How does body image influence health addictions?

Joylyn Yang, Staff Reporter

In society today, there is an increasing emphasis on attaining a perfect, model-like body through commercials, apps and ads. As more and more people are striving to live a healthy lifestyle, health “addictions” have become more common.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the physical and emotional health benefits of exercising regularly; it is essential to one’s well-being. Unlike other addictive behaviors, we are encouraged to exercise more. However, there is such a thing as exercise addiction, and it can come with consequences just like any other addiction.

“A health addiction consumes your life in taking a lot of time to focus on solely eating  “healthy” foods, limiting your caloric intake and spending hours each day in the gym,” Jared Kowalski ’14 said. “Health becomes an addiction when it starts to control the rest of your life, putting it before family, friends and your career.”

Exercise releases endorphins and dopamine, which are the same neurotransmitters released during drug use. A fitness addict feels reward and joy when exercising. However, when the neurotransmitters go away after the person stops exercising, they have to exercise more to trigger the chemical release, according to Healthline.

“For some people, fitness activates the pleasure centers of the brain. Receiving positive reinforcement may also motivate people to continue the same behavior,” psychology teacher Laura Brandt said.

Common signs of exercise addiction include experiencing withdrawal symptoms after long periods of exercise, reducing activities in other areas of life to make time for exercise and the uncontrollable desire to work out.

“People who excessively exercise may have body image and/or eating issues they are struggling with,” health teacher Jenny Tierney said. “Their excessive exercise could be contributing to other health related issues as well.

Society also plays a role in the attainment of health addictions. Oftentimes, through the media, we are given standards to compare ourselves to. The portrayal of many models, actors and actresses could cause a sense of self consciousness, according to Brandt.

“The main cause of being addicted to a healthy lifestyle in today’s world is body image,” said Kowalski. “Many become obsessed with looking like their favorite fitness cover model and are willing to take extreme measures.”

Spending time on other interests, whether it’s devoting more time to family or a hobby, and setting new goals in other areas in life is a way to overcome such an addiction.

A good way to combat health addictions is to find a balance between exercise and food.

“Exercising and eating well can be challenging to fit into a daily routine,” Tierney said. “However, once you get in the habit you will most likely be set for life.”