Home It's All Mental When Working Out Starts to Feel Like an ‘Obsession’

When Working Out Starts to Feel Like an ‘Obsession’

by Erika Nicole Kendall

On the BGG2WL Facebook page a while back, a reader shared that she had to lay off of exercising so much for a while, because it was starting to feel like an obsession. She’d be at work and her next workout would be all she could think about, she’d be finishing one workout and be thinking about plotting the next.

For someone who is new to an active lifestyle, or for some of us who float in certain circles, I can absolutely see why this might be disconcerting behavior. It’d feel uncomfortable.

Sometimes, we compare our lives to our peers. It’s human nature. When our peers have super-sedentary lifestyles, however, the standard to which we compare our lives is pretty low. In comparison, it makes us feel like we’re overdoing it. We rationalize to ourselves, I shouldn’t need this much, should I?, and talk ourselves out of what we’ve planned. What’s more, if we try to talk about our activity with our super-sedentary peers, they might tell us we’re overdoing it in their minds. From their perspective, they’re right. You’re doing too much.

What also happens sometimes, is that we become super-sedentary by way of demanding jobs that leave us running on fumes. We’re going to work, giving it our all to prove to our bosses that we deserve to keep our jobs, and then come home agitated, aggravated and exhausted. It doesn’t leave much room for a social life, outside hobbies, or anything that doesn’t involve having the life rung out of you like a wet washcloth after a shower.

Work becomes everything you do, your co-workers become your “work friends,” you might even have a “work husband.” You lunch with your “work friends,” you eat with them, you break with them, you go to the bathroom in packs, it becomes your whole world. It’s draining. It’s also a really easy cycle to fall into, never noticing how uncomfortable and unfulfilled it leaves you.

Sometimes it isn’t even work. Sometimes, it’s just stress. I think about when my mother first fell ill, and all I could think about was running, how I desperately wanted to just grab a pair of shoes and run, Forrest Gump style, from one side of the country to the next. Maybe then, I could escape the fear I was feeling for my mom’s well being.

I think it’s often difficult to talk about things that stress us out and leave us frustrated, mainly because self-care is a foreign language in America. We are often in service to others for so much of our day, that very little is left behind for us to tend to ourselves.

Exercise bulimia is a thing. It’s technically someone who, instead of overeating and then inducing themselves to vomit, they develop an obsession with exercising so much that they burn off every calorie. It’s different from simply being committed to a work out regimen—it’s having every waking moment ruled by balancing your calories consumed and calories burned, to the point where your life is severely impacted by the fixation.

It’s reasonable to question ourselves about whether or not we’re developing an unhealthy attachment to exercise, but I have to wonder—are we sure it’s the exercise that we’re “obsessing” over, or is there more to it?

I think, and it was passively confirmed to me in conversation with a few of my friends, that we underestimate how unhappy we truly are, and how important it is for us to be able to do something “for me and for me, alone.” Not something for your child that also makes you happy, not something for your partner that makes you happy to see them happy, but something only for you. We give so much in other parts of our lives, that it leaves little bandwidth for us to seek to please ourselves.

Self-care is important. In a lot of ways, we haven’t seen it modeled by our parents, so we don’t really understand what it looks and feels like, or how restorative it can be for our mental and physical health. When we inadvertently find something that allows us to enjoy ourselves, selfishly and shamelessly, we feel guilt—this isn’t what we’re used to, this runs counter to what we’ve seen modeled in our past, and this veers off the path that had been set for us. It makes us pull back—it’s too good, something must be wrong.

It’s quite possible that the addiction isn’t to “exercise.” It could also be an addiction to the way you feel when you do for you, without pretext or pressure. It could just be that self-care is exciting and meaningful to you, and you’re looking forward to it saving you from the monotonous nature of your every day life.

And, trust me, that is okay. Look forward to your you time. Let it give you something to feel happy about. And, when it’s over, look forward to planning your next one.


Consider diversifying your activities during your you time. Set aside your time for exercise, sure, but also set aside time to read a book, or go for some pampering, or go for a walk, anything that allows you to get out of your “work mind,” and see if you have the same reaction to that. Chances are high that you might.

I’m a work-a-holic. I’m constantly working, working on something, mapping something out, taking notes for something. I also love my exercise—I do something every day, and it’s a regular commitment for me. But, I also keep my me time habits diverse. I sew, I make jewelry, I paint my nails (those of you who always wonder why my nails are always so “laid,” that’s why!), I create art, I make clutch purses, I reupholster furniture (in fact, I got Eddy hooked on us buying cheap and vintage furniture and reupholstering it with better fabrics and updated paint jobs), I decorate, I try to not kill my plants (because, really, I kill my plants like it’s a talent), and I play with Baby Sprout and Mini-me.

I have discovered and implanted lots of things in my life to help me find joy and peace outside of the daily drudgery. It wasn’t easy to figure this out, and it definitely took me a long time to amass such a large list, but I’m glad I did. These are things that keep me from regressing back into emotional eating, and they also help me keep the sadness at bay. They’re all varying degrees of accessible depending on where I am and what I’m doing. They also ensure that I don’t become overly excited or obsessed with one thing in particular as my sole source of happiness.

One of the most reliable ways to figure out whether your “obsession” is truly of the disordered variety is to see a therapist who specializes in disordered wellness habits, and I’d strongly encourage anyone concerned to do exactly that. But, in the meantime, try adding a few more things to your self care repertoire, and see if that doesn’t lessen the focus on exercise. You might find that all you needed with a little more time to yourself sans pressure. And who would turn that down?

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