In which I begin to understand the depths of my exercise issues

I've been wearing The Boot for several days now, strapping it on each morning, and only taking it off for bed. This has also meant full exercise restricting so that my foot can heal, which is far tougher than dealing with the quirks of having the lower half of your leg covered in plastic and Velcro.

My mood this week has taken a definite downturn, without the (fleeting) boost it received from all of those endorphins. And I feel restless, edgy, anxious...lazy. All of these are signs of exercise addiction, which is hard for me to accept. I don't want to believe it, but that doesn't make it any less true.

I fit the profile of a person who would struggle with compulsive exercise, not the least due to the compulsions in other areas of my life. And yes, this does appear to be true in others, as researchers have suggested that AN with compulsive exercise shows many characteristics of OCD.* Furthermore, people who exercise in response to negative moods show more eating disordered behavior and psychopathology than those who don't.

Which makes sense. That endorphin rush doesn't last forever, but our memory of it lasts quite a bit longer. The solution? Exercise more, again, harder. And eventually, the system spirals out of control and you end up with a busted foot.

Of course, lots of people regularly perform high levels of exercise (professional athletes come to mind), that don't result in exercise dependence or addiction. What seems to separate these people from those with an exercise addiction is this:

The experience of intense guilt when exercise is missed and exercising solely or primarily for reasons of weight, shape or physical attractiveness, were the exercise behaviours that most clearly differentiated between women with eating disorders and healthy women.

Ummm...check and check.

This is clearly something I have to deal with and figure out a way to fit in healthy activity without overdoing it. I will probably always have to be vigilant about my activity levels from now on, just like I have to for food. Right now, I'm doing okay with not exercising because I have The Boot and there's this external validation. But I worry about the emotional backlash once I get the all-clear.

There's time for that later, and also time to figure out a way to cope with that. I think it's time for a new hobby.

*If anyone has access to the full text of this article and wouldn't mind passing it along to me at carrie [the little at symbol] edbites [dot] com, that would be great. Sorry for the convoluted email address, I just get heaps of spammers trying to sell me drugs for another condition that can be abbreviated "ED."

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Jen said...

Yes, I completely understand and sympathize. I'm not sure if you noted my post on your first boot entry, but I'm going to re-post it here

"Uggh, I'm so sorry, Carrie. One thing I'm wondering, though---is there a part of you that's relieved to have the break? Overexercising was the hardest part of my ED for me to break, and I've finally gotten to a point where I can do a normal amount, take a few days off a week, and listen to my body. But I still tend to feel bad when I take an extra day off. Reading your story, there's still a part of me that thinks, "Wow, she's lucky to be able to take that time off." Although I could make that decision for myself any time I want, its easier when someone else does it for you. I can liken it to when I first started getting treatment and I was relieved that people were 'letting' me eat.

Anyway (wow this is long), I can sympathize with the creeping up exercise time. One thing that I did that helped was NOT let myself exercise over a certain number of minutes, unless I was in a group, taking a long bike ride with my husband, etc. I've gotten to the point now where I can't even fathom how I used to exercise for as long as I used to."

Kim said...

I can sympathize, too. I don't exercise much, but the exercise I do is for compulsive/ed reasons most of the time. I've been instructed to wait for this weird back pain to go away, and THEN wait another 2 weeks before doing ANY physical exercise, however light. This is torture for me. I'm trying to use it as a learning experience. After all, a few weeks in a life are nothing...and everything. I don't want to end up with a chronic injury, that's for sure. Anyway, I know how hard it is to take it easy, and also how hard it is to come face to face with another facet of the damn eating disorder. Exercise is a tricky subject. When I figure out how to do it in a 100% healthy way, I'll let you know ;)

Carrie Arnold said...


Yes, I did read your comment, and I meant to respond but must have forgotten. It is relieving to know that people can move beyond this trap.


Thanks. I struggled for a while with compulsive (but not excessive) exercise, and it is hard to find that balance and deal with everything.

Tiptoe said...

Ahh, exercise. I sympathize completely. I've had my share of injuries--most due to repetitive actions versus an actual trauma. The "letting it get better" part is hard. But at the same time, it can be good to try out other things that interest you.

I do caution you about going all out when you are in the clear. That's one of the most susceptible times for re-injury, and it can happen.

I think something that has kind of helped me at times is thinking, "do I want to be able to continue to stay active in my adult life?" If I had continued to eat and exercise the way I was, I'd be headed down a path to exercise-less. Something to think about, though hard in the moment.

Carrie Arnold said...


Yes, that is something that's good to consider. Because I don't want a life in and out of The Boot. My previous ankle break (5 years ago now) was the immediate result of a fall on the ice, but the doctor told me that fall would NEVER have broken the bones of a person with normal bone density.

Thanks for that thought.

Jen said...

Yes, moving beyond for the most part. But the guilt and the unease still pop up every so often. I know its something that I'll probably always have to be aware biggest demon is exercise.

Lisa said...

I have to be very, very careful with exercise. It's so easy for me to slip back into the "must work out or I will become Jabba the Hutt" mentality. I periodically challenge myself by taking a day off and resisting the urge to compensate with restriction. It's a funny, tense sort of dance, and when I get it all sorted out believe me, I'll shout it from the dang rooftops.

Bron said...

I'm thinking of you Carrie. It's a tough thing, especially given that exercise is even *more* socially encouraged and validated than dieting. Just remember that it's yet another way ED manifests himself, and that you need to resist him so you can have a healthy body for more years to come.

Have you thought about (or do you already) do stretching/(non-vigorous) yoga/relaxation? Something like that may help you feel like you're not ossifying but - assuming you stay off your feet - not hinder the healing. I don't want to give you another outlet for compulsive behaviour, but I find that I am a bit like a cat, and feel a lot better after just doing some stretching.

Take care

A:) said...

I can relate. . .

To this day, I have no idea how to approach exercise without becoming obessive -- even simple walking can become obsessive -- and as I still have trouble even sitting down for extended periods of time (I stand. . .all the time. . .) -- formal exercise is pretty much guaranteed to be a problem.

I have just gotten off it all together. On the occasions where I have tried to go back (I used to love to swimm lengths) it quickly got out of control.

I'm glad that you were able to recognize your mindset -- and this time without exercise gives you time to reevaluate/plan your approach once you are able to do it again :)


Carrie Arnold said...

Thank you for all your feedback, folks. It's "food for thought," hahaha.

lipstickonthemirror said...

Tried to post a minute ago but I don't think it went through-- sorry if you get duplicates here!!

I empathize w/the boot-- two years I had b/l tibial stress fxs (from the ed/running) and haaated the nearly forced break from exercise. I didn't admit at the time (even to myself) that I was compulsive about exercise.

Retrospectively, I really don't think I could have made the progress towards recovery in general if I didn't have to stop running (not weight wise-- for me it was much more about the numbing/denying anything was wrong).

I'm healed now-- and have bone density that's w/in normal limits now too! But now I'm unsure how to proceed, I don't know how to exercise in moderation, and I find myself afraid to run at all now that I've FINALLY been cleared to get back to it.

What do you think you'll be able to do differently once you are able to exercise? Do you think this changes how you think about your exercise habits?

Carrie Arnold said...


I think what ultimately needs to happen is that I need to break the relationship between exercise and burning calories. For a period of time about 10 years ago, I did exercise moderately and in a healthy manner as a way to help deal with stress in college. I get very jittery when stressed, and the physical outlet gets rid of the jitters. If done appropriately, I think movement-for-fun could be once again part of health promoting behaviors for me.

So that's the long term. The short term? Hell if I know. Part of it means time limits (minutes/day and days/week), and part of it means trying to find an activity that I really really like. I've been thinking about taking dance/yoga/aerobics classes, or swimming. Hiking in the summer is a possibility.

Samantha said...

wow, I've never commented here before but I've been reading, and it just struck me how messed-up everything ever is when I read that description of what separates 'healthy' from 'disordered'. Because that's exactly how I was taught to treat exercise-- feel guilty for missing a day, and exercise is for losing weight. Exercising because it feels good was tacked onto the lesson later, but considering my stick-thin little brother was never encouraged to exercise with the same intensity as I was, it's pretty clear that I was given an obsessive model...and I never even knew it was wrong.

not to turn this comment into my own novel, but I thought it might be nice for you to know that I'm learning things from this blog. It's giving me a lot of perspective and lots of fascinating nuggets of information.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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