Activity Addiction And the Downward Spiral

Lets talk about exercise!

This is a topic I haven’t discussed much, probably because it is one thing I am still very much struggling with in my recovery process. I can say this pretty definitively because on Sunday, when we were out of power for a good portion of the day, all I could think was “oh my gosh I hope the generator turned on the upstairs so my treadmill works!”

Sounds pretty crazy right? I didn’t think “Oh no I hope the basement doesn’t flood, or trees don’t come down,” or worry about what to make for dinner when our ovens weren’t working. Instead, my first thoughts went to my upstairs treadmill and lack of exercise TV.

How can a person be this crazed about exercise?! Most people would love an excuse to miss a day, but for me, that would mean a near mental-breakdown!

Let me just take you back to nearly two decades ago, and my introduction to fitness…

When I was a little girl my family owned a gym, so I have been around them/activity pretty much my entire existence. I was on my first team at 4, and played organized sports until the end of college, and when I was in high school my dad put an elliptical and a treadmill in our basement because he wanted to get into shape.

I can remember going downstairs after school jumping on the elliptical and being dead tired in twenty minutes. I wasn’t used to this kind of equipment and it was totally different than chasing after a ball or running laps with friends. After a few weeks it got easier, and I didn’t mind the machine, but I thought the treadmill might be a good option to alternate on my non-elliptical days. I set up a little tv, turned up the incline and started to walk. Every day I would get home, have a snack and walk for a television program or two. I didn’t really keep track, just did it because it felt good and I could see a little more definition in my legs. What sixteen year old girl wouldn’t want that?

And then senior year I was dating the same guy I had since the summer going into being a sophomore. We had been in a long distance relationship for over a year, and I was really starting to get lonely. Being bored at night turned into another opportunity to get on the treadmill and watch tv.

*side note: I am not good at sitting. I have mentioned this before I know, but some people have asked, “Why do you need a treadmill to watch tv?” Well the answer is, I don’t but I preferred to watch it that way…maybe that should have been the first sign of the slippery slope I was falling down?

So now I started measuring mileage. I needed to do at least 3 miles a day to feel like I had done “enough.”
Then my eating changed. I didn’t have a scheduled lunch at school because I was a student assistant, so I always packed something easy to nibble during that period. Typically I would bring a bagel with jam and a piece of fruit, with yogurt and pretzels…anything I could find that wouldn’t bother anyone if I was consuming (I brought a sandwich once, and apparently no one appreciated onions). But when I started researching more about health and diets, and picked up some trendy fitness magazines, it said to eat more salads, have egg whites instead of cereal, chose this type of fruit over a more starchy fruit, etc. And so now I would pack a salad with vinegar (because it didn’t smell that bad!) some kind of fruit and maybe yogurt or pretzels, but the word bagel was no where to be found on my grocery list.

I also stopped eating waffles for breakfast. My mom and I had a tradition that she made me Mickey waffles every morning (a Disney freak like me has a few waffle irons in the shapes of different Disney characters! Cool, right?) and she would sit on my bed as I would be getting ready. This was our time to talk, and catch up, and totally be just the two of us. When I asked her to stop making me breakfast I think I hurt her feelings. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care if my salad was more difficult to eat than a bagel, or that I ruined a tradition that I had since as long as I could remember. I was going to be “healthier” and I needed to do it my way.

But back to the exercise…At that point in my life I didn’t know anything about competitive running, or obsessive calorie counting. All I knew was my daily walk filled my time and gave me a sense of stability and accomplishment, when as a senior, I was missing my boyfriend, trying to figure out where to go to school, juggling clubs, activities, and school work, and dealing with some family stuff that I apparently could not handle. I needed my treadmill and I needed it daily.

Then one weekend my boyfriend came home to visit, and although we only saw each other once a month, I still could not take time away from that damn treadmill to spend time with him. He actually accused me of putting exercise before him! Can you believe that?! Now I can and it wouldn’t be the last time I heard that in my lifetime.

Whenever I would visit him I would have a minor anxiety attack because there was no treadmill! I would beg him to take me for walks outside just so I could feel the sensation of movement.

Well the exercise, and judgment if there wasn’t exercise, led to more negative self-talk about other things, “You aren’t going to get into the school you want…your boyfriend is too good for you…you’re not pretty enough…” It went on and on and on. (Can you see how ED can seriously take over every aspect of life?)

I don’t know what helped me snap out of it. Maybe it was going to college, getting busier, and feeling like a productive, contributive member of society. I don’t know why I didn’t feel like that in high school? Or at least during my senior year, but the point is, the treadmill became my mechanism of coping with stress.

Four years later I apparently forgot the downside to obsessive activity because I reverted back to that same method my senior year of college. I continued my daily workouts the entire duration of school, but it wasn’t until my final year that I upped the anty. I switched from walking to running and got so competitive with myself, not feeling good enough, or stable enough in other areas of life, that I needed something that was constant, and a numerical way to measure a form of progress. And what was that…that would be the treadmill.

I’m posting about this today because I still have a long way to go in loosening up my relationship with exercise. I confirmed this this morning as I was getting super bored at mile 3, about 42 minutes into my walk but I couldn’t make myself stop. 

My physical activity today may not seem excessive, and for most people it wouldn’t be.   Four miles isn’t that far of a distance, and I wasn’t sprinting or anything, but it was the fact that even though I walk EVERYDAY, I could not give myself a day without reaching that mile mark.  Its the fact that I don’t grant myself days for rest regardless of my schedule, health, or physical need.

Is one day of walking 3 miles going to make or break your life? No, and maybe I should even consider taking a day where I don’t walk at all.  As a matter of fact, most professionals recommend those who are in recovery and have had past issues with exercise, to abstain from forced or excessive activity at all; not necessarily for the extra energy burned, but more so the obligation most feel to do it regardless of circumstance.

I was also thinking today about our upcoming mini-vacay to Disney’s Food and Wine Festival. I have never gone away and missed a day of exercise. When the gym was closed on my cruise ship because it was the day of disembarkation, I ran up and down the 17 decks of stairs that were accessible, for an hour. Keep in mind you have to be off the ship by like 8:00 a.m. so this was at 5.

There have been many times where we have been away, especially to places like Disney or Mohonk, where we are already racking up the physical activity with walking and cross country skiing but I still have to go to a gym, and see my distance on a machine. This is one of the two areas I have barely scratched the surface in working on when it comes to recovery, and I need to start setting some major goals to overcome these behaviors. Of the many things I have learned in my journey, and I have said this before, if you let ED in one part of your life, it allows him a hole to penetrate into others…I need to address balance and physical activity as soon as possible…maybe starting with that rest day I mentioned above?

Do you think exercise is addicting?

Any tips of tricks to creating a balanced relationship with physical activity?


17 thoughts on “Activity Addiction And the Downward Spiral

  1. I feel enormous guilt because my body is so damaged that all I can do each day is a slow walk. I don’t have gym equipment and I can’t jog at all. I’m just too damaged. So, I walk outside maybe once a day for a leisure stroll. It’s very lazy also because most times I just carry a book to read while walking. I feel immense guilt because I do not do running or triathlons like I did about 5 years ago. It’s very hard to cope with particularly when people tell each other to “eat to fuel up”. So what does that mean? That I should feel guilty for eating when I don’t need that “fuel”? Its really mind-boggling. Now I have entered binging territory and I’m really guilt-ridden. It’s hard.

    • oh hunni you should not feel guilty for eating at all! your body needs fuel regardless of extra-physical activity. And you said so yourself, your body is very damaged and actually needs needs more than most who are perfectly healthy. Dont feel bad because you arent running and competing, just try to remember that you are beautiful and deserve just as much food as anyone else.

  2. Hi CJ!
    Have you ever tried yoga? I would recommend gentle yoga to start. It’s a great way to get the blood flowing and get a good stretch. But (more importantly) it can help calm down the mind, especially with some good breathing techniques. A great resource is, these are their gentle yoga classes:

    They have free 20 minute classes you can download, it’s great!


    • I have tried yoga before but my mind would always drift somewhere else! i will definitely try that website though. Since i am at a very different point in my recovery i think it could be a really good thing for me! thanks for the suggestion 🙂

  3. Perhaps you should invest in a pedometer, then you would be able to feel better about rest days, knowing you still are moving. Eventually though, when you are completely healed, you won’t need to use it, but perhaps it will help you take that next step in recovery?

    • I think thats a great idea! I have a garmin watch so maybe I will wear that! I think doing non-structured exercise would be a big step too…just taking a leisurely walk with my dogs or a gentle bike ride…im hoping to do that by the end of the week! thanks for the suggestion 🙂

  4. Oh dear…I wish I could take you and hug you. And to tell you to not worry with walking if you don’t want to. Or even if you DO want to. To absolutely not do it one day – spend the day reading, writing, going to the movies, preparing a new dinner from a cookbook, eating your favorites, downloading music…and even when you feel the need and the urge to get on that treadmill – to NOT.

    If only to prove it to yourself that it doesn’t control you. It does NOT define you. YOU are you and beautiful just the way you are – without the walking. And the world does not end by not getting it in. Trust me.

  5. Ahhh, thank you for this entry! I’ve dealt with exercise addiction for the entire 10-plus years of my eating disorder, and I can identify with everything you’ve said. I prepped for the hurricane by doubling my gym time the day before, and when the weather got better the afternoon of the storm, I went for a run anyway. I’ve also done stair-running in the pre-dawn hours on trips, and run in snowstorms and lightening and on various stress fractures. During the worst of my compulsive exercise, I would spend 4 or 5 hours in aerobics classes every day in addition to running 5 miles beforehand. I couldn’t miss a day or *something bad* would happen.

    I really hope you’re able to make peace with your exercise addiction and let yourself take a rest day (scarier words do not exist, btw). You DO deserve it!

  6. Gahh I so wish I could help you out of this situation, but you and I both know we are so on the same page! I wish I could escape this horrible need I feel to constantly get going, but it’s much harder to shake than I ever thought possible…

  7. Gahh I so wish I could help you out of this situation, but you and I both know we are so on the same page! I wish I could escape this horrible need I feel to constantly get going, but it’s much harder to shake than I ever thought possible….

  8. Pingback: Resolutions anyone? « disneytripandstuff

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