In health and fitness, any discussion about what constitutes dedication and what constitutes obsession is always going to result in a lot of debate. That’s because there isn’t necessarily any clear line between the two.
People’s opinions about what’s dedication and what’s just over the top are very wide and varied. At the end of the day, everyone has their own personal priorities and goals, so they each have their own idea of what level of importance one should place on keeping fit, for example, or eating healthy foods.
To some, working out 5 days a week is quite appropriate. To others, it’s borderline psychotic. They’ll tell you that life’s just too short to spend all that time exercising. And it’s the same with diet. For some people, focusing on natural, nutritious, non-processed foods is highly important, whereas for others food is to be enjoyed as one of life’s pleasures.
So who’s right and who’s wrong?
I once heard it said that an addiction is only really a problem, and therefore a real addiction, if it interferes with the quality of your life. Unfortunately that doesn’t help much in this debate because to some people working out in the gym is what gives their life quality. To others it’s time taken away from real quality.
To achieve anything worthwhile in life, some sacrifices need to be made, right? Even learning to play a musical instrument takes patience and lots of time practicing. So how much is too much? At what point does the amount of practice negatively impact on your life?
Who can say?
These are questions that unfortunately have no fixed answers. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say, the answers are different for everyone.
Even so, regardless of where you stand on the fitness dedication vs obsession debate, there are definite signs that can alert you to the fact that maybe, just maybe, you need to at least think about your lifestyle and how it’s serving you. Listed below are 7 such signs:
1. You have no social life
One of the first signs that your fitness obsession is headed for an unhealthy outcome is that your entire life begins to revolve around it, to the point that you become a recluse.
Whereas before you would go out, socialize with friends and family and meet new people, now your leisure time is all about being at the gym. You create a new circle of friends – those who have the same obsession as you. And just getting together at the gym and talking nutrition, fitness, supplements, and so on, is all the socializing you need.
Socializing is actually an important aspect of life as it helps to balance your emotional and mental wellbeing. Human beings need interaction with other humans. And while there’s nothing wrong with associating with people of similar interests and sharing them together, when that’s all the associating you’re doing then chances are good that you’re missing out in other important areas of your life.
Think about people who are labeled as workaholics. They’ll tell you that they enjoy their work and there’s nothing wrong with working hard. While that’s true, they also need to consider what they’re missing out on as a result.
What about people that are commonly referred to as computer nerds. They love nothing better that to sit behind the screen hour after hour, day after day. It’s their passion, and their comfort zone. But it isolates them from real, personal human interaction and weakens their social skills.
Being a “fitaholic” or a “fitness nerd” can be much the same. Remember, there’s life outside that comfort zone!
2. You’ve lost your sense of skepticism
A very dangerous sign of fitness obsession is when you’re so hell-bent on getting every possible advantage and using every possible piece of assistance there is to getting you to your goals, that you lose all sense of reason or logic. You lose your critical sense, or your sense of skepticism – your ability to look at something and decide rationally whether or not it makes sense.
You’re simply happy to try anything and everything. If there’s even a remote chance that some product, some diet, or some exercise method will help you, you’ll be all over it without a second thought. In other words, you become gullible. You stop using your head for making decisions and operate purely on emotion.
This approach will not only slow down your progress by having you chasing your tail like a crazed lunatic believing everything you read or are told, but it can also lead you to harming yourself in some way as a result of your recklessness.
In all matters involving your health and wellbeing especially, it’s important to keep a level head and choose wisely, and so maintaining a healthy level of skepticism is wise.
3. You’re taking harmful drugs and other substances
There can come a point in one’s fitness lifestyle where so-called fitness and health start to part ways.
Working out and eating wholesome, nutritious foods is great as they work together to improve both your fitness and health. But when physical performance and/or aesthetics start to become your main priority, over and above your health and well-being, then you potentially have a problem.
Unfortunately however, this can be another one of those grey areas. A number of people believe that steroids, performance-enhancing drugs and other chemical compounds, when used in moderation and managed appropriately, produce benefits that far outweigh the side effects. Some even believe there are no significant negative side effects.
The problem is that we often have a tendency to disregard issues that are long term. If it doesn’t pose a problem now, or over the next weeks or months, it’s not worth worrying about. So as a result, the longer-term side-effects of some of these products can sometimes be taken too lightly.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide whether or not what you’re putting into your body is safe. The important thing however is that you do your research, so that you can make an informed choice. If you’re someone who’s prepared to simply “roll the dice” on your health for the benefit of faster, easier or better results then you’ve definitely crossed over the line of having an unhealthy obsession.
4. Your relationships are suffering
Decaying relationships are a follow on from the problem mentioned earlier of the loss of your social life. When the relationships with your close friends, partner and family are suffering as a result of your passion for fitness, it’s a strong signal that you’re perhaps taking things too far.
Like many people in this situation, your position may be that your friends and family don’t understand, and that they simply don’t see the benefits of keeping fit the way that you do. In some cases this may well be true. But in others, their assessment that your obsession with fitness is going too far can be quite accurate, especially if several people share that same opinion.
There’s not much point debating here how much time working out and how much effort in healthy eating is acceptable, however. At the end of the day if the important relationships in your life are being strained as a result of your fitness lifestyle, then you have a decision to make.
Do you continue on the same course and risk breaking your relationships for good, or do you try to work to some mutually-acceptable compromise, as is the case for so many other areas of your life? The choice is yours.
5. You’re physically harming your body
There’s no question that intense exercise can be very beneficial. But at the same time it can also be quite taxing on your body. So there can come a point where exercise is actually causing your body physical harm.
Once again, if your desire for performance or aesthetics is outweighing your interest in the wellbeing of your body, then that’s definitely a problem.
There are a number of ways in which people can do this. For example, lifting unsafe weights to grow more muscle mass, training recklessly in the gym to enhance muscular development, starving or purging (bulimia) to lose weight, and so on. Another reasonably common but dangerous mistake is training with an injury, for fear of losing gains.
Causing short- or long-term damage to your body runs counter to the whole purpose of getting fit in the first place (normally). If you find yourself prepared to let this happen therefore, it’s time to start thinking closely about whether your obsession for reaching your goals is in fact clouding your better judgment.
6. You’re neglecting your job or studies
Unless fitness is your career or you intend making it so, there’s really no valid reason for your fitness lifestyle to be interfering with your present job, career, or studies. If it is, chances are it has exceeded its boundaries because you’ve somehow lost control of it.
Drug addicts often find themselves in such strong need of their fix that the very fiber of their livelihood can start crumbling around them and they will be totally oblivious to it. The same can happen with any other type of addiction or unhealthy obsession.
Regardless of how important physical fitness is to you, it’s hard to make a case for it being OK that fitness takes precedence over your livelihood. If you find that your fitness lifestyle is creating issues in your job or studies, even if they’re reasonably minor, you need to seriously reassess your priorities before the situation gets any worse.
7. You’re “overtraining”
The reason I’ve put “overtraining” in inverted commas is because it’s a term that’s thrown around very haphazardly nowadays to describe pretty much everything, even down to the practice of training the same body part on two consecutive days, or feeling a little tired after a workout.
In this context, I’m referring to overtraining as in training at high intensity so consistently that your results are actually beginning to suffer. Your body needs recovery, or “deloading” from time to time, particularly your nervous system, if it’s to keep operating at an optimal level.
When you’re so obsessed with getting results in the gym, however, that you simply can’t allow yourself a deload period for fear of losing some gains, then you’re acting emotionally rather than rationally, and your body and your results are paying the price. This is a pretty clear indication that your obsession is unhealthy and is hindering your judgment.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the line between dedication and obsession certainly isn’t clear, and it depends largely on one’s perspective.
On top of that, in my opinion obsession isn’t even always a bad thing. Take any elite-level athlete or someone who’s aspiring to someday get to that level, for example. Surely an obsession for becoming the best they can possibly be, perhaps even the best in the world, is what it takes to successfully reach that level. Who has the right to deny anyone the opportunity to achieve extraordinary heights? Some people even believe it takes some level of obsession just to get fit.
So there are obsessions that can propel you towards success, and then there are obsessions that can detract from your quality of life.
None of the 7 signs I’ve listed above are necessarily hard and fast rules that you have an unhealthy obsession. They’re just strong indicators that, if you haven’t already done so, you need to take stock and think deeply about whether your fitness lifestyle is actually unhealthy in some areas. The rest is up to you.
Do you believe you have an obsession for fitness? Do you see it as a healthy one, or do you think it may be bordering on unhealthy? What do the people close to you in your life think about it?
I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below!