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When working out wears you thin

Jessica Ireland | Interrobang | Lifestyles | October 17th, 2011



Staying fit is essential to overall health, but there is a point where even working out turns unhealthy.

Some individuals become addicted to exercising. There's a fine line where people go from a healthy habit to having physical activity become too much of a priority in their lives.

"These people choose to exercise over going to class, eating and sleeping," said Tracy Gedies, Coordinator of the Health and Fitness Promotion program at Fanshawe College. Gedies has witnessed two or three students who had addictions to exercising. One girl would just do stride jumps for four hours every day. She also remembered one incident when a woman left her wedding to go running.

"It has to do with control and the need to feel like you are in charge."

Those addicted to exercising will do it at all costs — even if they're injured. Lisa (last name withheld) found herself continuing to exercise despite injuring her glutes nine weeks prior.

"I thought I just exercised because I knew it was good for me," she said.

She had been told not to do any physical activity while she was injured, which meant no running. She said she chooses running for her exercise because it burns the most calories in the shortest amount of time. But since the injury, she noticed the extreme effect not running has had on her life.

"I (was) super emotional, it (was) mentally tearing me up, I (wasn't) able to eat, it (affected) relationships," she said. "(Running) is something I desperately need to do."

She ran four to five times a week, for about 45 minutes each day prior to her injury. Sometimes she would run for two to three-and-a-half hours on the weekends. On weekends, she'd go out with friends to the bar, stay out until 2 a.m., not drink, then get up at 7 a.m. the next morning to run.

"I wouldn't let my social life get in the way. Running would take precedence," she said.

The effects of not being able to run showed up everywhere in her life. "It affected the way I think about myself and the way I felt in my own skin. I knew I gained weight, I knew I wasn't in the same physical shape I was used to."

Lisa was asked to take pictures at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon after her injury as part of her job, but she couldn't even stay past the start of it because she was supposed to run that race. "It was my race."

While Lisa became aware of her dependent behaviour, many who are addicted remain in denial. Often those individuals will start exercising discreetly so others won't notice. They'll exercise early in the morning or very late at night. Sometimes they avoid fitness centres, choosing to exercise on their own so their addiction can stay hidden, said Gedies.

Gyms will sometimes take notice. On campus at Fitness 101, there have been incidences of gym staff recognizing the signs of someone who is unwell. Besides medically screening all individuals looking for a membership, they also keep an eye out for other issues, said Jodi Anderson-Carson, Fitness 101 Program Manager.

College often marks the first time an individual is away from home, and often he or she will go in one of two directions health-wise. There are those who gain a lot of weight with the freedom of a meal plan and a variety of on-campus options, and those who go to the other extreme and choose not to eat because parents aren't there to monitor, she said.

A while back, there was a girl who the staff was worried about. She would work out for two hours, then take two back-to-back hour-long classes. "It was to a point where it looked concerning," said Anderson- Carson. "As fitness professionals, we red-flag that. But that's not to say all facilities do this."

If Fitness 101 recognizes an issue, it may result in a closed-door meeting or a membership being revoked. She's seen these situations in both genders, noting it seems higher in females.

"It's part of who I am as a trainer, we care about people," she said about getting involved. "I don't want them doing anything to hurt themselves. I wouldn't want to turn a blind eye to it."

Often those with exercise addiction will exercise for two or more hours, at odd hours of the day. They may try to hide the fact they're exercising, fixate on calories and weight loss, and forgo social, work or school obligations while having a drop in their mood. If you are concerned someone you know may be addicted to exercise, approach the issue by saying something like "I'm concerned about you, it seems like you're not as happy anymore." Try not to pass judgment and encourage them to seek out help at Counselling and Accessibility Services located at F2010 or call 519-452-4282.
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