Exercise Addiction: What it is & How to Overcome It


While exercise addiction is not explicitly included in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) it can be found under behavior addiction in the addictive disorder section. If you are struggling and wondering whether you might be struggling with an eating disorder, Mind Diagnostics has a great resource to discover whether this may be the case.

In the DSM-V a behavior addiction is loosely defined as being when a person’s behavior becomes obsessive, compulsive and/or causes dysfunction in a person’s life. In today’s world, the media is obsessed with body image, which puts pressure on both males and females to obtain often-unrealistic standards.

When people decide they want to lose weight they often look to popular diets or fad fitness classes to get the results they want in the fastest way possible. Often, these trends are not the safest or healthiest ways to go about losing weight since people will plateau or get bored; however, there are some people who become mesmerized with the idea of having the “perfect” figure that these fitness trends promote that they end up becoming obsessed with keeping physically fit.

While working out consistently may not appear to be a bad thing, when it interferes with a person’s daily life because they feel they have to work out for more than 2 hours every day, it becomes a problem. Another issue with exercise addiction is that people often cut calories while they are working out, which leads to many physical issues.

Finally, one of the biggest and arguably scariest parts of exercise addiction is that because working out is seen as a healthy lifestyle choice, many people do not realize it is a problem.

In the past decade weight loss shows have taken television by storm. Whether it is The Biggest Loser or Extreme Weight Loss there are many shows that encourage people to lose weight and demonstrate safe and effective ways to achieve weight loss goals. Along with television shows, the media is generally obsessed with body image.

From the covers of celebrity gossip magazines showing perfect “bikini bodies” to news shows discussing whether or not it should be expected that women lose baby weight immediately, we are constantly saturated with this idea of being thin. While the Internet is a great source of inspiration for losing weight and researching effective diet and fitness plans when a person is in need of losing weight, it can also cause people to further their unrealistic body goals.

The creation of “thinspo” or thinspiration was created to inspire other women to lose weight and become thin. Often, these pictures show women who have Body Mass Indexes lower than what is considered to be in the normal range as well as looking sickly thin, not healthy.

By promoting images of unhealthy women, it further perpetuates the unobtainable ideal of being skinny rather than healthy which can lead to people becoming addicted to exercise.

According to the CDC the average 18–64-year-old should use the following as guidelines for living a healthy, active lifestyle: 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week and two or more days of muscle strengthening activities. Or adults can do 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity every week and muscle strengthening activities on two or more days. Or adults in that age range can do an equivalent mix of moderate and vigorous intensity aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activities on two or more days a week.

One of the first signs is that the amount of exercise is actually harmful to the person working out. For example, if a person is working out for 4 hours a day and is not consuming enough calories so as to provide enough fuel for his or her body, the caloric deficit can lead to stress fractures among other illnesses.

Another sign of exercise addiction is that the person seems in a bad mood if he or she does not work out. If a person relies on the euphoric feeling after a workout to be happy then chances are pretty high that he or she has an exercise addiction.

One of the biggest red flags for people should be if a person is exercising through an injury or medical condition. While there are some forms of exercise that people should do if they are injured so as to help the injury heal properly, there are others that raise concern.

For example, if a person just had major surgery and is out the next day trying to go for a run or life weights it would be safe to suggest talking to him or her about potentially be addicted to exercise.

Only 8% of gym goers meet the criteria for exercise addiction and similarly to other addictions, exercise addicts must increase their amount of exercise to continue experiencing the natural high that exercise provides people. While this seems like a lot to have to do during a given work week, people who have an addiction to exercise often work out to a much higher extent than that and allow working out to dictate their lives.

Working out typically interferes with a person’s social, work and family life. Since exercise is seen as a good thing it is often difficult to diagnose exercise addiction, especially because it is possible to work out more than the CDC guidelines suggest and not have an exercise addiction.

Since exercise addiction is identified as being similar to any other kind of substance abuse disorder, the treatment is also similar. Group therapy, individual counseling and sometimes in severe cases inpatient facilities are used to help treat the addiction.

In treatment, issues surrounding body image will be discussed and explored so as to help the client find ways to deal with his or her insecurities in a healthy way. Along with professional help, it is important that the person suffering from an exercise addiction feel supported by his or her friends, family and other loved ones.

Another way to overcome their exercise addiction is by changing the focus of their exercise. Instead of focusing on how many calories are being burned, try to concentrate on how the work out is making you feel and what it is doing for your body.

Working with a trainer to set a weekly schedule that includes rest days as well as counting all exercise towards the total amount of time spent working out rather than just counting the main workout. For example, if it takes a person 45 minutes to walk to where he or she will begin the main work out, those 45 minutes should count towards whatever limits have been set.

It is also suggested that those who are recovering from their exercise addiction to find another activity that interests them, that way when a person finds him or herself with extra time on his or her hands, he or she will not feel compelled to double up on a workout.


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