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Exercise Has Become Obsessive

By December 5, 2012

I am an 18 year old college student. I am 5 feet 2 inches in height and I used to weigh 61 kgs. when I started school. Since I started working out in the gym, I have lost 11 kgs. despite not working out all through one month. I started off with *** calories a day and now I am obsessed with my gym schedule and work out for 4 hours on the treadmill, an hour on the cross trainer losing **** to even **** calories!! Then I also do strength training so I spend practically 6-6.5 hours a day in the gym. I don’t do anything else. I don’t watch movies or do anything fun. I have this obsession for my workouts and feel I will put back all the weight if I don’t continue. I have dropped down from 32 waist jeans to ** and my body fat percentage is *. What do you suggest I do? Should I continue working out just as much? Is it normal? – Prek

Dear Prek,

I’m so glad you are seeking some guidance on this issue. It definitely sounds like your exercise has become obsessive and that cannot be fun. I’m sure that doing 6-7 hours of exercise leaves little time for anything else…school, work or play.

There can be many problems with over exercising to this degree. One is that your body never has time to rest, rebuild and repair itself. It is possible that you are doing more breakdown than buildup of muscle (as indicated by your continued weight loss); however, I bet your original goal was not to lose muscle.

My first recommendation is to reduce your exercise dramatically to only 30-60 minutes total per day, 4-5 days per week maximum. Instead of always going to the gym, try to incorporate other recreational activities such as hiking, walking the dog, playing a sport or game, swimming for fun and even housecleaning. Any of these activities get your body in motion which is very good for protection against disease, improved mood, better sleep and weight maintenance.

Your percentage body fat right now is very low, much lower than recommended standards for health. The suggested range for optimal health for women is 18-30%, so weight restoration is necessary to restore body fat to functional levels. Otherwise, your brain and your mood will suffer from low hormone levels; a poor reproductive cycle and even food cravings and dry skin/hair loss may be additional negative side effects from low body fat.

Try to resume eating with balance, variety and moderation. Eat the foods that you like, eat until you’ve had enough, then wait to eat until you’re hungry again. Returning to an eating plan with roughly 3 meals and 3 snacks per day is a good idea. A weight of 61 kg. may be perfectly normal for your body. An optimal weight is one at which you are disease-free (diabetes, heart disease, etc.), you can eat with freedom/no strict “rules” around food/no dieting, and you can be moderately active with the things you enjoy doing several times a week (aim for an average of 150 minutes total activity per week).

Seek out others who have similar attitudes toward freedom with eating and pleasurable activity. Getting back on track can be tough when doing so alone. Consider seeking professional guidance. Finding balance in your life will result in much better overall health…mind, body and spirit.

Take good care.

Juliet N. Zuercher, RD