Please Stop Seeing Unhealthy Exercise Obsessions As 'Dedication'

by Holly Garcia

Raise your hand if you’ve ever told yourself you would exercise more and make healthier choices if you just had the willpower. So, why didn’t you? Was it because you weren’t dedicated enough? Maybe was it because you were too tired, stressed, or just had too much on your plate. I know y’all can’t see me, but let me tell you, I am raising my hand the highest.

Negative narratives around exercise, dedication, and self-discipline are nothing new. But do you know what is starting to catch on? The trend where we talk about what is and isn’t a healthy habit to fall into. Oh, and we’re also putting a hard stop to idolizing and congratulating unhealthy exercise obsessions.

Don’t get us wrong — honoring your body with movement is a healthy part of every lifestyle. But just like anything in life, moderation is key.

So what does using exercise in an unhealthy way look like? For some, it might be using exercise as a punishment. For others, exercise is used to chase an impossible ideal that we’ve been sold by society. Let’s have a conversation about how unhealthy exercise obsessions come to be and how to get help if you feel like you’re struggling to find a healthy balance.

When Does Moving Your Body Go From A Healthy Habit to an Unhealthy Exercise Obsession?

Many of us have a story about unhealthy habits connected to our body image – whether it involves yo-yo dieting for decades at a time, avoiding certain food groups, or using exercise as a means of earning your food. And that last one, well … that is where many people cross the line between exercise as a healthy part of your routine and an unhealthy obsession.

There’s a difference between getting in the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week and trying to do it all in one day. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But we want you to honestly ask yourself, when you exercise, why do you do it? Is it because you enjoy it? Does it make you feel good? Or are you doing it to try and change something about yourself?

When exercise becomes a punishment to balance out food choices, it’s not a healthy thing. The same thing goes for when your workout routine is causing anxiety or guilt. Yes, that’s absolutely a thing. In fact, according to a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, if you are experiencing changes in your ability to control the amount of exercising you do or how much time you spend exercising (or thinking about exercise), you might have an unhealthy exercise obsession.

The social media stratosphere is always quick to reward unhealthy exercise obsessions with praise and adoration. You’re so dedicated. Get it, girl! Ugh, if only I was committed like you. Hey, acknowledging hard work and healthy habits is never a bad thing. But there is a difference between that and unintentionally encouraging overexercising.

Over-exercising Can Impact Your Mental and Physical Health

So how do you know when you’ve crossed that line? A lot of it has to do with your “why” and your attitude about moving your body. We can’t stress this enough. Does thinking about exercise invoke feelings of joy and excitement? And what about if you miss a planned workout? Do you fret about it and let it ruin the remainder of your day, or do you just accept the chaos of life for what it is and move on?

Obsessing over how to schedule your life around your workouts instead of finding a way to get exercise into your schedule is a yellow flag to pay attention to. If you find yourself harboring feelings of guilt and shame that you just can’t shake when you miss gym time, well, my friend, that’s a huge red flag. It’s time to talk to your primary doctor and check in on your emotional, mental, and physical health.

Your emotional, mental, and physical health are all wonderfully interwoven. On one hand, you can’t out-exercise hard feelings, and on the other, a good workout can do wonders for your mental clarity. It’s all about balance. Just like Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde” once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands — they just don’t.” Sorry, not sorry. We couldn’t help ourselves.

To be clear, unhealthy exercise obsessions aren’t dedication, and it’s time we call it out for what it is. Over-exercising is dangerous to your mental and physical health, full stop. While we’re cheering you on for living your best life, we also want you to know exercising shouldn’t be a punishment. Move your body to honor it, care for it, and enjoy it. Everything else is for the birds.