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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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When Exercise Becomes Unhealthy {Guest Post + Giveaway, Oh My!}

January 24, 2011 81 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Let’s all give a hardy welcome to the fantastic Charlotte Hilton Anderson, bloggess (that’s blogger and goddess combined, in case my stellar word creating abilities are not so… stellar) and author of the blog-made-book, The Great Fitness Experiment! Charlotte has been a total inspiration to me as I delved into the world of social media and blogging. She’s not only a devoted mother, enthusiastic fitness expert, and brilliant writer (seriously, if you suffer from urinary incontinence, watch out), but she’s also someone who’s been there. While it’s not the focus of the book, Charlotte talks extensively and in poignant detail about suffering from compulsive over-exercise, which for her developed into an eating disorder.

In today’s guest post, Charlotte shares with us her journey through this disorder. Please be advised that some of the details of this post may be triggering for those struggling with eating and exercise issues. Got it? Once you’ve read the post, make sure to enter the giveaway for a free copy of Charlotte’s book!

It wasn’t the runs in the dark in the middle of winter at 4 a.m and again at 10 p.m. It wasn’t leaving my son’s hospital bed to go do a high-intensity interval class instead of showering for the first time in three days or sleep. It wasn’t when I fainted after running a marathon followed by an hour of kickboxing – can’t miss a workout! – without drinking or eating anything and then being carried down the gym stairs by a friend who tried to make me drink a Vitamin Water which I refused because it had 50 calories. It wasn’t even when my heart started doing this weird sick jumping in my chest and I briefly wondered if I was going to die on the floor in front of my young children.

No, the thing that made me finally take a break from exercising was when I gained ten pounds in one month because all my over-training (fancy codeword for compulsive over-exercise) had suppressed my thyroid. Those 10 pounds completely unhinged me. That is how deeply ill I was.

I know how it began. Right after my third child was born, still reeling from the trauma of the protracted court case against the ex-boyfriend who had sexually assaulted me (and many others), I was looking for a way to heal myself. All of my guilt, pain, self-doubt, fear and anger found a focus in my goal of “losing the baby weight.” To tell you the truth I didn’t gain much during the pregnancy- I was too depressed and anxious to eat – but I still had a few lingering pounds and thighs that I hated and a tummy that looked like an uncooked bagel. So I took up exercise. Exercise can be a fantastic way to deal with emotional stuff but when you’re using it to run away from (literally!) rather than work through your problems, you will never be able to run fast enough or far enough to fix yourself.

Unchained from rational thought, the exercise took on a life of its own, slowly growing until after my 4th baby was born I was totally addicted to it. Exercise became my #1 priority. Everything else in my day was organized around my workouts. I never rested, never took days off. I was always trying to sneak in more exercise by doing everything from endless fidgeting to refusing to sit down to making myself do push-ups every time I had to get up with a baby in the night. In addition I was also heavily restricting my food. I became a vegetarian and then a vegan and then a vegan who didn’t do grains or soy until I finally ended up with a safe list of 5 foods and that was it. I remember people telling me then how skinny I was – some with concern, others with envy – but I didn’t see it. I still thought I looked fat. Moreover, I didn’t really care anymore. Fat, thin, whatever – all I wanted was my next high.

If I wasn’t exercising I was consumed with anxiety about my next workout (Would the baby get sick and make me miss the gym? What if the car doesn’t start? What if they cancel my class? What if my husband doesn’t get home on time?). Anxiety that would get so intense I’d be shaking, heart racing. The only way to calm myself was to workout. And I’d feel really awesome as long as I was exercising – it was the only time of day I felt good about myself – but no sooner had the sweat had dried but the whole cycle started over again. It was all I thought about.

So when did I finally realize I had a problem with exercising too much? People ask me a lot of questions about my very public battle with exercise addiction – I blogged through the whole saga – but this is one I still don’t have an answer for. The thing is, I never did know. It took my family stepping in – my sister saying she’s worried about me, my friends forcing me to leave the gym, my readers e-mailing me their concern, my doctor threatening me with death, my husband literally taking away my keys and my shoes so that I couldn’t leave to exercise. It took them lovingly but firmly telling me that I needed to get treatment for my eating disorder. Even then I told my therapist I was fine. I refused to talk to the nutritionist beyond the initial required visit because I didn’t think my disorder had anything to do with food. Turns out, I learned later, no eating disorder is really about the food.

After nearly a year of treatment and the worst of it being two years in the past, I can finally see it for the pernicious disease that it was. There is a certain inherent denial that is part of every eating disorder but I think that compulsive over-exercise is unique in that the denial is sanctioned by society. Anorexics are often told to their face that they’re too skinny and overly thin models and actresses are dissected all over the internet, even while they are perversely praised and idolized. Bulimics with their overabundance of bodily fluids are gross-out spectacles or punchlines. Binge eaters are either woefully ignored or publicly taunted. (All of which are completely unkind and inhumane ways to treat eating disorder sufferers.) But over exercising ends up being the eating disorder everyone wishes they had.

“I wish I had your discipline!” “You’re so strong!” and even “You’re an inspiration!” People often mistook my manic exercise for passion – and don’t get me wrong, I am definitely passionate about fitness! – but my punishing 2-a-day workouts, sometimes adding up to 6 or more hours per day, were based off of one thing: fear. And that’s the main difference between an athlete and an exercise addict: the former exercises out of love for her sport while the latter exercises for fear of what happens if she doesn’t.

I’m not going to lie to you – I’m not perfectly recovered, there are many days I still walk that line between obsession and passion and those voices of never being enough still scream in my head more often than I’d like but now I have a system set up to check me. I build in breaks and rest periods into my Experiment schedules. I also seek feedback from my friends, family and readers and really listen to them if they are concerned. And sometimes I just grit my teeth and try to breathe deeply until the scary feelings pass. But whatever I have to do is worth it because I refuse to leave an eating disorder as my legacy to my kids.

If you think you are an exercise addict, know that it can kill you and it will not get better on its own. And then know that you are not alone in your fears and that there is help. Getting this message out there is one of the main reasons I wrote my book and I’m so grateful to Ashley for helping me do that!

NTS-Medium

_________________________________________________________________________________________

GIVEAWAY!

For a chance to win a copy of Charlotte’s book, leave a comment answering, “Where do you draw the line between passion and obsession?” OR simply share your reactions to Charlotte’s experience. For additional chances to win, tweet about this post and leave a comment telling me you did! All entries are due by midnight on Sunday, January 30th.

{Image Credit :: Charlotte Hilton Anderson}
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79 Comments

  1. Sarah D.
    4 years ago

    Tweeted the article :)

    Reply

    • tash
      2 years ago

      Hi Everyone,

      I’m currently completing my thesis in the area of eating disorder & would greatly appreciate any help. I am looking for some volunteers (Australian females 14 years & older) to complete an online survey. It’s an anonymous online questionnaire that only takes approx 20 minutes to fill out. You do not need to have a diagnosed eating disorder to participate. Your participation will also place you in the draw to win 1 of 5 dstore.com vouchers.
      So if you would like to participate or for further info please click on the link below
      https://prodsurvey.rcs.griffith.edu.au/eatinghabits

      Thank you
      Best Wishes to you all!

      Reply

  2. Tara
    4 years ago

    I have an addictive behavior. I’ve gone from drug addict, to work addict (still), to video game addict and finally weightloss / exercise addict. I’m still in the last one. I struggle to find a balance. I feel bad about myself on days I don’t get some sort of exercise in and feel even worse on the days I exercise and don’t burn a certain number of calories. I had to stop wearing my HRM because it was driving me insane.

    I’m much better now than before. I can take a day or two off and not spiral down into despair. I can go to the gym once and feel good (though once a week I go twice and its the highlight of my week). I never thought my addiction would play out in health and its hard not to think “well its beats drugs and video games”.

    Thanks for this post.
    Tara recently posted..Caution…

    Reply

  3. Rebecca
    4 years ago

    This is a great article. IAnd for Tara, please know that is possible to heal all addictions. I gave up smoking only to become addicted to sugar so I totally know the cycle and the feelings of despair addiction can cause. I have been following Kathleen DesMaisons program for 5 years now and my life has changed completely. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Come on over to http://www.radiantrecovery.com if you want more information.

    Reply

  4. Caroline Gebhardt
    4 years ago

    As I was breaking away from Obsession (aka: abusing exercise to burn calories and sculpt a body perfect), I discovered my Passion — a step class that felt like the most complete form of exhilarating dance and movement therapy. In other words, I found freedom and joy and peace and camaraderie in that class. I’ve never attended to burn calories — matter of fact, if the instructor has ever mentioned The Burn on the rare occasion, I’ve let it fly right past me. Passion is about being in the moment, being connected, being united with mind, body and heart (who says yoga has to be on a mat!?). And, finding what you love to do — and doing it whether it be for 10 minutes or 50 minutes — should be the main approach to fitness because there’s something out there for everyone. I’ll be forever grateful for finding that class and finding my heart and love for movement and music in that class. I now help others find movement they love and ways to complement that “exercise” with other forms of training for a balanced sense of fitness.

    Reply

  5. Dana
    4 years ago

    One summer I became obsessed with workouts. I was working in the childcare of a gym, which meant that I was working out before and after work most days and at least once a day when I was not working. People kept telling me how great I was looking, but it was an unsustainable exercise program. I was never able to maintain it once I went back to college, and afterward, I thought of how crazy I was to go so often. I’d literally be mad at myself for skipping a workout. I’d go at 5am or 10pm if I had to. Luckily, working out was not obsessive in my thoughts, just in my actions and in my time management. Now I work out when I feel like it, and try to move my body every day. I take long walks, run when I want to, hoolahoop daily, do squats and workout videos a few times a week, etc. I feel healthy and happy!

    Reply

  6. Elizabeth@The Sweet Life
    4 years ago

    Charlotte, Thanks for continuing to share your thoughts, experiences, and perspectives. Your readers admire you and celebrate your progress towards a healthy lifestyle!
    Elizabeth@The Sweet Life recently posted..Oatmeal Wheat Bread and Life Lessons

    Reply

  7. Kat
    4 years ago

    Charlotte, thank you for sharing so openly and honestly about your experiences. It is very comforting to see the emotion and struggles that other people go through (and the highs and good times as well!) as it draws us all closer together as a human race when we can see that we’re not alone :)

    Reply

  8. Mary Kate
    4 years ago

    My exercise addiction was part of my binge eating cycle. Once I overcame my ED i see exercise as a lovely part of my day. I am an instructor now and will exercise 2 hours a day sometimes with my teaching….but the focus is helping others and not on trying to reach a certain goal or burn off a certain food. thanks for sharing your story Charolette!

    Reply

  9. Rose
    4 years ago

    The article did a good job at portraying how oblivious those with eating disorders can be to their own disorder. It is a hard line to walk when society is praising you, but yet you learn what you are doing is destructive. The article was well stated.

    Reply

  10. NatalieF
    4 years ago

    I draw the line between obsession and passion when the rest of my life is negatively affected by the obsession. Great article.

    Reply

  11. Leah
    4 years ago

    I am still learning how to draw that line between passion and obsession. I have a very adictive personality and have struggled with both eating and exercise obsessions until recently. It definitely stems from feelings of wanting to impress and never being good enough. Therapy has been extremely helpful for me, but I still have to keep a vigilant eye on my thoughts and actions when it comes to food and exercise. I try to tell myself multiple times a day that I am perfect the way I am and that a day off from the gym or a slice of pizza because I’m craving it won’t change a thing about who I really am and certainly won’t change my body in any noticable way. I think I have learned to really listen to what my body wants to guide how I feed it and work it out. Sometimes this means eating really cleanly (but enough) and sometimes it means skipping my favorite gym class. I am constantly checking in with my body and remembering it’s all the small things that add up to make for a healthy and truly feel-good life. And finally, the one thing I have added recently to my gym time is weight training. I used to be a cardioholic, but now I see that a few days each week spent with the weights is one of the most efficient and body-changing things I can do for myself. And my increased strength and muscle tone is very empowering and self-esteem building.

    Reply

  12. Kat
    4 years ago

    I love this:

    Passion is when you want to do it. Obsession is because you HAVE to do it.
    Kat recently posted..Flannel covered Pumpkin

    Reply

  13. b. strong
    4 years ago

    The line between passion and obsession is where the activity stops enhancing everything else in life and starts consuming it. If I do enough exercise to keep me in shape for other activities (hiking, playing with my kid), boost my self-esteem, make me sleep better at night & wake up refreshed, it’s a passion. If I do so much exercise that thinking about it, planning it, logging it, and doing it keep me from playing with my kid, it’s an obsession.

    Of course, knowing something is a destructive behavior and changing that behavior are two different kettle(bells) of fish.

    Reply

  14. Amanda
    4 years ago

    I find this article very interesting in reflecting on my own exercise habits. For many years now I’ve been using exercise to reduce stress and anxiety but lately I’ve found that the relief only lasts as long as the exercising and as soon as I’m done it comes right back. I found the point that sometimes you literally use exercise to run from your problems very thought provoking.
    Amanda recently posted..Last First Day

    Reply

  15. Desiree
    4 years ago

    I just recently started getting into the world of blogs. I am so happy to have found Charolette’s Blog. Charolette you tell it like it is and you share so much, thank you! I had never thought of my excercise as an obsession even though others have said it. Hearing it from the view of someone who has been through it makes me think a little differently about it. I also have a very addictive personality and tend to become consumed by whatever it is that I am focusing on at that point in my life whether it’s diet, excercise or work. I just never viewed it as something that could be unhealthy…..I always thought I was just driven. I think it’s time for a self-assessment!

    Reply

  16. kat
    4 years ago

    This was incredibly powerful. Especially when accompanied by such a light-hearted picture- really makes a person think. I’d love to read your book.

    Reply

  17. Jodi
    4 years ago

    When I start to look at my exercise sessions as something I HAVE to do is when I sit back and take a look at my routine. I really do love exercise and setting physical goals for myself but also know that I have a long history of getting out of control. Usually the first sign that I’m overdoing it is when I no longer enjoy it. The second sign is when my body starts backfiring on me. Some of the times I can recognize these signs of compulsion but I also keep pushing right through them some too until I have no other choice but to take a hiatus. Knowing that continuing when my mind and body are telling me to break will lead to a longer and more painful break can often get me to lay off and reassess my goals.

    Reply

  18. julie
    4 years ago

    I too struggle with overexercising issues. I know when I’m doing too much when a slow 10:00 min/mile run that should be a easy makes my heart race and and I can’t catch my breath. Forcing myself to take rest days is always excruciating, but when I come back to exercise and feel so much better and energized, I know I’m doing the right thing for my body. Charlotte is an inspiration for her struggles – I also feel that you can probably never completely get over this type of thing – the best you can do is tame your obsession.

    Reply

  19. julie
    4 years ago

    tweeted :)

    Reply

  20. Tonya
    4 years ago

    I am new to reading Charlotte’s blog and look forward to reading it everyday. It is a thin line between passion and obsession for me when it comes to exercise. Many thanks to Charlotte for pointing out many warning signs so I can keep a check on my workouts.

    Reply

  21. Jenna Z
    4 years ago

    I wasn’t a reader of your blog during this ordeal but I bet it is hard to look back at those posts and see what you were doing. You are so brave to face it and retell your story now!
    Jenna Z recently posted..SNAP Hunger Challenge-Final Thoughts

    Reply

  22. Katie @ Health for the Whole Self
    4 years ago

    I have struggled with an exercise addiction, and for me the biggest difference was that when it was a passion I could miss a day or two days or even a week without stressing. When it was an obsession I could not.

    Reply

  23. LG
    4 years ago

    When I think of exercise as a way to negate something that I’ve eaten, that’s when I’ve crossed the line into obsession. Great article btw!

    Reply

  24. Colleenzo
    4 years ago

    In the past, I had worries that I may also be an exercise addict. But I drew the line at serious injury. For non-exercise related reasons, I had to have back surgery, and in the weeks leading up to the surgery, my main concern was, “How soon will I be able to get back into my workout routine?” However, once I had the surgery, I found I RELISHED the recovery period and requisite break from exercise. My body wanted a break, and I gave it one–for three weeks longer than even the 6-weeks off the doctor recommended. That’s how I knew I wasn’t an addict. Now I don’t feel guilty for how much I exercise. I know I just truly enjoy it!

    Reply

  25. @donewithed
    4 years ago

    There is a line. Passion = exercise makes you happy. Obsession = it controls you and you have to exercise to not be miserable. Only to be miserable until you work out again.
    @donewithed recently posted..donewithed- Athlete exercises out of love for sport Over exerciser fears what happens if she doesnt exercise http-owly-3JbCd via @nourishthesoul

    Reply

  26. JourneyBeyondSurvival
    4 years ago

    I’m so glad to read Charlotte being such a proactive advocate for people getting help.

    Having read her book, her exercise literally scared me and made me have a great deal of flashbacks to manic days that resulted in a psychiatric hospital stay for me. I’m so happy she has gotten help, and continues to be honest about the need for continued help.

    That, dear Charlotte, is more inspiring to me than anything else!
    JourneyBeyondSurvival recently posted..Touchy Feely

    Reply

  27. Erika
    4 years ago

    Hey Char, I am so glad you are getting better. I’ve worried for awhile. You are an amazing gal with the guts to share it all! Props to you!

    Reply

  28. Bethany Swallow
    4 years ago

    Charlotte is an encouragement for all women who feel the pressure of perfectionism in health, appearance, etc. There is definitely hope in the journey!

    Reply

  29. Robyn
    4 years ago

    THANK YOU for sharing this post! It really hit home w/ me. I have be working on recovering from my ed since last June. Compulsive exercise and food restriction are my go-to stress relievers. The ugly FEAR of “What if I don’t workout today” and “Oh, I think I ate to much” are huge contributing factors.

    I am learning that it is much more healthy to feel my feelings and get them out v. abuse my body. Hurting my body does not solve the problems and/or irrational thoughts swirling around in my head. I have also made positive changes towards realizing how much exercise is enough (without over doing it) and practicing intuitive eating.

    Reply

  30. Julie
    4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing about your addiction. It is very informative and makes me understand people better. I work at a gym and it just helps me to understand some of our clientele better. I am glad you recognized your addiction and are getting help for it. On the other end, my sister is an alcoholic…addicts have a lot of the same tendencies. I just wish she would become addicted to something better in her life….sad.

    Reply

  31. Amy
    4 years ago

    I think the line between passion and obsession occurs when your entire life is affected by the “passion.” When your husband, parents, kids, finances, friends and work are affected in a negative manner, it is an obsession.

    It’s wonderful that Charlotte can share her experiences with her disordered eating and exercising so others can understand that they too can get help for their problems.

    Thank you!

    Reply

  32. Aimée
    4 years ago

    Really inspiring. For many years, my way to purge after overeating has been overexercising. Even though I’ve calmed down (due to injuries and fatigue), I still feel compelled to move a lot everyday (by walking, climbing up stairs, etc.), otherwise I’m sure I’ll get fat.
    Obsession led me to not respect myself. When I exercise out of passion, I listen to my needs and wants. I have recently found out that the way I practised dance was not passionate, but obsessive. Now, instead of trying to achieve perfection of form and technique, and attain thinness as a goal, I dance freely for fun in clubs, and I’m planning on resuming aerobics, which is the funnest way I know to do dance moves while staying balanced (they’re not gonna need hours and hours of practice).
    Thanks, Charlotte! I’m so curious about your book… that I tweeted this to get more chances!!

    Reply

  33. Amanda S.
    4 years ago

    Thank you so much for writing this article, and your blog! Your story is inspirational, and really speaks to the importance of balance in every aspect of our lives.

    Reply

  34. Jill Will Run
    4 years ago

    Wow… this post resonated with me. Except I basically blacked out DURING a marathon and had to be pulled off the course to get stitches. I’ve been dealing with active recovery for 2 years now and am just barely learning to strike a balance. I still love to run, but I don’t do a lot of other training because I’m scared to get into that compulsive mode again… And I’m starting to get past that fear of what will happen if I don’t exercise. It’s hard territory to cover though… recovery is brutal at times!
    Jill Will Run recently posted..Febreze Laundry Odor Eliminator

    Reply

  35. WrayLynn
    4 years ago

    I constantly struggle with this but I agree that if it is a passion, then I won’t become anxious if I miss a day here and there.

    Reply

  36. Michele @ Healthy Cultivations
    4 years ago

    There’s a very fine line between passion and obsession… one I have to force myself to find every day in several areas of my life. It’s never easy. For me, it’s when I start to become exhausted and feel like I’m a gerbil on a wheel, rather than doing it because it’s good for me or because I enjoy it (whatever it might be).
    Michele @ Healthy Cultivations recently posted..Project 52- 4

    Reply

  37. Jean Sampson
    4 years ago

    I just posted this on my FB page because it seems fo important. For most of my 64 years i have built my life around an exercise addiction. Although I don’t act on it as much, if I don’t get what feels “right ” to me, I get really antsy and frustrated and angry at whatever gets in my way. I quit the gym two years ago to see if I could find a way to exercise more normally (I was having trouble getting to work because I couldn’t leave the gym!). I got a lot of equipment for at home workouts and I do a 5 mile walk with my best friend every morning which feels good. But one week she kept cutting time and distance out of the walk and I had to tell her that I would have to keep on going after she stopped—-she understood why after I explained the addiction (she has struggled with eating disorders all her life, too).

    Being older slows you down some because of joint problems, etc. If you push through like you always did in the past, you will wind up unable to do anything except watch TV, so that slows most of us down or side-lines us.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    Reply

  38. Missy
    4 years ago

    This is a very real and close to home article. I’ve struggled with both and it’s very hard. I think it will be a long long time, if ever, that those voices leave. Thanks for the openness and honesty!

    Reply

  39. Abby
    4 years ago

    Thank you for continuing to share all of this Charlotte! As someone who got past severe food restrictions, only to end up with some compusive over-exercise issues, I really believe it’s so important to get the word out there.

    Reply

  40. M Ward
    4 years ago

    For me the line is enjoyment and the effect that it has on those around me. If I’m getting rid of good things in my life for more whatever, then it’s no longer a passion.
    M Ward recently posted..Where you been all my life

    Reply

  41. M Ward
    4 years ago

    Also, I tweeted!
    M Ward recently posted..Where you been all my life

    Reply

  42. Jody - Fit at 53
    4 years ago

    Thx for having Charlotte here! She is an amazing writer & person to share all her personal “stuff” with all of us! Such a scary thing, obsession in any form & especially those that can kill a person….

    Sometimes I think I am obsessed but as I read Charlotte’s experience, I realize I just have a passion for my weight lifting & as for the cardio & such, I do it cause of the results along with weights & healthy eating… BUT I do treat myself often enough to know I am not obsessed! :-)
    Jody – Fit at 53 recently posted..Blog Award &amp Personal Insights

    Reply

  43. Julie
    4 years ago

    Whenever something starts causing me daily anxiety, I stop and take a closer look. I ask a series of questions
    -Why are you anxious?/What are you scared of?
    -Do you still enjoy the activity, or is it all about stress?
    -Can you take a day off?
    -Can you have fun doing other things, or do you constantly obsess about it?

    Reply

  44. Leslie
    4 years ago

    Charlotte, I’ve only been reading your blog for about 4-6 months so I wasn’t reading during this ordeal.

    I have so much respect for you that you are being so public with your struggle and that you had the strength to listen to the concerns of others and get help.

    I have no doubt you will–and already have–made a positive impact on so many lives (not unlike you, Ashley!)

    Further proof that you, Charlotte and Ashley, are both Blogesses of the highest order.
    Leslie recently posted..Yo Quiero Healthy Mexican Food

    Reply

  45. Sue
    4 years ago

    I struggle with eating emotionally (particularly chocolate) but it was interesting to read this and realize that although I find exercise to be a stress reliever, my having to MAKE myself get over the gym and telling myself “you’ll feel better afterward” tells me that this particular issue isn’t mine!

    Reply

  46. Another Suburban Mom
    4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your story Charlotte. I have always held that many people are hardwired with an addictive personality, its just a matter of them finding the addiction that clicks with them.

    I also have wondered how you manage to fit in all of that exercising with 4 children, a husband and a busy freelance writing career. Now I know.
    Another Suburban Mom recently posted..Happy Birthday Hubman!

    Reply

  47. Claire
    4 years ago

    Passion is something you enjoy doing, you do out of love and can’t get enough of it. Passion is very healthy. Obsession is something you may occasionally enjoy, but you do it more out of it feeling absolutely necessary. Skipping it may end in guilt or anxiety. Some days you just want to stop, but you have to keep going. On the opposite spectrum, obsession is very UNhealthy.

    In my head it sounds so simple, but it is so easy to cross the line of passion into obsession.

    Reply

  48. Leslie Luu
    4 years ago

    I recently am trying to overcome a similar problem. I find so much difficulty in trying to schedule days around my workout schedules which is actually interfering with my schooling. It’s getting much better, but I just can’t tear myself away from not being able to compulsively exercise almost everyday. Your story is awesome and I hope i can share this journey with you!

    Reply

  49. Dana Udall-Weiner
    4 years ago

    Oh, I have been there. And I work with people who are addicted to exercise, too. Such a tough one, because working out is touted as healthy, and is utterly supported by our culture. I’m so glad to read Charlotte’s story, her brave words that reflect both the struggle and her ability to honestly look at herself. Yay for her, and yay for you, Ashley, for your nomination/write-up at Medicinal Marzipan!!!
    Dana Udall-Weiner recently posted..Amy Chua Might Be Doing You a Favor and the Real Scoop on Why She’s So Offensive

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  50. Ali
    4 years ago

    This resonates so well with me- as I recovered from ED NOS, exercise became the socially acceptable way to be in control and to forget about my anxiety and depression… I would love to read Charlotte’s book.

    Reply

  51. Alina @ Duty Free Foodie
    4 years ago

    The line between passion and obsession, to me, lies in anxiety. I have a passion for photography, but I don’t get anxious when I put my camera down for a few days. I have a passion for exercise too, but I find myself filled with actual *anxiety* because I missed a day or even a week (which thankfully is not often anymore), I know it’s crossing over into obsession. And of course, when you are obsessing about one thing, like exercise, the real question is always “what am I avoiding right now?” If the contest is open to Canadians, I would love to win the book!
    Alina @ Duty Free Foodie recently posted..Bistro Rutherford

    Reply

  52. Margarita @ Weightless
    4 years ago

    Wow, this post just blew me away! Ashley, thank you for posting it, and Charlotte, thank you for writing it. I really appreciate your honesty! And it’s so beautifully written.

    I couldn’t agree more that people see compulsive exercise as something virtuous, and a problem they yearn to have. (It’s the same thing when people restrict their food intake; you always hear, “Oh, I wish I had your willpower, you’re just so good.”). It’s really sad that this is the state of our society.

    But thank you for raising awareness and talking about the harsh realities of exercise addiction. Also, I’m really happy that you’re getting better!

    You’re truly an inspiration!
    Margarita @ Weightless recently posted..Essential Body Image Questions To Ask Yourself

    Reply

  53. SOL
    4 years ago

    I am a big fan of charlotte from Argentina!great article,and i am quite like charlote used to be sometimes!but now i am trying to enhance my life and this is sth yiu cannot leave aside!!thanks for everything!

    Reply

  54. Lori Lieberman
    4 years ago

    Fabulous post. Thank you for sharing! And great comments, too.

    In many ways compulsive exercisers are at even greater risk than other types of eating disorders. Often, not always, they “seem” healthy, so most physicians and others fail to see the writing on the wall. As was stated, there is the social norm and societal reinforcement for this destructive level of exercise,and it’s easy to distort the truth–that while exercise is generally recommended and “good” for you, exercise without adequate nourishment is anything but good for you.

    It’s also easy to fool yourself when you are in this category of disorder–you likely eat, perhaps even more than most of your peers (who are sedentary or minimally exercising) so on the surface, you don’t arouse suspicion (except to those who really know you).Low heart rate and blood pressure are frequently dismissed by non ED experts as “healthy” levels–more reinforcement for unhealthy behaviors.

    Ok, I’ll stop here. I should just do a post on excessive exercise as a follow up on this great piece!
    Lori
    Lori Lieberman recently posted..Why Carbs Got a Bad Rep And What you Can Do About It

    Reply

  55. Katie R
    3 years ago

    I relate to Charlotte’s struggle with exercise addiction. One of the things that has helped me balance my exercise has been signing up at a yoga studio. Because I am paying for yoga, I attend yoga 3-5 days a week. I only feel comfortable attending 1 yoga class per day (I would feel awkward staying for back-to-back classes, and the studio is far enough away from home that I wouldn’t return again in the same day). Plus, yoga is definitely a stress reliever for me, which helps me to combat the desire to overexercise.

    Reply

  56. Elizabeth
    3 years ago

    I’m so glad that Charlotte discusses this so well. It’s something that I definitely worry about every day with a few of my friends- both vegan college track athletes who partake in very rigorous workouts, and are often too busy with classes to focus on meals. I know that they really do care about their health and ability to perform athletically, but when they begin taking on additional workouts (outside of what was assigned from the coaches) I definitely am concerned. I hope that if any problem becomes evident, I have the courage, as Charlotte’s family and friends did, to step in and say something about it.

    Reply

  57. Becky
    3 years ago

    Where do I draw the line between passion and obsession? That’s a good question. When it comes to exercising, I’m not sure I do. I am now, but that is only because my passion (quickly turned obsession) resulted in an injury which then resulted in surgery. I was training for a marathon after just completing a half marathon and ended up pounding out a hole in my cartilage from all the mileage. I experienced an injury the weekend before Thanksgiving and had surgery on January 5th. If I hadn’t injured myself I would have never known the damage I was doing to my knee. Since I’m trying to allow my body to heal the cartilage on it’s own I’m restricted to low impact activities. I can have a second surgery to inject my cartilage (currently being grown in a lab) into the hole, but I’m holding out to see how my body will recover. The second surgery would require me to be off my knee (crutches) for six weeks.

    This entire ordeal is forcing me to change my perspective on exercise. It opened my eyes to see that my passion for running was quickly replaced by obsession. The more running I did the more food I ate. Therefore, in order to burn the calories that I just consumed I had to run more. What I vicious circle! Plus, I wanted to prove to everyone that I was strong. And for some crazy reason that meant running more…running marathons. Now all I want to be able to do in a year from now is run a mile or two again!

    If I want to be able to move and live a full life when I’m a senior citizen, then I need to be good to my body now. I still want to run a marathon some day, but I realize now there are more things in life worth living for than running.

    Reply

  58. Sandy
    3 years ago

    Wonderful that someone is talking about compulsive exercise so eloquently. As you say Charlotte, people often envy the discipline without knowing the flip side. I watch younger women with young children, great careers and gym compulsion, being encouraged by and encouraging their friends, also compulvie gym goers, to put in more time and more energy and go more extreme – and I still haven’t found any words to say to them that won’t sound like criticism, jealousy, or encouragement. So I say vacuous things like “it’s great that you’re so strong” – which is barely more polite than saying nothing. This would be a great book to have in gym locker rooms :)

    Reply

  59. Amira
    3 years ago

    “there are many days I still walk that line between obsession and passion and those voices of never being enough still scream in my head”
    this is the story of my life with food and exercise. I have a fear of both ends of the spectrum of eating disorders, Im afraid to be “too skinny” and have people notice I dont eat and then tell me to eat, and I am afraid to be “too fat” and have people tell me not to eat, because either way I’m “not good enough”, so I ate around people and didn’t eat when I was alone and exercised at least 1 hour a day, but not more than 2, because I figured out that “people” thought 2 hours was obsessive, but 1 1/2 was “healthy” and “strong” and “determined” and ate only extremely low calorie foods for 90% of my food and threw in an occasional high calorie food…to “fool” everyone into thinking I was “just conscious and had willpower” but what it did, was convince me that I was “normal” and I’m so afraid to stop walking that line and eat 3 meals and 2 snacks a day (thats what my nutritionist wants me to do….and I want to, but its HARD) and exercise for a “reasonable” amount of time (my therapist thinks even 1 1/2 hours is too much…and I felt like that was a victory because I stopped myself there)

    Every single week that I dont lose at least 3 lbs, I feel like I failed, I ate too much, I didnt exercise enough, and the next week I dont eat and spend twice as much time in the gym as I did the week before. The other day, a woman that works at the gym said “you are here so much we should give you a job” so I applied for a volunteer position…and I LOVE the gym, I really do, the feelings I get from working out are like nothing else in the world, but Im so afraid to go over the edge, in either direction.

    I cant “not” exercise, but I dont want to “over-exercise” either….and the same with the food, I cant “not” eat, but I dont want to “over-eat” either….so its a constant balancing act and it makes me crazy!!! I just want to be okay with average performance, average weight, average fitness, average life…and not expect perfection from me ALL the time. I know that I’m the only one who expects that from me, but having the intellectual knowledge that 2 hours is excessive to exercise and only water and veggies is not “healthy” does NOTHING to change it other than make me feel more like crap.

    Im just scared….and I have to deal with food CONSTANTLY! My kids have special needs and have lots of diet restrictions and my husband is diabetic and has lots of diet restrictions, and I have to deal with ALL of that, and my own issues with food at the same time…and the only time I let it go is at the gym….so that feels like a healthy thing, but I am so afraid its going to get to that “I have to work out for 5 hours or I’m a failure” mindset that I am constantly fighting.

    Im already seeing a nutritionist and have a therapist (for other issues besides the eating…but we talk about it some) so what else is there that I can do to make it stop??? I dont know any other solutions if these dont work.

    Reply

    • Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
      3 years ago

      Hi Amira, While I don’t know the extent of your situation, it sounds like you are definitely in need of some more support. Please check out the resources page or consider letting your therapist know exactly how you are feeling and that you may need more than you are getting right now.
      Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul recently posted..Today’s Nourishment – Synthesizing Happiness

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  60. Amira
    3 years ago

    Case in point. Today I went to the hospital for a CT scan for a possible blood clot in my lungs and can hardly breathe and need antibiotics and steroids…and all I can think about is if I will make it through a group exercise class in the morning and how I dont want to miss it.

    Reply

  61. Lisa
    3 years ago

    Wow…I could relate to so much in this article. I went through a phase like you did too…obsessively exercising. I exercised every day for 28 days. Swimming, running, hiking, biking, the gym, walking. I didn’t sit still for almost a month. I was definitely suffering from obsessive exercising. I’d been working so hard to lose over 100 pounds and I got stuck at 80. I hit a plateau and nothing I did worked. I became obsessed with the scale. Obsessed with exercising. Obsessed with restricting food. It was so unhealthy.

    I am really glad I “snapped out of it.” I don’t know what it was that finally made me wake up. But I changed a lot of habits: only weighing myself once a month. Eating a reasonable (healthy) amount of food. And mandatory 2 rest days a week NO MATTER WHAT! I feel so much healthier and balanced now that I’ve established those rules for myself.

    Reply

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  63. Iris Guerrero
    3 years ago

    -Can you have fun doing other things, or do you constantly obsess about it? thanks for sharing your story Charolette! I am now, but that is only because my passion (quickly turned obsession) resulted in an injury which then resulted in surgery.
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  64. Lovejoy
    2 years ago

    you can lose your weight with only minimum exercising, such as walking. As long as you walk fast enough to start sweating, you are helping your body to melt superfluous fat. Try walking and sweating at least five times a week, if you can do it more often, it is even better.
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  65. Johnnie Melton
    2 years ago

    I have be working on recovering from my ed since last June. It’s also easy to fool yourself when you are in this category of disorder–you likely eat, perhaps even more than most of your peers (who are sedentary or minimally exercising) so on the surface, you don’t arouse suspicion (except to those who really know you).Low heart rate and blood pressure are frequently dismissed by non ED experts as “healthy” levels–more reinforcement for unhealthy behaviors. There is definitely hope in the journey!
    Johnnie Melton recently posted..Many Mops

    Reply

  66. Francinne
    2 years ago

    I found that thgis kind of post is very informative to us..Thank you for sharing..
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  67. Britta
    2 years ago

    A decline in enjoyment of the activity and my health are sure signs. Otherwise, I’m still trying to figure this out. That’s why I want Charlotte’s book!

    Reply

  68. carolina
    2 years ago

    After reading this post I just want to say that if you do anything excessive then it will surely harm you.
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  69. Sarah
    2 years ago

    GREAT, CLOSE TO HOME post… THANK YOU for being so public with this. This NEEDS more publicity. People are going through this – many people – and it needs to be addressed and recognized as the problem it is.

    I am dealing with similar issues myself: binge eating, counting calories obsessively, exercising to burn off anything over certain daily limit, working out when I should be spending time doing other things, caring way too much about a few lbs, working out through injury and illness, centering my schedule around the gym or my runs, feeling overly guilty about eating certain foods, disordered eating to the max… My ED has changed a lot over the past 10 or 11 years since it manifested itself in my life. First I was anorexic and exercised a lot but not SOOO much, lost 10 lbs in middle school… then i recovered and gained it back but still counted calories and was athletic… high school, the calorie counting got obsessive… college i dealt with some depression and disordered eating which eventually transformed into overexercising… post college, I binge eat and purge via working out for hours a day… and the worst part isnt even the wasted time I should be spending doing more enjoyable things; it’s the addiction and withdrawal if i ever dont work out (hardly ever), and it’s the aching body, and it’s the calorie counting over and over and over….

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2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Christie Inge and Dr. Ashley Solomon, Evelyn Parham. Evelyn Parham said: RT @nourishthesoul When Exercise Becomes Unhealthy {Guest Post + Giveaway, Oh My!}: Let’s all give… http://bit.ly/fuBnjm #health #diet [...]

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dr. Ashley Solomon, Aimée Lévesque. Aimée Lévesque said: Great post on overexercising by @CharlotteGFE http://j.mp/fJzcQI via @nourishthesoul. Leave a comment or tweet to win her book! [...]

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