Glamour magazine asked me along with some other women to tell their readers what it’s like having an exercise addiction, and advice we have on how to tackle it. My quotes were used in the article here but you can read my full interview below:
Could you tell me a bit about your experience with exercise addiction – how did it begin, what did it involve, when did you realise there was an issue, and what did you do to try and get a handle on your exercise addiction?
I was at drama school and under a lot of pressure – addictions and eating disorders are deep rooted but there’s definitely a lot of pressure on dancers to stay slim to get work. I started cutting down on food and pushing harder and longer at the gym, and that’s outside of 4-6 hours dancing a day already. My weight dropped dramatically but I couldn’t stop. If I didn’t exercise I was consumed with guilt and would make up for it another day. I went on a family skiing holiday, already burning tonnes of calories each day on the slopes, and took a schedule with me of exercises to do in my hotel room. I would walk for hours or cycle or rollerblade everywhere to burn calories, instead of using the bus. Eventually I was referred to Eating Disorder specialists. It’s tricky because exercise IS good for you. It’s also a fantastic antidepressant and for stress relief, and the feel-good endorphins are addictive to someone like me who needed the mental lift on top of the desire to burn calories. To this day exercise is non-negotiable for me in that it helps keep stress under control as well as keep me fit. But I’m doing it to be strong not skinny now, and recognise that too much exercise is just another stress and that I need days off too.
What advice would you give to someone who’s currently struggling with exercise addiction?
First recognise it’s a problem – more exercise is not always better. Tell someone; a friend, family member, someone you trust at the gym, a councillor – anyone. It will feel like a weight off your chest to share it, however daunting it may be. Keeping an exercise diary can help you see if what you’re doing is too much. If you need help, ask a personal trainer to help you devise a schedule that will benefit you not be an extra strain. If it’s a well thought out plan, you won’t lose strength or fitness or gain loads of weight (if you do need to gain weight that’s another thing that needs addressing). In fact the term ‘you make gains while you rest’ is true – with proper rest and a proper workout plan you’ll be in your best health ever.
Is there anything else you think is important to mention about exercise addiction?
People who don’t understand addictions, eating disorders and body image issues may make unhelpful comments. Exercise is healthy, vegetables are healthy, avoiding junk food and sitting on the sofa less are things most people are trying to do. But they don’t understand this has become a problem for you so don’t let their comments be an excuse to carry on with your addiction. Spend time with people who understand you and can support you as this won’t be an easy thing to overcome, but it’s absolutely possible.