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How to Overcome Compulsive Exercise Addiction

written by: Mercedes Hamshar • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 1/17/2011

Compulsive exercise addiction frequently occurs in those with eating disorders, particularly in people with anorexia nervosa. This article looks at a number of treatments that can be used to overcome compulsive exercise addiction.

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    Compulsive exercise involves frequent and intense exercise for prolonged periods of time and the individual suffers great anxiety if an exercise session is missed. Although compulsive exercise addiction is experienced by eating disorder sufferers, it can also occur in the absence of an eating disorder. Some people become addicted to the enhanced mood that arises after exercise, in the same way that an addict becomes hooked on a drug.

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    Neuro-linguistic Programming to Overcome Compulsive Exercise Addiction

    The best way to overcome compulsive exercise addiction is to seek professional help. Although some individuals may be able to overcome compulsive exercise addiction alone once they realise this behavior is not healthy, it is likely to be very difficult. Neuro-linguistic programming has been found to be an effective treatment, and it works by allowing the person to recognise the mental triggers that bring about the overwhelming desire to exercise.

    Once these triggers can be recognised a person is able to work at ignoring them and then deal with the core issues that could be causing the addiction. Such issues typically include the desire to lose weight such as in eating disorders, or possibly as a means to combat anxiety or depression.

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    Medical Interventions to Overcome Compulsive Exercise Addiction

    In cases where compulsive exercise addiction is part of an eating disorder and the patient is receiving medical treatment a 'cold turkey' approach is often used. This involves preventing a person from exercising at all for at least a month. This can cause great anxiety in the patient and it is often done when he or she is hospitalized.

    They may also undergo force-feeding during this time which further adds to the distress of not being able to exercise. But such is the seriousness of their condition that these extreme measures need to be taken. If they are not helped to change the way they view exercise it is likely that many patients will return to compulsive exercise once they are no longer under continuous supervision.

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    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Overcome Compulsive Exercise Addiction

    Cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective in re-training the way a person thinks and feels about exercise. It works in a similar way to neuro-linguistic programming in that it allows a person to discover the reasons that they feel a great urge to exercise. These reasons are explored in therapy and the patient is helped to see them as irrational and to use different techniques to deal with them. Exercise can be gradually re-introduced during cognitive behavioral therapy to allow people to develop a healthy relationship with it. That is to say, they are encouraged to view exercise as something that should be done in moderation as a contribution to a healthy lifestyle and overall well-being.

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    References

    Kaminker, L. (1998) Exercise Addiction: When fitness becomes an obsession. USA: The Rosen Publishing Group.

    Moran, A.P. (2004) Sport and exercise psychology: A critical introduction. London: Routledge.