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Overcoming exercise addiction

Are you addicted to exercise? Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel, author of Turn On Your Inner Light discusses how to overcome it!

It’s true: Addictions bring pleasure

There are many types of addictions. They all provide a sensory experience which sends pleasure signals to the brain. We come to rely on the transitory comfort that addiction brings. Soon we need a higher dosage to achieve the same euphoria. Addiction, which connotes a loss of self-control, ironically, gives the addict an illusion of personal empowerment. For example, the addicted gambler believes that he can control his luck while the love addict believes that he can control his partner, or the anorexic believes she can control her body — all are transformed by the dark side of daydreaming.

Addictions stem from poor self-esteem

Addictions stem from a fundamental feeling of worthlessness. Deep down we believe that we have lost our power, or do not know how to tap into it. When we become addicted we have to constantly prove to ourselves that we are not losing control. Therefore we seek a stimulant to give us a sense of empowerment, or to numb us from feeling the pain of a lack of self-esteem. In seeking external distractions we avoid answering the basic question: “Why am I not happy?” The external distractions provide an escape from the real problem.

More exercise isn’t better

Approach exercise with balance in mind, not with the mindset that if something is good, or makes me feel this good, more is better. While dieting and wanting to lose weight have become national pastimes and are certainly beneficial when properly controlled, in excess they are detrimental. Similarly, nowadays everyone touts the benefits of exercise: health, life quality and alertness. However, over-exercising is a form of addiction that is on the rise in gyms and fitness centers. The symptoms are recognizable: women and men who exercise for hours at a time. For example, an over-exerciser might take two to three classes back to back and then get on a treadmill or a stair climber to do more. Many lift weights for two hours or more per day, overtraining, and frequently causing physical harm.

Commonality with anorexia and bulimia

Exercise addiction has a commonality with anorexia and bulimia. Instead of starving, or vomiting their food, over-exercisers eat, but then proceed to work off what they ate and then some! Like all addicts, they feel insecure and lack self-control. Working out provides the illusion of bodily control.

Since exercising raises endorphins, the exercise addicts work out to feel high. However, soon they need to work out for longer periods of time to maintain that high. Ironically, their bodies do not change for the better, for their bodies have adapted. The questions gym addicts need to answer: “Where am I running to on this treadmill for so many hours? Where do these stairs lead? Am I spinning out of control?”

Breaking the overtraining cycle

To break an exercise addiction, which is evidenced by more than 90 minutes of continuous exercise 7 days a week, the prescription calls for no vigorous exercise for one month. Overtraining causes feelings of worthlessness and depression. By resting the body, we heal the mind. We face our inner demons which drive us to overload our muscles and connective tissues. The hardest thing to accept is living in ambiguity.

Time to face self

Because there are no absolutes, we tend to feel insecure. The ambiguities in our lives include abstractions like: love, friendship, success and self-worth. If we can accept that we will never really know for sure, as it is impossible to quantify abstractions, then we will no longer need concrete validation! When we take back our power, we can shed the addiction. We don’t have to always keep moving, dancing, lifting weights, or running as fast as we can to avoid confronting ourselves.

Relish rest and recovery

When we understand why we need to keep moving, we can return to the gym. Meanwhile, rest your muscles, enjoy your food and take the time to reevaluate your fitness goals and body image. During a resting phase muscles heal and grow while during weight training there are micro-tears. Rest becomes enmeshed with the exercise routine. Even if you have not worked out for a few weeks, when you return, your muscles bounce back quickly because they have muscular memory.

A healthy return to exercise

Here is a suggested schedule: After resting for a week, you may walk for 30 minutes, hopefully outdoors, to reset your natural biorhythms. Think of it as a walking meditation. After the second week ride your bike or walk briskly in the neighborhood and sharpen your reflexes. Within three to four weeks begin easing back into the gym, however, now with a fixed time limit. And every six to eight week cycle, take a week off to ensure that you are balancing your workouts with rest periods to keep motivation high.

Affirm your new mindset on exercise

As an accompaniment to breaking this addiction, remember to eat plenty of fiber, drink water and juice to cleanse the toxins in your body. Also, take hot showers for 10 to 15 minutes, or go to a sauna to release toxins through the skin. To shed the spiritual toxins clean out your drawers and organize your possessions. Get rid of what you don’t need. By doing so you are physically affirming your new mindset. It also helps to wear your under wear inside out to symbolically confront your addiction by bringing your awareness to it, acknowledging your subconscious under ware so to speak. Or you might consider changing your underwear to a new color. Try yellow, which symbolizes the intellect, for your intellect will help you control your addiction.
Transcending your addiction involves the body, mind and spirit — all of you. Your goal is to live your true identity freely and confidently.

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