10 Signs Your Relationship with Exercise is Unhealthy
10 Signs Your Relationship with Exercise is Unhealthy

10 Signs Your Relationship with Exercise is Unhealthy

In the realm of mental health issues linked to exercise, we often find these intricately woven with the fabric of eating disorders, disordered eating, and body dysmorphia. Anorexia athletica, a condition marked by compulsive exercise, sees individuals shaping their lives around workouts and consistently pushing their limits to maximize their time spent exercising. Then there's exercise bulimia, a disorder where frequent binge-eating episodes are followed by lengthy bouts of compensatory exercise.

Yet, nestled beyond the confines of these defined disorders lies a vast and intricate gray area of exercise behavior. This space, often slipping under the radar, is a domain that doesn't contribute to our mental or physical well-being. To explore whether your relationship with exercise might be tiptoeing into this unhealthy territory, here are some questions to ponder:

Do you feel compelled to engage in physical activity every day, sometimes multiple times a day regardless of weather or fatigue?

Would you miss going out with friends or spending time with family, just to ensure you got your workout in? 

Does your workout routine isolate you from people you love or keep you from following through on other roles and responsibilities? 

Do you enjoy the exercise you do? Or if you knew that your current exercise regimen could not change your weight, body shape or size, would you continue it? 

Do you calculate how much to exercise based on how much you eat? Or, if you’re unable to exercise, do you feel compelled to cut back what you eat that day? 

Do you work out with the intention of ‘burning calories off’ or ‘saving up’ calories for later in the day? Do you have trouble sitting still because you’re not burning calories? 

Do you freak out if you miss a workout? Do you feel angry and/or frustrated if you can't exercise like you'd hoped? 

Do you still exercise when you are sick or hurt? 

Do you follow a set routine for your exercise sessions (e.g. walk or run the same route, particular exercises, same amount of time, and so on)? Is your weekly pattern of exercise repetitive or ritualistic?

Do you feel guilty if you miss your workout? Do you feel like you've let yourself down or feel depressed if you miss an exercise session? 

The common features we look for when assessing for exercise compulsivity include: exercise compulsion, preoccupation with exercise, social isolation due to exercise, lack of enjoyment of exercise, exercise rigidity, over focus on appearance-based exercise, manipulating food and exercise to control calories, guilt over missed workouts, anxiety and irritability around not being able to exercise, lack of rest between exercise sessions, exercising despite sickness or injury, and depression over performance.

Only you can know whether your perspective on exercise is healthy or not. Listening to your body is ultimately freeing and empowering, it can be tough to do when you’re used to pushing your body to its limits and ignoring your internal cues.

Within this conversation, I honor and recognize the autonomy we hold over our own bodies, granting us the power to discern what truly serves our well-being. However, if you find that exercise is becoming more of a source of challenges than solutions, it's an invitation to engage in some courageous self-reflection. Ask yourself those tough questions and be open to shifting your perspective – a transformative journey towards a healthier relationship with both your body and exercise awaits.

Source: L. Taranis, S. Touyz, and C. Meyer, “Disordered Eating and Exercise: Development and Preliminary Validation of the Compulsive Exercise Test,” European Eating Disorders Review 19 (2011): 256–68.