For years I've studied eating disorders and I have often been shot down for stating that exercise compulsion can be an indicator of an eating disorder. And in my years working in globogym it wasn't uncommon to see someone switching from a typical eating disorder to becoming a gym bunny. In the era of social media we now see people decrying their former dietary restraint only to be publicly displaying their rampant exercise regime. We hear it all the time, exercise is good for you blah blah blah... Most people, trainers, boot camp leaders, and all those aerobics queens, assume that exercise is good for everyone, all the time. The more the better, feel the burn, insanity, sweat is just your fat crying.
For a start, how the hell can a group class be aimed at everyones personal physiology? It can't, and 99% of the people in the classes would probably benefit more from a walk in the park or a little gentle activity. Training rather than draining should be the name of the game. Yes there are trainers that talk about good nutrition, but frequently they still push you in the gym and restrict your diet. #eatcleantrainmean, more like #eatcleanbecomemean.
Would you build your house without first sorting the foundations? No because the planning inspector would stop the build. That is my job, to convince you to stop wasting valuable energy on something which is not helping you reach your goal...good health.
The second scandelous statement that frequently upsets dieters and gym bunnies is that I think "most people have some degree of eating disorder/disordered eating." Check your Facebook timeline or your Instagram feed and it's pretty clear that disordered eating is rife amongst our "health" obsessed world.
- You may be a lifelong calorie counter
- A health food obsessive
- An exercise obsessive
- A #flexibledieter
- A clean eater
- The list is endless with mad, bad and sad diets with which to cause self-harm...
For years I've lectured about addiction, and the links to both exercise and diet. Those engaged on long term weight cycling (usually referred to as dieting) can literally crave the miserable feeling of abstinence, and it always interested me in my early PT days that people would deliberately highjack their progress. Why would they do that when eating food was working so well for them? Read on and I'll explain further the chemical reactions that occur to hook us into a diet or exercise "addiction".
Years ago I thought that exercise addiction was the perfect habit, I believed exercise was good for me, and I was determined to ensure I did it everyday. Remember, back in 2001 I exercised for 4 hours, every day for 395 days (yes even christmas day) and I ended up fatigued and frustrated. So I really have been there "feeling the burn", and can empathise with the symptoms of exercise and diet withdrawal symptoms.
Catabolism has been a favourite term of mine since 2001 when I first began studying health, spurred on by the apparent lack of understanding for both the members and the fellow staff members at globogym. It confused me as to why other staff at my workplace insisted on pushing clients hard, (although that is the media impression of PT) while simultaniously cutting back on energy intake. To me it made no sense. Logic and indeed human physiology shows us that this is not the way the body works, yes it will survive, but trickery is not the way to real longterm results. Catabolism is a set of metabolic pathways that breaks down tissue (molecules) into smaller units that are either oxidized to release energy, or used in other anabolic reactions.
To do this we need catecholamines which cause physiological changes to prepare our body for physical activity (often referred to as fight-or-flight response). With this we see increases in heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and a general increase in the sympathetic nervous system. One of the handy ways to create this catabolic state in which the body becomes stressed enough to utilise catecholamines is hunger, or a drop in blood sugar.
Included among catecholamines are epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and dopamine.
Any of a class of aromatic amines that includes a number of neurotransmitters such as epinephrine and dopamine
norepinephrine | ˈnȯr-ˌe-pə-ˈne-frən\
A monoamine C8H11NO3 that is a neurotransmitter in postganglionic neurons of the sympathetic nervous system and in some parts of the central nervous system, is a vasopressor hormone of the adrenal medulla, and is a precursor of epinephrine in its major biosynthetic pathway
Hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, esp. in conditions of stress, increasing rates of blood circulation, breathing, and carbohydrate metabolism and preparing muscles for exertion. Also called adrenaline.
dopamine |ˈdōpəˌmēn| noun
Compound present in the body as a neurotransmitter and a precursor of other substances including epinephrine.[Alternative name: 3,4-dihydroxyphenylethylamine; chem. formula: C 8H 11NO 2.]
So those I've consulted with over the years that have been catabolic are in effect running on adrenaline. Along side this is a natural increase in dopamine (a precursor to adrenaline) and endorphins (a powerful pain suppressor that allows us to feel less negative effects of stress). So the two coupled together mean you get a natural buzz, (ask any vegan marathon runner and they'll tell you they feel amazing) alongside an absence of pain due to the endorphins. It's no wonder you can get an aerobics teacher that looks like **** yet claims to be pain free and absolutely buzzing (have you noticed how hyper aerobics instructors often are? The crazed 1000 yard stare is often evident.
Take a while to think about those times when you've not gone into the gym for a few days, or you've skipped a week. It's not uncommon to hear people saying that they can't wait to go back as they feel terrible etc. Yes the gym gives you a natural high and magically makes pain disappear but it is certainly not always healthy nor is it guaranteed to help you attain that lean look you're promised when you sign up.
Sadly the buzz and lack of pain is somewhat addictive, and so the obsession with undereating, over exercising can begin. Fuelling your body with endorphins is quite a roller coaster ride as they are opiates, yes thats right you have your own little heroin factory happening right inside your body. Holy **** you're a smack head!!
In simple terms the more you supply these chemicals to your brain the more you become hooked on them, you feed the receptor sites, gain more receptor sites and need ever increasing amounts of which ever chemical your hooked on. (see Molecules of Emotion by Candice Pert in my store) If you fail to provide these chemicals (by missing the gym or eating more and avoiding the endorphins and adrenaline, then you feel sluggish, depressed, in pain, and ready for an argument (if you have the energy).
Solomon H. Synder along with the infamous Candace B. Pert stumbled upon opiate receptors in the brain which allowed opiates (opium, morphine, and heroin) to affect the both mood and behaviour. If you're in pain, opiates will reduce that feeling often creating a feeling of euphoria called the "high". Endorphins are you're natural heroin, often labeled as a natural "feel good" drug.
Endorphins are stress relieving hormones which act in the same way as opiates in relation to stress. In turn the elicit either a fight or flight syndrome and/or the reward system, which is why addiction is possible. Endorphins allow you to either fight or run away, enhancing your survival chances within nature.
So, you either starve yourself, over exercise, take drugs or maybe all 3 which causes the rise of adrenaline, endorphins, and phasic dopamine levels that give you that buzz, making you feel fantastic. Do this regularly enough and there my dear Watson is your possible route to addiction...(potentially depended on your tonic dopamine levels but for the sake of argument we will assume these are low in the chronic dieter/exerciser).
When you get picked up as ill (poor ECG readings, anxiety, depression etc etc and someone like me identifies that you are under-eating/overexercising then the withdrawal fun begins. Once you begin eating normally, you miss out on your chemical fix and the comedown kicks in making you feel terrible much like the heroin addict feels when they cannot get a fix. So despite all the best intentions you continually relapse, often even when you don't want to.
The key to recover is knowing what you are dealing with, the above should go someway to helping you formulate a plan. I feel however it is important to very slowly re-feed, sudden eating will obviously cause greater withdrawal risking failure. Gradually building up meal sizes and timings will allow less harsh withdrawals from the chemicals your craving. I suggest taking it slowly and ensuring support is available while building up to "normal eating."