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'My gym habit took over my life'

PUBLISHED: 19:30 30 December 2019 | UPDATED: 12:08 01 January 2020

It's important to find a healthy balance when exercising and to ensure you have a good support system          Picture: Lucy Buchholz

It's important to find a healthy balance when exercising and to ensure you have a good support system Picture: Lucy Buchholz

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The gym is very much like Marmite; you either love it or hate it. But how can you tell when your appetite for exercise has become too much.

For many, the gym is a safe haven to help relieve stress    Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoFor many, the gym is a safe haven to help relieve stress Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Those who work out every day are often applauded for their hard work and dedication to fitness. But not all gym bunnies are happy bees - there's a darker side to the gym that can only be found by those who look further than superficial social media posts.

As January looms upon us, there's no doubt that gyms will be flooded with the good-intentioned New Year's resolutioners. Some will fail after a month, but others will fall in love with the cold weights and the monotonous hum of the treadmill.

Enter: endorphins. These bad boys get us hooked. The more we exercise the more of this happy hormone our body releases, providing stress relief, reduced anxiety levels and a boosted sense of self-esteem.

But there are also exercise compulsion addicts, who don't love the physical act of exercising as much but crave the satisfaction of knowing they've completed their workout. Whichever type of addict your are, becoming hooked is a totally logical process: you workout, feel great and go to bed knowing you're one step closer to looking like Karlie Kloss.

The ironclad abs and rippling biceps we see on the TV - and even around the gym - can easily become idealised as the norm. Until you go home, undress and look in the mirror. How, after spending countless hours in the gym, intermittent fasting and eating chicken, rice and veg for every meal, is the body of a supermodel not in the reflection?

This image can become ingrained in the back of your mind and can be the driving factor to why you're now a regular at Monday's 6am spin class. Every time you reach for a pizza, glass of wine or chocolate bar - bang - the image is back.

Skipping meals and having a permanent gym locker can seem like an extreme lifestyle change for some, but it's surprising how quickly your mind can turn against your body and force you to do extreme things.

The lucky amongst us will have an experience that brings our obsession to reality. I needed a few, but my most impactful event happened at a Taylor Swift concert. I'd limited my calorie intake from the usual 1,000 to 800 so I could enjoy a guilt-free beer. But after seeing my friends singing along merrily with a pint in each palm, one soon became three and I was tipsy enough to allow myself to indulge in the finest fast food the O2 had to offer.

Eating fried chicken? It's really not a big deal; especially not if you're spending hours pounding the treadmill, throwing heavy weights around and scrupulously monitoring your macros. But as I came back to reality - my reality - I realised my crime and spent the second part of the concert crying in the toilets trying to get every last calorie out of my body.

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That's when it became clear. The gym was no long the safe space where I could work off my daily stresses; it was a place that summoned me each day after work, chose what I ate for dinner and whispered 'one more set' as my fatigued muscles pleaded to go home and rest.

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body, but for some, learning the limit can be hard. Our society is so heavily based on branding losing weight as a positive that it's easy for the line between healthy and addicted to become distorted.

Identifying the traits of a health obsession is important. If you can relate to any other the points below, it may be worth visiting your GP for advice:

1. Feeling guilt, anxiety or depression if a workout is skipped or not completed.

2. Working through injury or not giving your body significant time to rest between exercising.

3. Restricting your calorie intake to an unhealthy level, meticulously tracking macros or using exercise to counteract food intake.

4. Using exercise as a primary way to cope with negative emotions, events or experiences.

5. Skipping leisure activities to work out.

6. Receiving comments from others about your dietary habits or the amount of time spent in the gym.

Has the gym or a fitness regime taken over your life? Tell us your story here.

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