Proud2Bme | Proud2Bme Poll: 71% of Readers Struggle with Compulsive Exercise

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Proud2Bme Poll: 71% of Readers Struggle with Compulsive Exercise

By Kaitlin Irwin--“Great job with those squats! Just imagine what your body’s going to look like!”

“Here is a great exercise to do so you can wear those cute leggings!”

“Don’t worry; this workout will burn off that bag of chips!”

Sound familiar? It does to me, and to the 71% of Proud2Bme readers who answered “yes” when asked if they struggled with compulsive exercise. Out of 476 respondents during the month of April, 71% reported struggling with compulsive exercise and another 8% said they weren’t sure.

It’s actually quite easy to develop an unhealthy relationship with exercise, given that phrases like the ones above are thrown around so carelessly. Even those who don’t have an eating disorder may find their motivations and associations with exercise are skewed. That’s a problem, because physical activity is part of having a healthy, balanced lifestyle, but it is getting magnified and idolized to the point of seriously messing with our heads.

For a long time, our society has viewed exercise as some kind of punishment or negative consequence, something that we had to do in order to make up for the way our bodies are shaped or for something that we ate earlier in the day. While there are definitely healthier attitudes toward physical activity, the pattern that I see most often is that of needing to exercise to make up for our shortcomings, physical or otherwise. This need can end up becoming a dangerous compulsion.

At the height of my eating disorder, I used exercise as a form of purging, overexerting myself day in and day out. Even as I worked my body to exhaustion, I didn’t feel like it was enough. I felt that without exercising, my day wasn’t complete or that I had failed, and I wasn’t going to stop until I had the “perfect body.” Newsflash: none of us will ever have the “perfect body.” Yet it’s easy to think that we can squat, lunge and run ourselves to the body we want, since that’s the message we get from a lot of commercials and social media.

Just scroll through Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr and you’ll probably find post after post of users showing off their heart rate stats, body measurements or sweaty physiques after working out. The comments attached to these pictures are often ones of praise, and these people are seen as being virtuous and admirable. It’s easy to see that and assume that we’re not meeting the standard.

Moreover, in recent decades, there has been a push toward being more active (example: Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign.) Initiatives like these are great, considering that many children would rather sit in front of a screen than get moving.

So how are we supposed to sift through these messages and determine what’s right for our bodies? At which point are we exercising too much? The truth is, everyone’s body is different, and your physical activity requirements will vary from everyone else’s. Pretty much everyone needs to do some kind of exercise, but what that actually entails is a whole other story. If you’re working out to get stronger, lose weight or even look better in your clothes, there probably isn’t anything wrong with that. It’s when you start exercising as a means of achieving something unattainable—such as approval from friends or the “perfect body”—or when the exercise begins to interfere with leading a healthy, happy life, that there could be a serious problem.

The key is remembering that health looks different on everyone. It’s been difficult for me to find fitness gurus who stress something other than physical appearance. They all seem to be clones in colorful sports bras telling me that “I can get the body that I want if I just exercise more.” Yet fitness isn’t all booty shorts and ab selfies. And guess what? I already have the body that I want: my body. Is it perfect? No. Do I love it? Heck yes, and part of loving my body means giving it regular (not compulsive) exercise.

I want to be active so I can have better sleep, a more stable mood, increased energy and a stronger body. It’s self-care, and it’s all about balance, which means nourishing my body with food and resting it when it’s tired. I’ve become good friends with my body over the past year or so, which is pretty impressive considering I spent five years killing it with my eating disorder. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through that kind of hell.

I urge everyone to rethink how they view exercise, and I challenge those in the fitness community to present exercise as something more wholesome than the means to looking good in a bikini.

About the blogger: Kaitlin Irwin is a recovered anorexic who spent her college years struggling to hide her illness. With lots of support, patience and an Intensive Outpatient Program, she embraced herself, flaws and all. In her free time, she enjoys exercise, cooking and art and can usually be found with a good book, a journal or her fiancé. She hopes to use her love of creative expression to spread positivity and love to others.

Also by Kaitlin:

The Problem with Glamour Magazine's Plus-Size Issue

6 Tips for Creating a Successful Petition on Campus

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

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