When Staying in Shape Becomes a Problem

Do you feel bad when you can't exercise? Has being in shape become an obsession? In this article, we'll talk about when and how care of the body can become a problem.
When Staying in Shape Becomes a Problem
Brigida Higueras Madsen

Written and verified by the psychologist Brigida Higueras Madsen.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Today, we’re more aware than ever of the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle, as well as the consequences of not doing so. Without a doubt, we now take better care of ourselves than thirty or forty years ago, because we know that it implies not only living longer but also living better.

Changes in lifestyle have made us more aware of the need to reconnect with our well-being. We know that practicing some sport to stay in shape is recommended to maintain our physical and mental health.

We take care of our bodies and our diets in an unprecedented way. In fact, not only do we know more about nutrition and sports science, but we can also increase this knowledge with the host of resources we now have at our fingertips. In addition, we’re a society that attaches great importance to physical appearance.

Running Man
Exercising is beneficial for your health, but doing it to excess can have serious consequences.

When staying in shape becomes a problem

For many people, physical activity becomes an obsession. They feel the need to frequently practice high-intensity exercise almost compulsively in order to avoid feeling guilty. It’s difficult to determine if this discomfort is an obsession or an addiction, since it’s a recent area of investigation, and the terms are often used interchangeably.

Either way, whether we label it dependency, obsession, or addiction to exercise, it can take time to come to terms with it as a problem. The paradox is that, since it’s a healthy activity in itself, with multiple benefits, it’s difficult to see it as a problem. The sufferer’s environment is likely to be the first to notice.

How to recognize if staying in shape has become a problem

Remember that physical health is just as important as mental health.

Addiction to physical exercise shares features with various mental and behavioral disorders. For example, predominance over other activities, emotional disturbances, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms. It’s worth paying attention to the following warning signs:

  • You feel the need to train practically every day and begin to experience it as a necessity.
  • If you find yourself unable to comply with your exercise routine one day, you try to do it the next day, along with the exercises that you should’ve done the day before.
  • It’s difficult for you to fully enjoy your leisure time with other people because you see it as a waste of time.
  • You feel really bad when you can’t stick to your exercise routine.
  • You spend a large part of your time training. In fact, you don’t stop doing it even if it makes you feel physically ill or you’re injured.
  • Your concern about being in shape leads you to have arguments with your family or with other important people in your life. That’s because you feel that they don’t understand your need to train and that they demand too much of your time.

Other worries

If you consider exercise in this way, it not only causes you physical but also mental wear. Furthermore, your preoccupation with physical activity may even be masking larger problems, such as an eating disorder or muscle dysmorphia ( bigorexia ).

In the first case, you use physical activity to compensate for possible excesses with food, and the benefits you seek are the maintenance or reduction of body weight. On the other hand, in the case of muscle dysmorphia, your body perception is altered, and you believe you don’t look muscular enough.

In addition, exercise itself, which helps to clear your mind, can become an escape mechanism to stop you from thinking about or facing other problems. In fact, what initially seemed like an antidote to stress ends up becoming a problem when you adopt it as your preferred coping strategy.

Woman doing high intensity exercise
Sport can become a strategy to avoid facing certain situations.

How to deal with feelings of guilt when staying in shape becomes a problem

Guilt can easily trap you in these types of situations. To manage it, bear in mind the following:

  • Take care of your body. A good athlete is aware of the need for rest. Don’t lose sight of this fact.
  • Understand the benefits of exercise for health and the importance of practicing it moderately, recognizing that it’s harmful if you practice it too often and too intensely. Find out about the adverse effects of practicing physical exercise in excess, such as stress fractures or chronic tendinitis.
  • Remember the reasons why you started training in the first place. It was probably for pleasure, to make you feel better, not to avoid feeling bad.
  • Pay attention to your inner language. Recognizing and questioning the thoughts that are harming you is critical. However, this may be more complicated than it seems and you might need professional help. If so, don’t hesitate to ask for it.
  • Avoid cell phone apps related to physical activity, as they can fuel your addiction and obsession, especially if they challenge you to keep achieving. This puts your self-esteem at stake.
  • Sharing your results on social media or elsewhere makes exercise competitive and subject to the opinion of others. This could cause problems for you if you’re vulnerable. In fact, you’ll probably constantly compete with others in a results-oriented way.
  • Take care of what’s truly important. Exercise helps you feel better and releases stress. It gives you a feeling of well-being due to endorphins. That said, there’s nothing like spending time with the people you love if you want to feel fulfilled.
  • Stay away from competitions for now, especially if they’ve become a source of stress for you.

A healthy balance

Devoting time to yourself, avoiding a sedentary lifestyle, taking care of your diet, and respecting your need for sleep and rest form the basis of good physical and mental health.

However, if you become a slave to healthy living, obsessed with being fit, with rigid eating patterns and strict schedules, it ceases to be. The key lies in having a healthy balance.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Granados, S. H. B., & Cuéllar, Á. M. U. (2018). Influencia del deporte y la actividad física en el estado de salud físico y mental: una revisión bibliográfica. Katharsis: Revista de Ciencias Sociales, (25), 141-160.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.