Feeling sorry for myself.
I'm Celeste, a magazine editor living in Phoenix.
Get ready for a lot of fitness, a lot of sass and a lot of froyo.
Celeste Sepessy, Lead Fitness Writer, HFPN
Saturday, February 20, 2010
While most Americans struggle to live an active life, some people are working out an unhealthy amount - hurting their bodies and, most likely, those around them.
Though once labeled as a “positive addiction,” exercise dependence is now gaining more attention as a problem with serious risks.
“People who have over exercised, we typically think ‘Well, they’re healthy people’ or ‘They’re trying to be fitter,’ ” says sport and exercise psychologist Marc Strickland, Psy.D., owner of Multisport Psychological Consultants in Phoenix. Strickland has a doctorate in psychology from Argosy University.
Exercise becomes a problem when it negatively impacts social, educational and occupational functioning, Strickland says. “When exercise itself becomes more important than other basic life tasks, that’s when we have to start paying attention to dependence.”
Dr. Bonnie Berger, an exercise psychology professor at Bowling Greene University, says exercise dependence is divided into two categories.
First, is primary dependence, when “someone is really hooked on exercise,” she says. Exercise dependence can also be a secondary problem when it is connected to an eating disorder. In this case, people use exercise as a tool to lose weight unhealthily.
Strickland says the disorder crosses all boundaries - age, sex, race and socioeconomic status - and is a serious problem for the general public.
“There’s the lady who exercises to lose weight and likes what she sees, so she starts to exercise more,” he says. “Or the amateur body builder who wants to get bigger. He looks into the mirror and sees a little tuft of fat here or the muscles that could be bigger.”
But, like other addicts, these people are not seeing themselves in a realistic way. “He’s comparing himself to a ghost, a reality that maybe doesn’t exist to the rest of the world,” he says.
How to approach someone who may have exercise dependence:
As with any addiction, the addict generally does not want to be helped. Consequently, trying to direct them to help may be difficult, Strickland says. “Their first reaction is going to be denial,” he says. Below, Strickland and Berger give tips on how to handle a client’s exercise addiction.
- Don’t treat it yourself. ”You do what you can do as an exercise professional,” Berger says. “You need to spot problems and help a person get to a knowledgeable specialist.”
- Use common sense. ”Use your own best psychological skills to get them to talk to someone,” Berger says. “The person does need to see a therapist of some sort to examine what’s going on with them.”
- Understand their reaction may be negative, so be honest but still sensitive of their serious problem. ”If they don’t see anything wrong, it’s easy for them to take offense if you tell them, ‘Hey, I think you would benefit from going to counseling,” Berger says.
- Make the referral, but don’t force them into treatment. ”If they don’t want to be there, it’s not going to be helpful for them,” Strickland says.
- Don’t fuel the addiction. ”As a trainer, I would say I can’t train you anymore because I think it’s going to be detrimental to your health,” Strickland says. “There is an ethical component, and I need to look out for the best interest of my client.”
- As a trainer, model healthy exercise behavior. ”If personal trainers are aware that some exercise is good but more is not always better, they could relay that info to their clients,” Berger says.
- Create awareness at your gym or studio. ”Have someone come into your gym and give a lecture on addictive behavior and how it can impact people so your clients can have some education,” Strickland says. “Sometime we don’t know it’s us until we see it somewhere else.”