Exercise addiction is perhaps one of the least discussed eating disorder behaviors, but it is more serious and common than people realize. I remember the first time I told a friend about my eating disorder, which entailed restriction, self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, and over-exercising. Upon hearing this, my friend asked, “But isn’t exercising healthy?” Of course exercise can be healthy, but our societal belief that physical activity is an effective antidepressant and that it can cure most ailments needs to be debunked.
At my “sickest” (I don’t like this term, as I believe EDs are more than how much one exercises, eats, or uses other behaviors), I exercised for more than three hours a day. My caloric intake was in triple digits, and I virtually had no life outside of my diet and exercise schedule. I began having dizzy spells and chest pain, frequently got injured, and was sick almost once a month when I was a sophomore in high school. None of these symptoms deterred me; to me, they signified my dedication. It did not help that doctors, friends, and bystanders all encouraged my destructive behaviors. Being disabled and exercising like a maniac made me inspiring to those around me.
As diet culture endearingly says, “The only bad workout is the one you didn’t do.” I grapple with this quote. Admittedly, I grapple with it more than I should. I understand that people want to be healthy and health often entails physical activity, but I can think of plenty of bad workouts. My freshman year of college, I collapsed after running for an hour and a half. I had to get six stitches above my eye. My senior year of high school, I injured my hip from over-exercising. My freshman year of high school, I chose my treadmill over my friends most days. On more than one occasion, I have worked out instead of studying or eating. I do not consider any of these to be “good workouts,” but rather a symptom of my illness.
Exercising did not relieve my depression or boost my confidence; it became a meter of success. I wanted to see how much my body could take no matter the cost. Maybe my problem is an “exception” to the rule; but it is a problem. My exercise addiction is real, and I will discuss it no matter how uncomfortable it makes those around me.