This interview is broken into two parts. Read part 1 on the effects of being clinically underweight.
5. We know exercise is good, but we also know it is possible to take it too far, what is compulsive exercise and what are some signs we can look for in ourselves to be sure we don’t head down that road?
Compulsive exercise is taking a good thing to a bad extreme for the wrong reasons. In identifying a compulsive exercise disorder, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is my purpose in exercising?
- How much time do I spend exercising?
- What important high-priorities (e.g. family) have been sacrificed for extra time to exercise?
- How much of my thought life is focused on exercise and how my body looks?
- Am I able to appreciate the positive changes that exercise has had on me or am I constantly craving further physical changes?
- Am I exercising to make healthy improvements in my body or am I secretly wishing to have someone else’s body?
It is very hard to put numbers on compulsive exercise in the same way it would be hard to say that eating a certain level of calories means you have an eating disorder. We are all different and should therefore expect that there can be differences in the amount of exercise we can safely and effectively do without it becoming compulsive. However, to give you a general guideline for the average person (i.e. not an elite athlete, bodybuilder, etc): 3 to 4 days a week of intense training for about an hour.
In addition to this, I recommend that people get daily physical activity but that additional activity from the intense training previously mentioned would ideally be non-structured activities. These can be things such as: yard work, housework, sports, recreational activities, dance, and playing with your children.
6. Can ‘exercising too much’ hurt rather than help? How so?
Exercise is good, but too much is not good. Exercise puts stress on our body and, if this stress is in excess of what our body can handle and recover from, it will make us weaker. Excessive exercise can lead to problems such as: decreased physical fitness and performance, muscle loss, fatigue, suppressed immune system, increased risk for illnesses, joints and tendons overuse injuries, shin splints, low back pain, depression, sleep disorders and many more.
7. What advice would you give someone who is struggling with compulsive exercise?
Treat this like you would any other compulsive disorder. A professional counsellor can be very helpful in this situation to work through the underlying psychological issues. If necessary, hire a trainer to help you establish a realistic exercise program and healthy/appropriate fitness goals.
In addition to this, invite close family or friends to be accountability partners who are willing to check up on you regularly and help you watch for relapses.
Also, without trying to “push my religion on you”, it is my firm belief that we are created for relationship with God and designed in a way where we need him to be number one. Any time we take anything else besides God and give it the number one priority in our lives, things start to fall apart. By keeping him at number one in our lives, we are able to properly place and prioritize all other aspects of life such as exercise.
8. Any last words?
I believe we are all created by God and that in His perfect creativity and wisdom He chose to make us all different. We all need to accept the way He’s made us, learn to appreciate our uniqueness and not poison ourselves by always craving to have somebody else’s body. If you want to make improvements in the way you look, make sure you are seeking your best body – not someone else’s – and doing it in a healthy, balanced way.
Also, despite what the media would have us believe, I don’t believe there is one ultimate standard of human beauty. Speaking as a guy, I have had many guys express to me their tastes in women and they are as different as the number of different women out there. I think there are a lot more people out there than we realize who have attractions to people that are not what the media tells us is beautiful. I believe God not only makes us all differently but also creates in us attractions that are just as unique. Let’s embrace that!