change them. To get you started, here are a couple of questions to reflect upon.
-Do you use exercise to compensate for eating?
-Do you use it to maintain or strive for a certain appearance?
-Do you believe that exercising only counts if you’re sweating or ‘burning’ calories?
-Is losing weight the primary focus?
-Do you feel guilty missing a day even if you’re sick or tired?
Journal around those questions so you can see and visualize your thought process around this. When you can take what is constantly going on repeat in your mind and get it out onto paper you truly will begin to see thought patterns emerge. And recognizing those thoughts patterns is an integral process in figuring out the reason behind why you over-exercise. But like I said, complete this step before moving onto the others.
2. Switch from ‘exercise’ to a ‘movement’ mindset.
Exercise is often associated with a task not wanting to be done. Like ‘having’ to go to the gym, or something you ‘have’ to do in order to get in shape, lose the weight, get the summer body, get back on track after the new year, etc… When I work with my clients I focus on switching to a movement mindset. Movement allows for more flexibility, more freedom, and more creativity to find YOU again. Your mindset will change from ‘having’ to do a physical activity to wanting to do it because you feel good doing it. It goes from something where you often dread doing or even thinking about it to getting excited and seeing it as a true form of self care. The negative connotations that follow the word exercise can be a mind block that is hard to overcome. So set yourself up for a more peaceful journey and switch to a more caring term, movement.
3. Discover movement activities you enjoy doing.
If you don’t like to go to the gym, don’t go. If you don’t like to run, don’t run. If you hate biking, don’t bike. Get the drift? Find activities that you like and enjoy doing. Remember movement is not about ‘working up a sweat’ or ‘burning the calories.’ It is about movement. Physically moving your body in a way that makes you feel good and doesn’t enhance the obsession. Options could be going for a walk, yoga, hiking, gardening, yard work, dancing, rollerblading, etc… The sky’s the limit here. Be open and willing to try things out and not get attached to the outcome if you find you don’t enjoy something.
4. Don’t fall into the ‘all or nothing’ trap.
This is a common mistake that I used to make and where I see my clients struggle. When trying to overcoming over-exercising it is easy to think:
“If I can’t do my 30 minute workout than what’s the point?” or
“I can’t get outside today, so might as well do nothing.” or
“Either I do something super intense and sweat a lot or it doesn’t count” or
“If the workout isn’t burning a certain number of calories, then I can’t eat pizza for dinner.”
You can see how that kind of black and white thinking continues to escalate the obsession and make it nearly impossible to overcome. Be kind to yourself during this process and allow flexibility and freedom in your movement activities.
5. Take a break.
This is by far the hardest and most anxiety provoking step. Which is why I have it listed last. Now taking a break can mean something different for each person. But I am going to tell you that at some point in time: healing from over-exercising will require you to stop exercising for a period of time. And that period of time does not have a set limit. Facing your fears does have the most beneficial outcome, and that definitely applies in this situation. Just like eating fear foods is necessary to stop the fear, stopping exercising is necessary to overcome over-exercising. But…this step can (and should) be done at a pace that is doable and relatively comfortable for you (I say relatively comfortable because challenging old beliefs and facing fears isn’t the most comforting thing to do). This break in exercising is a fundamental step in allowing yourself adequate time to heal, to recover, and to explore a different (and more sustainable) way to incorporate movement into your life. Remember if fears about ‘losing what you’ve worked hard for’ or ‘you’re going to get fat’ or ‘now I can’t eat the foods I want to’ come up, go back to step 1 and reflect upon what your true intentions about exercising are.
Overcoming over-exercising is hard, but 100% possible. Often times the best way to overcome it is to take a step back, really hone in on your true intentions behind it, be open and non-judgmental about what changes need to be made, and ask for as much support as you need.
To the ladies reading this wanting extra support or want to watch the video where I went more in depth about overcoming over-exercising, you can find that video (along with others) in my private Facebook community- Eat Freely: Intuitive Eating & Body Positivity. Just click to request and join. See you over there!
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Certified Holistic Health Coach
Eating Disorder Recovery Coach