Q: Is it possible to be addicted to something that’s good for you?
A: Absolutely. You can be addicted to reading, which means your dopamine system and pleasure centers get just as activated by a good book as they would by some addictive substance. You can also be addicted to foods that, in moderation, might be really healthy and good for you, but in excess, could get your body into trouble—basically, too much of a good thing.
The same goes for physical activity. You can get a natural high from the endorphins that get released when you exercise. But you can exercise too much. Orthorexia refers to exercise addiction and an obsession with healthy food. It’s compulsive exercise to the point of ill health, without sufficient energy intake (food and liquids) to support the energy expenditure. Exercise addiction can be deadly if a person’s body is burning its own tissue for fuel—especially when it gets severe enough to cost heart muscle. Less serious but still problematic consequences are overuse injuries—strains, tears, inflammation—to joints, tendons, ligaments and other connective tissues, which can result from obsessively pushing the body too far.
Talk to your coach or a performance trainer to find the right balance for you.
Michael F. Roizen, MD, is Professor of Internal Medicine and Anesthesiology, Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. He has co-founded 12 companies, including the popular websites RealAge.com and YOUBeauty.com.
Mehmet C. Oz, MD, is Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University and director of the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital. His TV show—The Dr. Oz Show— recently won its third Emmy, with Dr. Oz his second as the best daytime talk show host.