You don’t have to take drugs or be an alcoholic to be considered an addict. Some people become addicted to normal things that are essentially good for you. Take exercise; good for you and your health but it can be abused. Some people become exercise junkies. I discovered this when I met a friend for lunch, a woman I hadn’t seen in a year.
“Wait until you see me. I’ve completely changed my body through exercise,” said my friend over the phone.
A t the restaurant we had chosen, I sat looking out a window while waiting for my friend. I thought I saw a woman who resembled her. I say resembled because the woman walking towards the restaurant was thin and haggard-looking. My friend Michelle had always had an enviable figure that turned heads.
But as the woman came closer to the window, she began waving and smiling. It was most definitely Michelle but with a twisted difference. Her pretty face looked almost skeletal.
Inside the restaurant, after hugs and kisses, Michelle asked me what I thought.
“About what?” I asked.
“The new me!!” she laughed.
I was stunned. She went on to tell me about an exercise regimen that only a prize-winning boxer could endure.
She was up at four every morning and worked out for two hours. At work, during her breaks, she exercised again with weights she kept in a file cabinet. During her lunch, she power-walked for forty minutes. After work she hit the gym for an aerobics class, then went home, had a salad, and worked out again from seven-thirty to nine. I was exhausted just listening to her.
“How does Stan feel about all this?” I asked her, referring to her fiancé of two years.
“Oh, I rarely see him. And you know something Kristen? We might not be right for each other anymore. He thinks I’m becoming obsessed with exercising!”
She went on to tell me that she had dropped a lot of activities that she had once enjoyed with Stan because they took too much of her time. Time, I assumed, she wanted for exercise.
Michelle talked about how her life had changed since she had begun her exercise program. She had rejoined her local gym to lose some weight she had gained on vacation. A woman at her gym had introduced her to something called “cardio-plus”, a program that included punishing workouts and a restricted calorie diet. This combination supposedly got you into shape faster. My friend quickly got addicted to the intense workout.
As the months on the program progressed, the woman who had introduced her to the strenuous exercise had dropped the routine but Michelle didn’t want to slow down her workouts. She found that she needed the feeling of exhilaration the exercise gave her. When I asked her if she could cut back just a little now, maybe even take a day off from it all, she shook her head. Working harder, pushing herself more and more gave her a feeling of power and strength she said, and that was a euphoric feeling. I got the distinct feeling that she needed that cardio “hit” just as a drug addicts need their drug of choice.
At the restaurant, the lunch she ordered was so minimal it made my chicken fajita wrap look enormous by comparison. While we ate, she did knee lifts under the table. After lunch, and a thirty-minute walk, we went shopping at a department store where instead of taking the escalator, we walked up one flight after another, she taking the stairs two at a time to “keep the legs toned.”
We said good-bye early because she had to get to the gym and as she drove away it hit me that my beautiful friend had become an exercise junkie. I got the distinct feeling that she needed that cardio “hit”. It was her drug of choice.
Later that night I called her fiancé and we talked about Michelle’s exercise abuse. He was very concerned about her but Michelle refused to listen to his advice. She said he was trying to sabotage what she wanted to do. They fought constantly over what he saw as a dangerous lifestyle and what she perceived as his interference.
As with anything else that is addictive, exercise junkies need the high they get from constant exercising. They can’t live without it because their brain and body crave it.
The problem with too much exercise is that, the very same physical activity that is good for us in moderation, becomes dangerous when abused.
A month later Stan called and told me that Michelle had been hospitalized due to malnutrition and exhaustion. Her doctor had recommended she get therapy to help her deal with her obsessive need to exercise and her unhealthy caloric restrictions. I was glad to hear it. Stan told me he was in it for the long run and was going to make sure Michelle got all the help she needed.
Addiction isn’t just substance abuse; it is anything or any activity that starts to take over your life. If you feel something you do is controlling you, seek help. Drugs, alcohol, food, exercise; it doesn’t matter. Addiction is addiction.