As she opens up about exercise addiction, body image and anxiety in her first interview in five years.
In the interview, she gets candid about her mental health struggles – she says her anxiety, at some points during her divorce, was “so terrible” she’d forget what she’d said to her son about the break up – and further, the coping mechanisms she used to deal with the separation and subsequent feelings of failure.
Largely, Adele turned to working out, hence the weight loss. But sadly for the singer, and as she acknowledges in the interview, it became something of an addiction. Speaking to journalist Giles Hattersley, she shares:
“It was because of my anxiety. Working out, I would just feel better. It was never about losing weight, it was always about becoming strong and giving myself as much time every day without my phone. I got quite addicted to it. I work out two or three times a day. I do my weights in the morning, then I normally hike or I box in the afternoon, and then I go and do my cardio at night.”
Is working out 3 times a day healthy? Unlikely…
Working out three times a day, by normal NHS standards, is three times the daily recommended exercise amount. At current, they advise 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, five times a week.
Personal trainer Hannah Lewin, who specialises in non-aesthetic fitness and eating disorder recovery, agrees, adding that multiple daily sessions can be a sign of disordered relationship with exercise.
“Exercise addiction isn’t yet recognised as a clinical diagnosis, but it is widely recognised amongst practitioners as a behavioural addiction,” she explains. “It’s often viewed frustratingly positively – if someone mentions that they are completing multiple exercise sessions per day, the response is often one of congratulations and admiration, rather than asking “Is that too much? Are you ok?”.”
Exercise can be a medicine – get the balance right, and you’ll reap rewards. From a boosted mood (thanks, endorphins), to improved focus, and a healthier metabolism, there’s a wealth of positives that can come from regular movement. But if you push your body too much, you put yourself at massive risk of injury, exhaustion and physical harm.
It can wreak havoc on your body, as our experts share, in particular your heart, tendons, ligaments and immune system. “Plus, it can hugely negatively impact your life,” shares Lewin. “Often relationships and social time can be affected as training takes over your life.”
Balancing physical and mental health
So, what do you do when working out is one of the only things that you feel can help your mental health? How do you weigh up what’s more important – your mental or physical wellbeing?
Founder and chief executive of private rehab clinic Delamere, Martin Preston, explains to Marie Claire UK that anxiety disorders have a range of effects on your brain and body and can trigger an unhealthy obsession with exercise, in some. “It can develop as a coping strategy: when you workout, your body releases ‘happy hormones’ endorphins and dopamine, which will help you to feel positive emotions like pleasure, happiness and even love.”
Sadly, though, these emotions won’t last forever and will likely ease half an hour or so after you’ve finished exercising. That’s one reason anxiety-triggered exercise addiction can be common – as those struggling with their mental health strive to find ways to feel positive emotions once more.
It’s a conundrum many would find difficult to navigate, and for Adele, she was clearly doing the best she could through a challenging mental health battle. But for those of you who need to hear it – working out upwards of two times a day could actually be detrimental to your physical health.
Distraction from mental health issues
“I needed to get addicted to something to get my mind right,” Adele says in the interview. “It could have been knitting, but it wasn’t.”
As chartered psychologist and eating disorder specialist doctor Rachel Evans shares with Marie Claire UK, it’s interesting that Adele felt she “needed to get addicted to something to get her mind right”. “Exercise isn’t therapy and addictions, even to knitting, can have many unintended negative consequences, especially to someone’s mental health,” she explains.
Evans can see how it happened – as she explains, often moderate exercise is recommended by health professionals as a way of reducing anxiety. “However, over-exercise can bring with it new sources of stress and anxiety,” she shares.
Unhealthy – or unattainable?
Well, it’s a bit of both. It doesn’t take a genius to determine that working out two-to-three times a day is entirely unattainable for those who work nine-to-five jobs and don’t have personal trainers on hand. And Adele says as much in the interview. “She very much gets that it’s a rich person’s game. ‘It’s not doable for a lot of people,’ she says, a bit embarrassed,” the Vogue article reads.
We live in a society that over-glamorises totally unattainable celebrity workouts and exercise routines – we often see the Kardashians promoting double workout days on their stories. So seeing Adele speak so frankly about how the workouts became an addiction is both eye-opening and refreshing. While every body is different and will respond well to different training schedules – you can’t compare an Olympic athlete’s workouts to a journalists, for example – by and large, working out multiple times a day isn’t good for you and isn’t something the average person would have time to do.
Trying to maintain such high levels of exercise output will no doubt lead to unnecessary pressure and mental guilt, when you can’t fit all the workouts in. But, public service announcement: you don’t need too.
What you do need to do is try and develop a workout routine that works for you, and meet your daily movement requirements in a way that both keeps your body healthy and brings you joy. Overdoing it will only lead to mental stress and physical injuries.
Of course, this isn’t to trivialise the immense pressure celebrities are put under, both body image wise and mentally – there’s no doubt that Adele’s issues, in part, stem from the relentless public attention and media coverage she receives. After all, she is one of the most famous celebrities in the world and, sadly, the entire world seems fascinated by the star’s body.
Whether this will ever change remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: doing what works for you – and being mindful of what works for your body, not anyone else’s – is key.
If you are suffering – know that you are not alone
Hats off to the singer for speaking so candidly about her mental health issues – it may just encourage others suffering from anxiety or exercise addiction to get help. “I respect that Adele is taking time to address the rumours,” shares Preston. “We all have different genetics, food preferences and life circumstances, and it’s vital to find a way of eating and moving your body that is sustainable for you, and contributes to your physical health as well as overall wellbeing.”
If you recognise that you are struggling with anxiety, exercise addiction or any form of mental health issue, know that you are not alone and there is support out there. Seek help from a qualified professional, Evans advises. “They’ll be able to help you to understand what you’re going through and give you a range of coping tools to help you feel better.”
Support is available from BEAT, the national Eating Disorder Charity, or check out Lewin’s Mind+Motion programme– an online recovery tool designed for those who have a disordered relationship with exercise. Doctor Evans specialises in eating disorders and offers 1:1 therapy tailored to your unique recovery needs and goals. Book a free clarity call for more information.