When Exercise Addiction Becomes a Harmful Obsession

Exercise equipment

Are you or someone you know constantly exercising? If that is the case, then exercise addiction may be to blame. 

Exercise addiction is an unhealthy obsession with exercise and physical fitness. 

People have it usually due to eating or body image disorders

People who suffer from exercise addiction typically engage in exercise in secret, exercise excessively even though they want to quit, keep exercising even though it causes physical harm, and obsess over it even when they're not doing it. 

Health conditions due to weight loss can happen through tons of exercise. 

People keep it up because they feel like they have been rewarded and are getting pleasure. 

That is caused by certain chemicals being released in the nervous system. 

There are risk factors to know about, what healthy vs. addictive exercise is, the four phases of exercise addiction, negative consequences of too much exercise, and also diagnosis and treatment. 

There is a lot more to know about this disease, and for that reason we would like you to scroll to learn more!

Addiction Therapists in Colorado

Jackie Erwin, LPC

Jackie Erwin, LPC

(719) 345-2424
Heather Westbrook, LCSW

Heather Westbrook, LCSW

(719) 345-2424
Shannon Hamm, LPC, CCTP

Shannon Hamm, LPC, CCTP

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Barbra Styles, LPC, LAC

Barbra Styles, LPC, LAC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Marie Whatley LPCC

Marie Whatley LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Sara Robbins, LCSW

Sara Robbins, LCSW

Aurora, Colorado
(720) 449-4121
Randal Thomas, SWC

Randal Thomas, SWC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 602-1342
Arias Gonzales, MS, LPC

Arias Gonzales, MS, LPC

(719) 345-2424
Whittney Romero, MA, LPCC

Whittney Romero, MA, LPCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Amber Chambless, LPC

Amber Chambless, LPC

(720) 449-4121

Risk Factors

One may develop exercise addiction if they feel pressure to be in shape. 

This includes overweight people who go out on a too-serious weight loss regimen. 

Many people with exercise addiction have issues with illicit drugs, alcohol and/or cigarettes. 

Those are substance addictions. Behavioral addictions, like exercise, can often coincide with shopping or sex addictions, which are also behavioral. 

If someone already has an eating disorder, then along with purging and overuse of diuretics and laxatives, they will use exercise to avoid weight gain. 

Many endurance athletes, as well as ball players, show signs of addiction. 

People who participate in power disciplines, as well as show up to fitness centers, can develop exercise addiction as well. 

A person who has muscle dysmorphia can be addicted to exercise. 

These people believe they do not have big enough muscles, and will weight lift more than is healthy. 

Perfectionists will exercise a lot, always looking to be satisfied with what they feel they have gained from it.

Phases of Exercise Addiction

Did you know that there are phases to exercise addiction? Experts have developed four.

The first is a recreational exercise, which someone undertakes to increase their fitness or health.

At this point, exercise improves a person's life. The second phase is at-risk exercise.

This is when someone increases the intensity and frequency of workouts.

People in this phase are often trying to improve their appearance and is turned to to deal with uncomfortable experiences and feelings.

In phase three, exercise is problematic. A person has a rigid daily exercise regimen. If their routine is disrupted, they may become irritable and have mood swings.

Even if injured, the person will exercise in a way that doesn't injure other body parts.

For example, if someone sprained their wrist while weight lifting, they will turn to running to ensure they get their exercise in.

The last phase, phase four, is exercise addiction. At this stage, a person's exercise has disrupted other life areas.

The point of exercise at this point is to prevent themselves from going into withdrawal if they skip exercise.

Healthy vs. Addictive Exercise

People addicted to exercise increase their exercise amount to re-experience the natural high or escapism they experienced at an earlier time with less exercise.

When exercise addicts cannot exercise, they experience withdrawal.

People who do not have an exercise addiction issue have reasons to exercise such as time alone, social enjoyment, and relaxation.

Those addicted to exercise feel that exercise is what is most important in life, and may have caused family conflict through their behavior.

Exercise provides a sense of control over the environment, body, and the person's mood.

People with an addiction issue lose control and cannot balance exercise with other life priorities.

Aside from family, those may include personal responsibilities, school, work, and social events.

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Negative Consequences of Excessive Exercise

Above we touched on too much weight loss that can arise in one's life because of exercise addiction.

There are other physical issues as well.

Those who menstruate can find that they no longer get their periods at the same time each month, or perhaps the frequency of their menstruation has decreased or they no longer menstruate.

People who exercise more than a medical professional recommends having found themselves with sprained ligaments, heart problems, organ failure, torn or strained muscles, and/or joint damage.

Depression and anxiety are common among people who spend a lot of time exercising.

Diagnosis & Treatment

The first step in diagnosing fitness addiction is identifying the signs and symptoms that may indicate an unhealthy relationship with exercise. These may include:

1. Exercising despite illness, injury, or exhaustion

2. Feeling anxious, irritable, or guilty when unable to exercise

3. Prioritizing workouts over social, family, and work obligations

4. Neglecting other aspects of life to make more time for exercise

5. Continuously increasing exercise intensity or duration to achieve the same satisfaction

A mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, can help diagnose fitness addiction by conducting a thorough assessment of the individual's exercise habits, thoughts, and feelings related to exercise, and overall well-being.

Once a diagnosis of fitness addiction has been established, a tailored treatment plan can be developed to address the specific needs of the individual.

Treatment options may include psychotherapy, support groups, mindfulness and relaxation techniques, medical intervention,etc.


In conclusion, if you suspect that you may be struggling with exercise addiction, it's essential to seek the guidance of a mental health professional. 

They can help you restore balance and ensure that exercise remains a beneficial aspect of your life. 

It's crucial to address one's exercise habits and behaviors, particularly in today's society where there is immense pressure to conform to specific appearance and fitness standards. 

Unfortunately, this pressure can lead some individuals to develop an unhealthy reliance on exercise to achieve these goals. 

In such situations, professional support is necessary to overcome this challenge and regain control over one's well-being.


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April 20th, 2024

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