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Are You An Exercise Junkie?

Editor’s Note: We are happy to introduce our Healthy Living Columnist, Kristen Houghton.

Healthy Living is not just about eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep; it’s a mind-set. It is a consummate way of living in which you make your life become the best that it can be. Certainly any type of addiction is not on your living healthy list.

exercise-addictionBut did you know that you  don’t have to take drugs or be an alcoholic to be considered an addict? Some people become addicted to normal things that are essentially good for us. A very good example is exercise; it’s good for you and your health but this healthy habit can be abused and become an addiction. Some people become exercise junkies. I discovered this when I met a friend for lunch, a woman I hadn’t seen in a year.

 “Wait until you see me. I’ve completely changed my body through exercise,” said my friend over the phone.

A t the restaurant we had chosen, I sat looking out a window while waiting for my friend. I thought I saw a woman who resembled her. I say resembled because the woman walking towards the restaurant was thin and haggard-looking. My friend Michelle had always had an enviable figure and healthy beauty that turned heads.

 As the woman came closer to the window and saw me there, she began waving and smiling. It was most definitely Michelle but with a twisted difference. Her pretty face looked almost skeletal.

Inside the restaurant, after hugs and kisses, Michelle asked me what I thought.

“About what?” I asked.

“The new me!!”  she laughed.

I was stunned. She went on to tell me about an exercise regimen that only a prize-winning boxer could endure. Her routine made my Ballet Barre classes and tennis games seem insignificant in comparison.

Michelle told me that she was up at four every morning and worked out for two hours. At work, during her breaks, she exercised again with weights she kept in a file cabinet. During her lunch, she power-walked for forty minutes. After work she hit the gym for an aerobics class, then went home, had a salad, and worked out again from seven-thirty to nine. I was exhausted just listening to her.

“How does Stan feel about all this?” I asked her, referring to her husband of twenty-seven years.

“Oh, I rarely see him. And you know something  Kristen? We might not be right for each other anymore. He thinks I’m becoming obsessed with exercising!”

She went on to tell me that she had dropped a lot of activities that she had once enjoyed with Stan because they took too much of her time. Time, I assumed, she wanted for exercise.

Michelle talked about how her life had changed since she had begun her exercise program. She had joined a local gym and while there had been introduced by another member to something called “cardio-plus”. The program included punishing workouts and a restricted calorie diet. This combination supposedly got you into shape faster. My friend quickly got addicted to the intense workout.

 As the months on the program progressed, the member who had introduced her to the strenuous exercise dropped the routine but Michelle didn’t. She found that she needed the feeling of exhilaration the exercise gave her. When I asked her if she could cut back just a little now, maybe even take a day off from it all, she shook her head. Working harder, pushing herself more and more gave her a euphoric feeling.

At the restaurant, the lunch she ordered was so minimal it made my chicken fajita wrap look enormous by comparison. After lunch, and a thirty minute walk, we went shopping at a department store where instead of taking the escalator, we walked up one flight after another, she taking the stairs two at a time to “keep the legs toned.”

We said good-bye early because she had to get to the gym and as she drove away it hit me that my beautiful friend had become an exercise junkie. I got the distinct feeling that she needed that cardio “hit”. It was her drug of choice.

 Later that night I called her husband and we talked about Michelle’s exercise abuse. He was very concerned about her but Michelle refused to listen to his advice. They fought constantly over what he saw as a dangerous lifestyle and what she perceived as his interference.

As with anything else that is addictive, exercise junkies need the high they get from constant exercising. They can’t live without it because their brain and body crave it.

The problem with too much exercise is that, the very same physical activity that is good for us, becomes dangerous when abused.

A month later Stan called and told me that Michelle had been hospitalized due to malnutrition and exhaustion. Her doctor  had recommended she get therapy to help her deal with her obsessive need to exercise and her unhealthy caloric restrictions. I was glad to hear it. Stan told me he was in it for the long run and was going to make sure Michelle got all the help she needed.

Addiction isn’t just substance abuse; it is anything or any activity that starts to take over your life. If you feel something you do is controlling you, seek help. Drugs, alcohol, food, exercise; it doesn’t matter. Addiction is addiction and there’s no place for that in healthy living.

© 2014 copyright Kristen Houghton all rights reserved

Kristen Houghton is a Lifestyle writer and the author of these best-selling books-

No Woman Diets Alone – There’s Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut

And Then I’ll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness

midlife boulevard, columnist, midlife women, middle-age, midlife crisis

Kristen Houghton

Kristen Houghton is an author, blogger on the Huffington Post, and contributor to Kalon Women.

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Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Wednesday 16th of April 2014

Kristin, really descriptive and interesting post. Your friend may have not been diagnosed with a full-blown eating disorder, but she certainly had all the distortions of what I have termed "eating disordered thinking". She is lucky to have had friends like you who didn't support her behavior but were concerned about it. You explain very well what a slippery slope all that can be. Thanks!

Kristen Houghton

Wednesday 16th of April 2014

Many thanks for your insightful reply, Dr. Rutherford. I appreciate your email very much.


Wednesday 16th of April 2014

I got a brief glimpse into this a few years ago. I wanted to run. More and more and more. It was a high. I wouldn't take a day off, though my Husby urged it. Finally, all the stress blew out my left knee. It will never be the same. And, just like that, I was unable to run. At all. At first, I was devastated. I still miss it. But it allowed me to step back and get a whole new perspective. Today I swim three times a week and cycle two. I take weekends off. I eat well and ENJOY life! And life is good!

Kristen Houghton

Wednesday 16th of April 2014

It is certainly frightening to seek any type of high. You now seem to be healthy, happier, and wiser. Enjoying life is the key to healthy living!


Wednesday 16th of April 2014

Sounds as though your friend was also on her way to an eating disorder.

Kristen Houghton

Wednesday 16th of April 2014

It s discovered that she was on the verge of a disorder. Thankfully she is now on the road to recovery.


Wednesday 16th of April 2014

Boy did you ever describe me two years ago. I became addicted to going to my gym and actually exhibited many of the problems of coke addicts. I HAD to exercise. Luckily, my friends were able to talk sense to me and I began therapy. Now I walk, I do the kettle ball, and go home. Thanks Kristen.

Kristen Houghton

Wednesday 16th of April 2014

Thank you Mika. I am glad to hear you've mad a change. Exercise is great but addiction is addiction.

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