Eight Hours a Day of Celebrity Workouts
A Californian woman who was dangerously obsessed with exercise before she got help tells The Fix her story.
Many of us love the buzz we feel after a good workout. But some exercise for hours, day after day, to try to keep hold of that feeling. For Cynthia, a 24-year-old woman from California, exercise became much more than just a way to stay in shape. “I became addicted to the feeling I got after a workout,” she tells The Fix. “I had to get my daily high and make it last as long as I could.” At the peak of her problem, Cynthia was exercising for eight hours a day, and was obsessed with knowing everything about celebrity workouts in particular. “It worked out perfect 'cause I was working in retail in the evenings, so I would get up early and exercise for eight hours before my shift,” Cynthia explains. “I would also buy any magazine I could find that had any mention of a celebrity workout so I could learn about new and unique ways to exercise. Sometimes I would leave Barnes & Noble with over 10 magazines.” Though Cynthia was obsessed with fitness, she wasn't watching her calories, or throwing up her food: “I would eat like a horse just so I could exercise as much as I wanted, so I could that high.”
Dr. Lynn Williams, a clinical psychologist in Florida who specializes in exercise addiction, says dependence on exercise is not that uncommon. “Many studies have demonstrated that exercise can indeed become a dependency for those persons who spend several hours a day devoted to exercise,” she tells The Fix. This behavior can have damaging long-term effects on your body. “Society perceives exercise to always be a positive thing, however, excessive amounts of exercise builds up tolerance to certain hormones and neurotransmitters which then requires more exercise to yield the same physical and psychological effects,” Dr. Williams explains. “The body needs to have time to repair itself because exercise breaks down muscle fibers.” She adds that sometimes people who participate in extreme endurance sports—such as triathletes or marathon runners—will get hooked on the feeling exercise gives them: “They do not hesitate to share that they 'need that daily fix' or they feel 'down or depressed' if they skip a day.”
Although many health professionals are seeing patients with this problem, exercise "addiction" isn't yet listed as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Cynthia found it hard to find treatment that focused purely on exercise dependence. “Every place I looked into mainly focused on eating disorders, and I really didn’t have a problem with food,” she explains. “Eventually I got the treatment I needed, and now I only exercise an hour a day, which for me is amazing.” She adds: “I also stay completely away from magazines, certain websites, or anything can entice those obsessive feelings. I feel like I’ve found a good balance.”