Friday, January 28, 2011

Discipline vs. Addiction

This morning I listened to the Runner's Round Table podcast about eating disorders and exercise addiction among runners and athletes.  Unfortunately, these issues are very prevalent in the endurance community. As one of the many bloggers out there that has suffered from this type of addiction, I pay close attention to the signs and signals of disordered eating and exercise.  I keep a watchful eye over myself and those closest to me.  I think that for some of us, there is a fine line between discipline and addiction.  I don't want to unknowingly cross that line.

Right now, I am sick.  And when I am sick, I don't run.  I applaud myself for this.  You may think it is ridiculous to feel proud of something so miniscule, but for me, it shows how far I have come.   I have a healthy relationship with my body and with running.  I listen to and respect my body.  There was a time when I would do laps around the track with a painful stress fracture and follow up my run with a piece of turkey wrapped in a leaf of lettuce.  Those days are far behind me but I feel it is important not to forget them.

We all need to be cognizant of the warning signs of exercise addiction.


  1. Always working out alone, isolated from others.
  2. Always following the same rigid exercise pattern.
  3. Exercising for more than two hours daily, repeatedly.
  4. Fixation on weight loss or calories burned.
  5. Exercising when sick or injured.
  6. Exercising to the point of pain and beyond.
  7. Skipping work, class, or social plans for workouts.
  8. American Psychiatric Association

I wrote a post awhile back about whether or not you think you are addicted to running.  Many said yes, but that it is a positive addiction.  Diane Israel, in the Runner's Roundtable discussion, mentioned that exercise addiction usually involves little enjoyment.  The fun and joy are sucked out of running and replaced with compulsion, anxiety and fear of missing a workout.   If you feel less joy and more anxiety, you may want to talk to somebody.

It is important to check in with ourselves from time to time to make sure we are still running for the right reasons.  We should ask ourselves:

  • Why do I run?
  • Is this making me happy?
  • What would happen if tomorrow I couldn't run?  How would I feel?

Like I mentioned before, it can be a thin line between discipline and addiction for some of us.  I am not a pyschologist (but my friend AJ is), so what do I know?  This is simply my personal opinion based off of my own experience.  I just want to see everyone running happily, rather than obsessively, for the rest of their merry lives.  

I am sure AJ at Queer Vegan Runner will have some more insight into exercise addiction.  I am interested to hear all of your thoughts and experiences.  


  1. The moment I stop enjoying running, I drop off the running radar for a while. Which is probably also not healthy, but it's a constant battle between me and laziness. I guess it's better than addiction.

  2. Rose, you're too funny. Yes, I think it is much better than addiction. :) You are about to run a 24 hour race around a track though. I think you might have some other serious issues! ;-)

  3. Great post Kate! This is defenitly a serious issue and sadly, very common. A family member of mine actually suffered from exercise addiction and it was not a happy time. Luckily, they realized their unhealthy behaviors and now exercise for the joy of it...versus the "need". Hope you feel better for your race next weekend!

  4. Such an informative post Kate! Now, you embody healthy!

    Your questions totally make me think and remind me that running is so much more about how I feel and challenging myself to reach the next used to be about fitting into my pants!

    I have the documentary THIN on my instant Netflix,but I'm a little nevous to watch it. Have you seen it?

  5. This is so interesting. I haven't run outside in three days or followed my workout plan this week and its TOTALLY affecting my mood. I think its a very fine line!

  6. Such a good post, Kate. Many runners have been defined as having that Type A personality: being very driven. Sometimes that drive can be mistaken as obsession or maybe unhealthy. What I thought was most important in your information was that you pointed out that when it STOPS BEING FUN, that's when it's time to take a step back. But it's also how long that "no fun" attitude lasts because, lets face it, sometimes we all get out there and do it even when we would rather be laying in bed under warm covers.
    Great blog - so, so glad I found you! TGIF :)

  7. Definitely not addicted to running...just run to breathe live smile think and push myself. :)

  8. Such a sticky subject... I think there's also a lot of people in this day and age who do little or nothing in terms of exercise. They probably don't have fun exercising either, but it doesn't mean they shouldn't.

    Like anything in life, it comes down to understanding yourself and your own personal drivers. Not always an easy thing to do!

    Great job tackling a tough topic!

  9. Thanks for the shout out pretty lady!

    I know for me personally, I don't struggle with exercise addiction, I usually err of the side of not sticking to an exercise plan and making excuses. I think the line of when does it stop being enjoyable is a good but hard one. After all, speed work or hills are not "fun" and pushing yourself in a race can mean pushing through a painful wall. I guess when exercise comes at the detriment of other interests, relationships, and health it is becoming problematic. (This is totally general and should not be construed as a diagnosis or professional consultation :) )

    It is something that I would love to talk with you in person about, or by email! I would love to hear more about your thoughts and what you've found helpful. Best to you my dear!

  10. I've forced myself to run a lot, mostly when I was training for a race. This year, I've only run about once a week and I so prefer it! It stopped being fun for a long time.

  11. Oh I just adore you. Awesome post, that I would love to pass on to a few people I know struggle with this. I have definitely been in both places, and it is amazing the difference between the two. Unfortunately, I've used exercise as a form of "punishment" for myself. I also know what it's like to be a calorie counting addict. It is a hard thing to over come and can be all consuming.
    I am addicted to exercise for so many reasons. Most of which are positive and uplifting, but every now and then I find myself dipping over that line of over doing it. Thanks for the reminder that we need to take care of our AMAZING bodies!

    You rock chickadee!! Happy Friday! xoxoxo (Oh, and I think I forgot to respond your comment a while back that YES, Janae and I will come and move to Cali and train with you!)

  12. Great subject!

    This is a tough call. I know I am susceptible to addictions. And I suppose the non-exercisers that I know would accuse me of being an exercise addict. But it was exercise that stopped me from smoking and it is exercise that keeps me from smoking.

    So in celebration of how fantastic it feels being a non-smoker, I run, I walk and I bike. A lot. That has led to weight loss and conscientious eating.

    I think in the end, if anything, I am addicted to the endorphins and the high self-esteem that I have. But I am okay with that.

  13. Kate, your blog has got to be one that I make time for daily. I always learn from it or it makes me happy and feel alive. Great post on an important topic and WEll written girl! I think for sure there have been times in my life where I've been addicted to exercise and that feeling that I need to be at certain weight to feel in control. I've never really had eating issues...I've just always loved to eat and lots of of it! Now I just feel balanced and happy and healthy and try really hard to model that for my daughters. No looking at my buns in the mirror and obsessing over them like I did in college. Just want them to grow up feeling love for their beautiful bodies just the way they are. I want them to enjoy being active, eating healthy and living life to the fullest. So important to be an example for them.

  14. Hey Kate do you want to get hooked on Burpees? They're free and really tasty. Plus contain no meat. Try some.

    (P.S. please join our 2-minute Burpee contest: here)

  15. I applaud you for posting this, and it's great that you feel good enough about yourself now to share your own journey. I'm so proud of the folks I know who have overcome an eating/exercising disorder. I can see how easily something positive could turn into something negative. There is a very fine line, for sure.

  16. I just saw your comment on Janae's blog....I LOVE red velvet cake! Oh, now you have me craving it.

  17. I think my main issue is "that seems too hard. I'll do it!" Only when it comes to exercise. I take the lazy way out of everything else.

    And I think you solved the mystery of my B.O. smell (one of the weirder things I've ever typed): onions.

  18. very insightful and a pressing topic for us runners. sometimes i find that i feel like i have to run, and if i don't i feel guilty. but i also find that when i do complete a run, i always feel better. for me i think the line i have to be wary of is burning out on running, going from one training cycle to the next. honestly, i think i'm afraid to take too much time off and have to start from scratch. anyway, thanks for bringing this topic to light and making me think : )

  19. I think I fall into that catagory also about not wanting to get too far away from my regular schedule. The fear of starting from scratch is brutal. GREAT INSIGHT.

  20. Thank you so much for this post girl!! Exercise addiction is such a huge issue, and is often overlooked when compared to eating disorders like anorexia. I've struggled with exercise addiction in the past, and I hope that this post helps more athletes to be more conscious of their bodies!

  21. I am quite sure that I am not addicted, just comitted. Hope you are feeling better Kate. Honestly, it's good timing if you think about it.

  22. This is such an important post. I know I personally have found myself sometimes running for calories instead of for fun, joy, etc. and need to keep myself grounded in the moment. It should be a passionate hobby, not a dependency.

  23. Thanks for this post. Working in a gym, I have seen where exercise at times can consume my life. It's all about finding a balance and trying to live a life of freedom rather than bondage.

  24. You are all so brilliant. I learned more from your comments than I did listening to the entire podcast yesterday.

    I loved reading all of your thoughts.

    Chris- taper is probably the most convenient time to get sick, huh?

  25. I really loved this post. I have a pretty addictive personality, so it is hard for me to keep this in check. This was a great reminder!

  26. I just saw your comment on The Hungry Runner Girl's post that you're still sick. :( Ugh! I hope your 8 goes better today. I'm sending healthy vibes and positive energies your way! Feel better SOOOOOOOON!!!!

  27. interesting question, Kate... and coincidence, because I'm training for a marathon and have also fallen sick! as a result, horrors, I have not run for 5 days now, missed what was supposed to be my first 30km long run and have my first marathon in 7 weeks - I'm definitely anxious about things now.... yikes! :)

    but i think one critical thing about addiction is lack of insight Or denial. I think honesty and being able to have a conversation about fitness and workouts is a healthy thing, but when it starts being something that is hidden away, then that can be a sign of a bigger problem...

    hope you're feeling better by the time you read this! :)

  28. I love this post! It's such a good reminder of really listening to our bodies and making sure we are taking care of them. I like how you can ask yourself if what you are doing is enjoyable. If not, maybe it's time for a break! Great post!
    And I love the Runner's Roundtable discussions!

  29. Such a powerful post. Addicted...yes. Working every day on balance and being smart. It's not a body or weight thing for me, I just love activity and it helps me stay solid. That being said, there are many other ways to have activity and stay solid...and my last injury taught me that. It's a daily thing, like I said...
    I hope you are feeling much, much better this week and I hope you can relax and enjoy your marathon. I'll be thinking positive thoughts and I know it will go well!!

  30. This is a great post, excellent insight. Nice one.


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