09.12.13 Wellness

The Dangers of Exercise Addiction

The Dangers of Exercise Addiction

BY Michelle Konstantinovsky

Emergency rooms are surprisingly empty over Labor Day weekend.

Actually, my nurse informed me that the fun stuff really starts once the midday Monday barbecues get going. Luckily, my ER visit fell on the preceding Saturday, long before all those beer-fueled accidents over open flames ensued.

I felt pretty stupid. And I had no problem telling myself this, repeatedly, as I waited for the doctor. My left foot sat pathetically on the examination table, staring back at me, lamely, and I just glared back at it. I knew I shouldn’t have kept running and working out when it started to hurt weeks earlier, but who knew that foot would be such a traitor and refuse to stop working? By the time I limped into the ER, I could barely walk, which was a problem, seeing as how I was expected to do so—in heels—the next day, at my best friend’s wedding. Stupid, traitorous foot.

The unnecessarily dreamy doctor waltzed in, glanced at my disloyal appendage, and asked me what the problem was. I told him I may have been doing too much exercise.

“No such thing,” he barked back without missing a beat.

And wasn’t he right? I mean, have you heard of obesity? It’s an epidemic, they say. Eat less, move more! Train insane or remain the same! Sweat is fat crying! Just do it! Insert Pinterest-appropriate fit-spiration message here!

Full disclosure: I don’t have a medical license or a personal training certification. I definitely don’t have any business prescribing fitness regimens. And previous snark-filled paragraphs notwithstanding, I definitely don’t deny the fact that most of us could stand to be more active. I know all about the incredible benefits we reap from exercise. I love exercise. I love it so much, I really thought the more I did, the better off I’d be.

And who would fight me on that? Certainly not Emergency Room McDreamy. Why else would so many of your Facebook friends constantly post gratuitous status updates chronicling their morning yoga/evening run/weekend cardio kickboxing ballet booty boot camp class? Because they know they’ll garner a ton of ‘likes’ and an endless stream of kudos for living an impressively athletic lifestyle in a sad, sedentary world.

While I’m not necessarily the type to Tweet about my fitness habits (unless my Zumba instructor choreographs a sick Beyonce routine), I do rely on exercise to get me through the day. So when my days got rougher, I figured a few more workouts couldn’t hurt. After all, extra endorphins help ease stress and anxiety, right? And big life events, like graduating, starting a new job, changing cities, and getting your heart steamrolled, might all be good reasons to require elevated feel-good brain chemicals, right? And if all these things happen at once, you’re entitled to an endorphin mega-dose? Science?

Well, that was my logic. And my brand of logic often fails to align with, well, actual logic. So when I started experiencing that sharp pain with every step of my left foot, I ignored it. I pushed through it. I sort of thought it was a sign of being a real fitness badass. Spoiler alert: I was mistaken.

The next time you’re casually flipping through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders on a leisurely evening, you won’t find an entry for exercise addiction or compulsion. But just because the dependence doesn’t merit its own diagnosis (yet), it is a real problem that can interfere with your life, and, well, lead to some less-than-fun holiday visits to the ER.

So when The New York Daily News ran a piece this week about “breakup” workouts, I grew a little suspicious. Author Jo Piazza hosted a few workout sessions at an NYC gym to promote her new novel, Love Rehab, which applies the basic principles of 12-step programs to help readers recover from heartbreak. The logic behind the workouts isn’t bad at all: exercise can boost a person’s self-esteem, and it’s a much healthier way to cope with sadness than by binge-watching Orange is the New Black while binge-eating Ben & Jerry’s (not all of us would agree).

“What I learned while writing the book is that when you’re addicted to relationships, it’s the same as being addicted to drugs or alcohol,” Piazza said. “You get the same kind of high. You also get that high by working out.”

And that’s great. To a point. But relying on workouts for a high isn’t always the answer either. Especially if exercise is the only mood-boosting tool you have, or if you have a history of ignoring your body’s signals that it may be time to take a break and take up some other, less intense hobbies.

Emergency Room McDreamy diagnosed me with a stress fracture, and sent me back off into the world with a hideous orthopedic boot, which I chose not to wear to my BFF’s wedding. I successfully hobbled down the aisle in heels without (completely) breaking any bones, but I’ve had to take a break from the gym. It hasn’t been horrible, the world hasn’t ended, and in some ways I’m grateful that something intervened in my relationship with exercise. Sadly, the interrupting element was my stress fracture, not ER McDreamy. Turns out he’s married. And kind of misinformed about some stuff.

Michelle Konstantinovsky is a freelance journalist, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumna, and an avid admirer of shiny objects and preteen entertainment. It would be nice if you visited her website:  www.michellekmedia.com.  Also, she may learn to use Twitter more effectively if you follow her @michellekmedia.


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