Too Much of a Good Thing?

On a recent vacation back home, I was forced out of my normal routine of working, eating and exercising and thrown into a dizzying whirlwind tour of family, friends and quality couple time with my boyfriend. As a person driven by schedules and the almighty clock, I get a bit anxious when flying by the seat of pants with no real plan in place. This lack of daily direction may be blissful to some, but is absolutely nerve-wracking for me. Despite the generally loose outline of my vacation days, there is one thing I can always count on fitting into my schedule: my workout! My drive to maintain my fitness routine while away is often chastised by those who are forced to tolerate it. They claim that vacation is a time for rest and relaxation, not gym time. While enduring yet another one of my boyfriend’s lectures on how to take a day off, I began to think about the underlying motivation behind my drive to exercise.

I have often pondered the idea of a positive addiction. It is common knowledge that exercise produces endorphins and enkephalines, which precipitate feel-good sensations, make us want to keep it up. The cardiovascular benefits and enhanced strength aren’t bad side effects either.  Moreover, we are constantly bombarded with information on the mood enhancing benefits of a healthy diet full of leafy greens, plenty of water and absence of artificial and processed foods. Society has effectively been over-saturated with the idea that exercise and dieting are necessary elements to a happy life and that personal fulfillment is just one fad diet or gym membership away.

With all of these reinforcement mechanisms, it is no wonder that people get caught up in a routine that can easily go from healthy to hazardous. So what exactly is the difference between healthy enthusiasm for one’s health and dangerous obsession? I believe the answer lies partly in the balance between positive and negative consequences. If your exercise or nutritional routine is adding to your life in positive ways, such as providing hope, improving your self esteem and allowing for positive goal setting then carry on the good fight! But if you are starting to neglect other areas of life or are unable to feel good about yourself should you deviate from the routine, then it might be time to take a step back and gain some perspective.

At then end of the day, our misguided attempts at saint-like adherence to our routines can be a result of mistaken perceptions based on ideals that are unobtainable. It is important to not get too caught up in the promises that transformation dieting and rigorous exercise claim to bring. When we focus too greatly on what we eat or how many hours of gym time we get each day, we can lose sight of who we are and what is important in life. So next time I go on vacation or my schedule gets thrown for a loop, I will remember my own advice. I am more than my workouts or my body. I am strong, I am beautiful, and I am enough.

Liz Montgomery is a graduate student in Counseling with an interest in addictions and eating disorders. She volunteers for NEDIC and currently works as a personal trainer and running coach in Toronto.