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Do you exercise too much?

Feb 17th 2014 at 8:31 PM

Harder does not mean better: Mariel's story
I got hard-wired to perform exercise at an incredibly high level when I trained for the role of an Olympic hopeful pentathlete in the film Personal Best at the age of 17. After experiencing track and field training like a professional athlete, the discipline and, perhaps more importantly,

the addiction to that kind of adrenaline high, was firmly established in my body and strongly engraved in my brain. Pushing to the edge, every session, became the way that I looked at exercise. You really weren't doing anything unless you were doing a lot – or too much. It played into all of my competitive, perfectionist, and compulsive tendencies.

For the next 10 years, pushing my body to an extreme of strength and fitness, almost every single day, was my way of imposing order and control in a life where much felt unsettled: my career as a young actress, my feelings about my body and food, my fears about my family and its dark legacy.

Hard exercise became a way to escape those fears. I'd run and train hard propelled by sheer willpower most of the time, not ever slowing down to a walk for fear that I'd not be able to run again.

An unhealthy addiction
In combination with my extreme low-fat, low-protein diets, my adrenaline-junkie habit weakened my resistance to illness. If there was even a slight change in the weather, like rain or a cold snap, I'd be fighting a sore throat and if I couldn't fight it with my natural remedies,

it would take me down for the count. I would put myself in ridiculous, gigantic places. "If I did an hour and 25 minutes today, I'll do an hour and 30 tomorrow." And on and on so that by the end of the month I was doing a crazy amount, and then I'd get sick to recover. I went for years without giving myself a day off. Seven days a week, for two to three hours a day of hard work until my body would finally say, "You are such a jerk, I'm going to get sick so that you have to stop

, because you won't slow down, and I can't keep up!" In fact I think my body was wise: a cold or flu was a last-chance way for it to rest because I was unwilling to listen and slow down of my own volition. It was my way of feeling in control, but that very need for control was controlling me. My sense of well-being and my health were always at risk. So who was really in control?

Certainly not me. It seems obvious to me now, but it wasn't at the time. Body issues are about the desire to control something – anything! – in a life that is always changing. The irony is that you can't control anything, so why not give up trying to control your body? When you give up the compulsions, the body finds its natural place, the weight and comfort level that suits it best. The mind and its anxiety, as I found out, create more problems than any actual weight gain or loss does.

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