Jenny's Journey Part 5 - Exercise Addiction

Written by Jonathan Kattenberg on October 29, 2020
Est. Reading: 4 minutes

Over-exercising, when does it become an addiction and where is the balance?

In today's blog, I am going to open up about my exercise addition. How it started. How it impacted my life. And how I overcame it.

After a conversation with Walking With My Bear, I felt it was important to include their definition of it and their words of wisdom, as I'm writing from a personal experience.

"The key to over-exercising issues is to understand why you feel the need and purpose. It is also a perspective of an individual. A person may be deemed as over-exercising by another person whose own perception is at a different level, yet it may also be an appropriate level of exercise. It is always to be viewed individually per person".

Excessive exercise is often linked to Eating Disorders. It's another way to burn calories, lose weight and for me, it provided control, power and I gained a bit of self-respect (although that feeling never lasted long).

My over-exercising turned into an addiction when I'd find time at any cost to do it. Bunking off college/work, exercising in toilets, getting up early or through the night to engage in some physical activity.

For me it was another way to purge, I suppose.

A black and white image of a young girl walking with her bear. What is the underlying cause of addition?

Have you followed my story from the beginning? I give an introduction to my 20 year battle with eating disorders, alcohol misuse and dependency in Jenny's Journey Part 1.

Walking With My Bear made me realise that "Eating Disorders" and "Exercise Addiction" is an escape from mental pain, guilt, or stress, maybe, an underlying problem. I found that with the eating disorder service (after 20 years on and off with different ones), my core/underlying issue was overlooked.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is excellent for giving you the tools to deal with the current moment. It prepares you for events out of your control and the future ahead, but it doesn't fix the underlying cause. The reason you're in this position is still hiding underneath, waiting for when your coping strategies will let you down. 

Walking With My Bear made me realise that "Eating Disorders" and "Exercise Addiction" is an escape from mental pain, guilt, or stress, maybe, an underlying problem.

The NHS approach

The NHS offer 6 sessions of CBT, and then you are discharged. How can leading health professionals believe you're fixed after that! They clearly have never had a mental health problem. I'm not trying to attack the NHS leadership. Still, I passionately feel there is a flaw in their approach to dealing with mental health issues. It's too reactive and superficial at times.

My issues were "patched up" so many times over the years that I believed I was going to have them for the rest of my life.

Is this actually part of me, will I always have them and will I have to manage them throughout my life?

Not according to Walking With My Bear! Addiction of any kind doesn't have to be with me all my life.

Admitting the reality, exercise addition was taking over my life.

My compulsive exercise addiction interfered with every aspect of my life. I was physically and mentally tired, had poor concentration, withdrew from anything social (as it interfered with my exercise regime).

  • I took the exercise alone, so my routine wasn't disturbed
  • I felt anger/anxiety/guilt when not able to exercise
  • Exercising in work/public toilets
  • Calling in sick at work
  • Increasing my exercise if higher-calorie foods were eaten
  • Lying about how much exercise I had done
  • No rest days
  • I suffered from stress fractures
  • Lost my menstrual cycle

Depression and how I felt about my body depended on how much exercise I'd done or how I performed. It was never fun or enjoyable, and I always thought I could do it.

Along with eating very little, it was a tiring and lonely part of my life.

So you may be asking,

Why am I sharing this with you? I don't want to only share the positives with you; I want to provide an insight into how my mind rationalised and prioritised thoughts, feelings and actions during my journey.

My confidence and self-respect were a centre of focus during my Walking With My Bear sessions to understand why I had developed addition. This resulted in addressing the underlying issue behind why I was using exercise; as escapism.

I was asked:

"Do you think you're worth it"?

That question had a massive impact on me, and I still find it useful to ask myself that now. I had never even considered asking myself that, I felt so uncomfortable saying it out loud (and answering it). I would cringe inside and, no, I didn't think I was.

Does it get easier?

It gets easier the more you say it, but it changed the way I viewed the question. I now look at it from a more realistic perspective. Why don't I deserve it? I do!

What would I prefer; to be healthy, happy, energetic and enjoy life?

Or be a recluse, depressed with a life dictated by food and exercise?

I slowly started gaining respect for my body and what it was capable of. I began to see food as fuel to nourish my body to keep it going for both physical and mental health. I also found out (I was amazed I've only recently found this out) that 80% of your serotonin levels (the happy hormone) comes from your gut!

Our bodies are amazing, so I started listening to mine. Your body knows what it needs (for example; rest days when you're aching or craving carbs).

A final word

Maybe you can relate to this article? Or maybe someone you care about is struggling with exercise addiction, and you want to help them. By providing insight into some of the thoughts, actions and feelings I experienced, I hope I've helped you too.

The key is to heal the underlying causes, the original reason why you are using exercise as an escape. Easier said than done, I know, but hang in there, it is a gradual journey. Time, honesty and cooperation with Working With My Bear will strengthen and deepen your recovery.

Warmest wishes and thanks for reading.


Has this article resonated with you or for someone close to you?

If so, why not reach out and get in touch to discuss confidentially how we can help. 

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