How to tell if you have a fitness addiction


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Working out does wonders for your body and mind, but when it interferes with your career, health or personal relationships, it may be a sign of exercise addiction.

Being addicted to exercise means that you crave excessive physical activity; it’s the focal point of your life and will push your body to the point of exhaustion or injury instead of take a day off. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, you may have an exercise addiction if:

  • It interferes with daily activities and relationships.
  • You believe that bad things will happen if you don’t work out.
  • You develop a perfectionist attitude toward exercise and your body.
  • You ignore the signs of illness, injury or fatigue and work out despite them.
  • You set unattainable goals (e.g., miles run, hours worked out, percentage of body fat, etc.)
  • You ignore friendships or satisfying hobbies in order to exercise.


If an exercise addict can't work out, their typical reaction range from feelings of anxiety, anger, guilt and depression. Because of the excessive nature of a fitness addict, they are usually hurting their bodies more than they are helping. Logging in hours and hours at the gym every day and performing excessive amounts of reps at lengthy, highly intense levels can do damage to your body, including: damage to the heart; increasing the risk for stress fractures; increasing the risk of osteoporosis in women; joint damage; loss of muscle mass; and torn or sprained muscles.

While exercise addiction is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a primary disorder, it is treated as a behavioral addiction. Indiana University defines a behavioral addiction as any activity, substance, object or behavior that has become the major focus of a person's life to the exclusion of other activities, or that has begun to harm the individual or others physically, mentally, or socially is considered an addictive behavior.

Clinical Psychologist Monnica Williams writes that excessive exercise is known to be a symptom of bulimia where the individual will use excessive exercise to control their weight. Exercise addiction might also be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder if the exercise is intended to relieve feelings of anxiety about a feared consequence other than weight gain), Williams said.

Body dysmorphic disorder — which the MayoClinic defines as a type of chronic mental illness in which you can't stop thinking about a flaw in your appearance (a flaw that is either minor or imagined) — could also lead to a fitness addiction.



If you think you might be a fitness addict, contact a mental health professional or your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

If you know someone recovering from a fitness addiction, Project Know suggests:

  • Avoid making judgmental statements or criticizing the person recovering from exercise addiction.
  • Don't make jokes about the person's body shape or body weight, as they are not only hurtful, they may trigger episodes of compulsive exercise.
  • Avoid commenting on your own physical flaws when talking with someone who has an exercise addiction.
  • Parents should reduce the amount of pressure they place on children with this disorder.
  • Getting teens involved in preparing healthy meals and engaging in reasonable amounts of exercise is another way for families to help compulsive exercisers through the recovery process.