Rebuilding a healthy relationship with exercise after addiction

It is important to listen to your body and take it slow. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:


The thought that someone can get addicted to exercise is hard to understand. However, it happens and unfortunately, usually together with an eating disorder, image disorder or substance abuse. Just like any other addiction, beating exercise addition requires determination and a lot of work. 

Exercising is beneficial but if you are coming from a point of addiction, seeing its advantages can be challenging. Here are some ways to start exercising in a healthy way:

Speak your feelings 

Oftentimes, the thought of sharing what you feel as an exercise addict not only feels like you are a failure but also takes a lot of guts since not many people even understand it. However, Nelson Kwizera, a fitness trainer at Life Fitness Centre, says it is important that one shares what they are going through. 

“You do not have to go through this already lonely journey alone. Talk about the things you missed in your life and used exercise to fill the void. Someone you are accountable to help you overcome the addiction is essential in winning the fight,” he says. 

Kwizera adds that unless an addict asks for help, it is impossible for someone to offer the help because no one understands how you feel. Breaking the silence is important in getting out of the hole that addicts oftentimes feel plunged into when what they are addicted to is taken away.

Find a replacement 

Exercising causes one’s brain to release endorphins that make us feel good. However, for some, it comes with a ‘high’ that with time, one works out more than they should, messing with the brain’s ability to regulate endorphin production. 

“Essentially, exercising has become a drug and without it, you feel drained, as you would when dealing with hopelessness,” he says. 

Therefore, when addicted to exercise, one will do it for all the wrong reasons such as when you feel that your body image is wanting or that the meal you just had was a mistake. When such thoughts and feelings come to your mind, Kwizera says, you need to find a distraction. 

“The distractions could be anything from doing laundry, watching a movie (nothing violent), a phone conversation or talking to your neighbour. Such activities are crucial in shutting out those voices that push you to exercise, even when you do not need to,” he says. 

Work out with close people

Rather than focus on losing a few more pounds and those love handles, one that has been suffering with exercise addiction needs to reorient their mind to seeing working out as a time to have fun and bond with amazing people. 

“A mind shift is necessary because an exercise addict is focussed on how the workout is changing their body shape, where they are making mistakes as well as assessing the impact of the workouts. To overcome this, they should use that time as they lift dumbbells to enjoy the company around them, crack some jokes and create relationships while cutting back on stress,” Grace Kisekka, a dance trainer at Genesis Dance Studio, says. 

Have fun

Exercising is not about losing weight, becoming shapely or more muscular and the like. Coming out of that addiction with exercise means letting go of the routine of working your body to a pulp and resorting to workouts that make you happy. 

“Rather than being a form of slavery, exercise must be enjoyable if you are to benefit from it. That is why rather than head to the weightlifting corner, head to a dance class where you will laugh and enjoy yourself,” Kisekka says.

Take baby steps

When addicted to exercising, chances are that one will work out until they are out of breathe. However, on the journey of mending one’s relationship with working out, it is crucial to tone down. 

“The healing journey is meant to help you appreciate exercising for what it is meant to do and this can best be done gradually. Additionally, you will avoid damaging your body in various ways. For instance, excessive exercising drains you mentally and physically, which could lead to immense stress and damaged joints respectively. Moreover, the muscles do not get time to rest which ultimately affects muscles mass,” Kwizera adds. 

Let go of the pressure

When exercising becomes addictive, one easily feels uneasy when their workout regimen is interrupted or not as they are accustomed to. For instance, if such a person falls sick, hence unable to exercise, when they recover, the urge to work out is insatiable. On the recovery journey, Kisekka says, developing self-control is important because then, one knows when to slow down or rest. 

“The healing journey entails making reasonable choices rather than being at the whims of your desire. It is also okay to break some rules or even miss a workout to enjoy a weekend with your friends,” she says.

Trust your body

When your body is telling you to rest, that is not a sign of your body being weak or encouragement for you to test its limits. It means your body needs time to recharge so it can be strong the next day. 

Your body knows its own needs best, so trust that by skipping a workout. You are preserving the precious vessel that carries you through life and maintaining the healthiest version of it. I can assure you, your body is not asking you to dance spin class because it hates you. Quite the opposite.

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