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Activity Addiction And the Downward Spiral

Posted Aug 30 2011 8:45am

Lets talk about exercise!

This is a topic I haven’t discussed much, probably because it is one thing I am still very much struggling with in my recovery process. I can say this pretty definitively because on Sunday, when we were out of power for a good portion of the day, all I could think was “oh my gosh I hope the generator turned on the upstairs so my treadmill works!”

Sounds pretty crazy right? I didn’t think “Oh no I hope the basement doesn’t flood, or trees don’t come down,” or worry about what to make for dinner when our ovens weren’t working. Instead, my first thoughts went to my upstairs treadmill and lack of exercise TV.

How can a person be this crazed about exercise?! Most people would love an excuse to miss a day, but for me, that would mean a near mental-breakdown!

Let me just take you back to nearly two decades ago, and my introduction to fitness…

When I was a little girl my family owned a gym, so I have been around them/activity pretty much my entire existence. I was on my first team at 4, and played organized sports until the end of college, and when I was in high school my dad put an elliptical and a treadmill in our basement because he wanted to get into shape.

I can remember going downstairs after school jumping on the elliptical and being dead tired in twenty minutes. I wasn’t used to this kind of equipment and it was totally different than chasing after a ball or running laps with friends. After a few weeks it got easier, and I didn’t mind the machine, but I thought the treadmill might be a good option to alternate on my non-elliptical days. I set up a little tv, turned up the incline and started to walk. Every day I would get home, have a snack and walk for a television program or two. I didn’t really keep track, just did it because it felt good and I could see a little more definition in my legs. What sixteen year old girl wouldn’t want that?

And then senior year I was dating the same guy I had since the summer going into being a sophomore. We had been in a long distance relationship for over a year, and I was really starting to get lonely. Being bored at night turned into another opportunity to get on the treadmill and watch tv.

*side note: I am not good at sitting. I have mentioned this before I know, but some people have asked, “Why do you need a treadmill to watch tv?” Well the answer is, I don’t but I preferred to watch it that way…maybe that should have been the first sign of the slippery slope I was falling down?

So now I started measuring mileage. I needed to do at least 3 miles a day to feel like I had done “enough.”
Then my eating changed. I didn’t have a scheduled lunch at school because I was a student assistant, so I always packed something easy to nibble during that period. Typically I would bring a bagel with jam and a piece of fruit, with yogurt and pretzels…anything I could find that wouldn’t bother anyone if I was consuming (I brought a sandwich once, and apparently no one appreciated onions). But when I started researching more about health and diets, and picked up some trendy fitness magazines, it said to eat more salads, have egg whites instead of cereal, chose this type of fruit over a more starchy fruit, etc. And so now I would pack a salad with vinegar (because it didn’t smell that bad!) some kind of fruit and maybe yogurt or pretzels, but the word bagel was no where to be found on my grocery list.

I also stopped eating waffles for breakfast. My mom and I had a tradition that she made me Mickey waffles every morning (a Disney freak like me has a few waffle irons in the shapes of different Disney characters! Cool, right?) and she would sit on my bed as I would be getting ready. This was our time to talk, and catch up, and totally be just the two of us. When I asked her to stop making me breakfast I think I hurt her feelings. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care if my salad was more difficult to eat than a bagel, or that I ruined a tradition that I had since as long as I could remember. I was going to be “healthier” and I needed to do it my way.

But back to the exercise…At that point in my life I didn’t know anything about competitive running, or obsessive calorie counting. All I knew was my daily walk filled my time and gave me a sense of stability and accomplishment, when as a senior, I was missing my boyfriend, trying to figure out where to go to school, juggling clubs, activities, and school work , and dealing with some family stuff that I apparently could not handle. I needed my treadmill and I needed it daily.

Then one weekend my boyfriend came home to visit, and although we only saw each other once a month, I still could not take time away from that damn treadmill to spend time with him. He actually accused me of putting exercise before him! Can you believe that?! Now I can and it wouldn’t be the last time I heard that in my lifetime.

Whenever I would visit him I would have a minor anxiety attack because there was no treadmill! I would beg him to take me for walks outside just so I could feel the sensation of movement.

Well the exercise, and judgment if there wasn’t exercise, led to more negative self-talk about other things, “You aren’t going to get into the school you want…your boyfriend is too good for you…you’re not pretty enough…” It went on and on and on. (Can you see how ED can seriously take over every aspect of life?)

I don’t know what helped me snap out of it. Maybe it was going to college, getting busier, and feeling like a productive, contributive member of society. I don’t know why I didn’t feel like that in high school? Or at least during my senior year, but the point is, the treadmill became my mechanism of coping with stress.

Four years later I apparently forgot the downside to obsessive activity because I reverted back to that same method my senior year of college. I continued my daily workouts the entire duration of school, but it wasn’t until my final year that I upped the anty. I switched from walking to running and got so competitive with myself, not feeling good enough, or stable enough in other areas of life, that I needed something that was constant, and a numerical way to measure a form of progress. And what was that…that would be the treadmill.

I’m posting about this today because I still have a long way to go in loosening up my relationship with exercise. I confirmed this this morning as I was getting super bored at mile 3, about 42 minutes into my walk but I couldn’t make myself stop. 

My physical activity today may not seem excessive, and for most people it wouldn’t be.   Four miles isn’t that far of a distance, and I wasn’t sprinting or anything, but it was the fact that even though I walk EVERYDAY, I could not give myself a day without reaching that mile mark.  Its the fact that I don’t grant myself days for rest regardless of my schedule, health, or physical need.

Is one day of walking 3 miles going to make or break your life? No, and maybe I should even consider taking a day where I don’t walk at all.  As a matter of fact, most professionals recommend those who are in recovery and have had past issues with exercise, to abstain from forced or excessive activity at all; not necessarily for the extra energy burned, but more so the obligation most feel to do it regardless of circumstance.

I was also thinking today about our upcoming mini-vacay to Disney’s Food and Wine Festival. I have never gone away and missed a day of exercise. When the gym was closed on my cruise ship because it was the day of disembarkation, I ran up and down the 17 decks of stairs that were accessible, for an hour. Keep in mind you have to be off the ship by like 8:00 a.m. so this was at 5.

There have been many times where we have been away, especially to places like Disney or Mohonk, where we are already racking up the physical activity with walking and cross country skiing but I still have to go to a gym, and see my distance on a machine. This is one of the two areas I have barely scratched the surface in working on when it comes to recovery, and I need to start setting some major goals to overcome these behaviors. Of the many things I have learned in my journey, and I have said this before, if you let ED in one part of your life, it allows him a hole to penetrate into others…I need to address balance and physical activity as soon as possible…maybe starting with that rest day I mentioned above?

Do you think exercise is addicting?

Any tips of tricks to creating a balanced relationship with physical activity?

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