Exercise Obsession – What’s Healthy?

By May 18, 2012

I have been very dedicated to a “fitness” lifestyle for about 4 years now. What this means is I lift weights 3-4 days a week and perform cardio exercise daily. I eat 5-6 small meals that include protein each day. This was very good, and it gave me the body I wanted. However, I found that I resented not being able to enjoy the same foods that my husband and daughter ate. About two years ago, I began secretly binging and purging at night when my husband was out of town and my daughter asleep. This was not real frequent until I tried Atkins to “balance” my blood sugar and “cure” my cravings. I lost a couple of pounds (I was already 5’6″ ***lbs and **% body fat) and I quickly became addicted to weight loss. I would swing back and forth between starving and binge/purging while maintaining my exercise regimen.

Within a couple of months I was ***lbs. I would not eat and was exercising 2 hours daily minimum. I had an exercise obsession. I was so starved I grew hair and looked bug-eyed, and many days I feared I would fall down dead from some exercise equipment. I called my dad and he came to get me. He brought me to their home and I underwent medical testing and intensive daily counseling. I have been recovered for 7 months. I am back at *** and have regained my lost muscle mass. Thankfully, I do not have many serious medical concerns. During this ordeal, and since, people are always commenting on how great my body is and how envious they are of my physique. Of course this feels great to hear, but I find that the pressure of these comments is very extreme. I am very self-conscious anyway, and if I perceive that I have gained a pound or two, I am so ashamed of myself and also feel like everyone will be disappointed in me. I feel like people will see me as a failure at maintaining my fit physique.

I am really afraid to see my family during the holidays, that they will see what I look like now and compare it to what I looked like before. It I very hard to maintain the level of conditioning I have, but I am too disgusted with my body any heavier. I don’t want to go down the same slippery slope, but I am also afraid of “letting myself go”. My husband is not helpful, because his answer is always “go ahead and eat it, it won’t hurt you.” But he is very overweight, and I know I can’t trust what he says. I want to be TRULY free, but I am still so scared. I am 32 years old and would really like to move to a deserted island with no people and no mirrors. It seems like only then could I eat what I want and not care. Sorry this is so long, but how can I help myself more? – anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Wow! We’re glad you wrote. You bring up several important points we can respond to. You’ve been really tested emotionally. I support you in seeking greater “freedom” from obsessions and compulsions. Sometimes the first stages of recovery involve weight restoration, but then the long term work often involves freeing our thoughts from the prisons we have built.

You deserve to enjoy the people in your life and their companionship during the holidays. I often encourage clients to ask their friends and family to refrain from commenting on their weight, food choices and even their general appearance. (There are so many more important things to talk about.) Find a way to communicate this request, whether by phone, letter, or e-mail. You can blame it on me.

All of us need to practice avoiding comments about weight and body size. I encourage you to remember the way you felt when you couldn’t enjoy foods with your family. Resentment and unhappiness are a high price to pay for the pursuit of the “perfect” body. A healthy body needs to be accompanied by a healthy mind and spirit in order to stay healthy. I know that re-ordering our priorities is very difficult, especially when our society tends to admire a fit body at any price.

Please continue to work on finding balance (sound familiar?). Being physically fit is great, but not if we have to sacrifice relationships, freedom and enjoyment. There is a middle ground in which you can remain healthy but not through deprivation. (btw, a body fat of **% can even be dangerous if you are not under a physician’s care). Please take care.

Fb Team