In an Instagram story shared on Jan. 7, singer Ellie Goulding reflected on her exercise addiction and how she’s now focusing on her love of boxing, the Daily Mail reported. The singer shared a throwback photo in her Instagram story from the 2014 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, says The Daily Mail, with the caption, “Ah good #memories of being addicted to the gym. Not worth it […] By not worth it, I mean it was just kind of miserable.”
It’s estimated that around three percent of people who exercise regularly experience exercise addiction, according to Northwestern University. Exercise releases neurotransmitters in the brain, such as endorphins that can relieve pain or improve mood, says Northwestern University. But if a person is experiencing addiction to exercise, missing just a single day can cause physical or psychological symptoms, such as depression, reduced vigor, increased tension, anger, fatigue, and confusion, according to Northwestern University.
Working out a lot doesn’t necessarily mean you’re addicted to exercise, Heather Hausenblas, a professor in the department of kinesiology at Jacksonville University in Florida and coauthor of The Truth About Exercise Addiction, told Shape. But someone experiencing exercise addiction may become anxious or depressed if they can’t work out, Hausenblas told Shape, and they’ll schedule their life around exercise to alleviate those feelings.
The British pop singer has been open about making health and wellness a priority in her life, using various types of exercise, like yoga, HIIT training, and boxing, to help her manage anxiety and panic attacks, according to Women’s Health. But Goulding’s philosophy on her health has changed over the years. “I used to be harder on myself,” Goulding told The CUT in January of 2018. “As I’ve gotten more secure in my own skin and become better educated on wellness, my lifestyle has gradually changed. […] I’m definitely more confident than ever now, which is an amazing feeling.”
Goulding told The CUT that being her own competition was much better for her mental wellbeing. She also said that she felt better if she worked out compared to if she didn’t. “I don’t see working out as a luxury; I see it as something that should be integral to everyone’s everyday life,” Goulding told The CUT. “To work out is being respectful of your body. It’s a way of paying back and saying thank you for keeping me alive and for giving me such an amazing opportunity to live and breathe.”
It's possible to enjoy the health benefits of working out while still being susceptible to exercise addiction or exercise anxiety. Northwestern University says a person experiencing exercise addiction typically exercises to avoid feeling guilty or anxious and will keep exercising even if they’re injured. One of the key drivers behind exercise addiction is to maintain a sense of control, whether it’s over your mood, your body, or your environment, according to VeryWellMind. That’s why people who develop an addiction to exercise may be inflexible about their exercise habits, says VeryWellMind, and continue to exercise even if that exercise might be causing them harm.
Exercise addiction differs from substance use disorder because it's a compulsion disorder that can come with or without an eating disorder, says Northwestern University. However, VeryWellMind says exercise addiction still hasn't been recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a mental health disorder as of 2018. There isn't a whole lot of research yet on how to treat exercise addiction, CNN reports, but if you think you might be experiencing exercise addiction, experts recommend seeking cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a treatment for other kinds of behavioral addictions are treated. The goal of therapy is to help you recognize the addictive behaviors, says CNN, and reduce them, with the help of a therapist.
It’s super amazing to see someone like Ellie Goulding use her platform to bring awareness to exercise addiction. Like any other substance use disorder, it’s a real medical condition that people need to talk about more. Hopefully, more conversations like these will help people with similar experiences to Goulding’s realize they are not alone.