Are You Fit, Not Healthy? The Shocking Story Of What Happens When You Exercise Too Much, And What You Can Do About It.

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Exercise is supposed to be good for you. But for some people, exercise can become a deadly obsession.

My guest in this podcast episode is Vanessa Alford, author of the new book “Fit, Not Healthy“, which is a warning to all high achievers driven to extremes to excel.

As a young girl growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Alford loved sports: she began gymnastics at age six, netball at seven, and tennis at age ten. She was, in her words, “born to compete”, and both her gymnastics and netball teams won the state championships in her age group. During her early years of sports, she ran to train and to keep fit, but describes it as an obligation, not a pleasure.

After graduating college, Alford began to run regularly: she would set the alarm for 6am, jog for 8k (around an hour) along the beach and be home by 7am, which gave her time to eat breakfast before cycling 15k to work. But soon, her 8k runs became 10k runs, and 12k runs on the weekends.

Soon, both the runs and the ride became mandatory morning rituals, “just like a shot of coffee or booze”, that left her euphoric, floating for the rest of the day on dopamine and adrenaline. “This feeling of elation would sweep over me,” she says, “I just couldn't get enough of it.”

Within months, she had dropped over 10 pounds and a dress size, and then she started running marathons. Nike and PowerBar sponsored her. Her runs became longer and more grueling, and were soon accompanied by a strict dietary protocol in which she counted every calorie, and monitored every morsel that entered her mouth.

Soon she was running up to 160k a week while surviving on a diet low in fat and low in carbohydrates too. Her body began wasting away, slowly cannibalizing itself, and shutting down non-essential physiological systems. She was exercising herself to death. People warned her, they told her to stop, and her boyfriend told her she had lost her mind. But she couldn't stop.

Then finally, Vanessa's body stopped for her, as she collapsed in the middle of a race after losing sensation in her legs.

In today's podcast interview, you're going to find out exactly what happened, how exercise addiction occurs, how you can recover from adrenal fatigue, how you can test your body to see if you're exercising too much, and much more, including:

-The difference between exercise addiction and a runner's high…

-What's going on psychologically that makes some people feel like they need to go do things like triathlons, marathons or adventure races…

-Why you often need more and more exercise to achieve the same “high”… 

-What happens chemically that is making you feel so down, so lazy, or so depressed if you stop exercising at the same volume or frequency that you were at before…

-Why will rats run until they drop dead on an exercise wheel…

-And much more!

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Do you have questions, comments or feedback about Vanessa's story, or being “fit not healthy”? Leave your thoughts below, and be sure to check out Vanessa's book “Fit Not Healthy“.

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3 thoughts on “Are You Fit, Not Healthy? The Shocking Story Of What Happens When You Exercise Too Much, And What You Can Do About It.

  1. Stefanie says:

    What can we do about the “neurotransmitter imbalances”?

  2. Amanda Morgan says:

    Ben, I wanted to thank you for doing this topic and thank Vanessa, as an athlete, for sharing her experience. I am a regular listener and a physician with a history of both anorexia and exercise addiction/abuse. During my recovery from my eating disorder, I became a runner and maintained a body that was far too lean and infertile for nearly 20 years but nobody questioned me because I was eating and I was a RUNNER. When I met my husband 2 and 1/2 years ago I knew I needed help. I was initially told by ANOTHER physician that I could get pregnant with assistance (i.e. drugs) and they did not recommend I decrease my exercise or increase my weight (I was 96 pounds and only 5 feet tall). Doctors are SO afraid of people NOT exercising that they overlook when someone is overdoing it. At that point I turned to body building. As a perfectionist I put on nearly 10 pounds of pure muscle before I realized or rather admitted I needed fat to be fertile. It was at that point that I learned balance and found a practitioner who recognized what was going on and was able to support me through it. I am healthy now, still trying for a baby and balancing fitness. I really appreciate this episode because I consider myself an athlete but feel like a “poser” sometimes when I listen to your show because I no longer take myself to extremes. It is important to recognize that extremes of any kind are not healthy. Thank you again!

  3. Natcha_Maithai says:

    OMG Vanessa, you totally described what I was going through in my first bout of anorexia and a few years ago when I used exercise (bodybuilding) as an escape since grad school was not going well for me. I now realize that I have an addictive personality and I have to be careful during times of high stress. Thanks for writing and talking about this.

    I also want to add that for many people who are dealing with these problems like exercise addiction and some type of disordered eating, they could really use help with therapy and maybe some neurotransmitter balancing. Looking back, some therapy would be really helpful to make me realize what was going on and to learn some smarter ways to deal with my problem. I hypothesize that people who overexercise and display some addictive personalities have neurotransmitter imbalances, which is why we chase the endorphins, dopamine and adrenaline to compensate for what is lacking in the brain.

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