No Pain, No Brain: Overexercising can have psychological ramifications.
No Pain, No Brain: Overexercising can have psychological ramifications. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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In his column this week, LL asks the question: Is Mayor Adrian M. Fenty exercising too much? Is he pushing himself so far in his triathlon training that it has begun to affect his judgment and temperament?

In his analysis, LL relied heavily on Dr. Alayne Yates and her 1991 book, Compulsive Exercise and the Eating Disorders: Toward an Integrated Theory of Activity. Yates suggests a pathological basis to overexercises that manifests itself in other aspects of life.

Given, LL is wary of engaging in any armchair diagnoses here, and Fenty is free to take any fitness-related advice doled out by the 225-pound LL with a grain of salt (or sodium-free substitute, as it were). But ask yourself whether you don’t think any of these passages from Yates’ book hit home:

  • “Persons who make an unusually intense commitment to diet or exercise are…generally intelligent, high-achieving individuals from well-to-do families” and are “hard-working, task-oriented, and persistent.” Their “achievement orientation, independence, self-control, perfectionism, persistence, and well-developed cognitive strategies can foster significant academic and vocational accomplishments.” They are, in fact, “too well geared for success.”
  • Overexercisers “commit themselves to diet or running in the same manner that they commit themselves to vocational…activities,” and truly “disordered” overexercisers become “seclusive, depressed, distrustful, hostile, and egocentric” and “assume a position of embattled autonomy and extreme overactivity.”
  • They prefer to go it alone professionally. “If they work independently, they will be neither distracted nor corrupted. They seem to be saying, ‘If you want something done right, do it yourself.’ They strive for perfection and they become irritated at persons who are less committed, less perfectionistic, or more fallible than they are.”
  • The “obligatory” runner “avoids parties or relationships because they might interfere with his running. Needless to say, life revolves around the run.” And their “emotional investment in the activity becomes more intense and significant than the investment in family or work.”
  • They “plan vacations around running and when they are not running, they ruminate endlessly about time, distance, food, and the proper shoes.” They feel “proud of the body and in command of the future.” They “seem rather disinterested in maintaining close relationships.”
  • Compulsive exercise “fosters a state of apparent narcissism,” complete with a “lack of empathy, a sense of self-importance, indifference about the feelings of others, and preoccupation with a successful performance.” Overexercisers become “more and more egotistical as they become enveloped in a cloud of intermingled plans, lists, and actions.”
  • The exercise can become a “joyless, rigid pattern of activity which leads to physical, personal, or social damage and which interferes with other more constructive activities” and it “can lead to conflicts with the spouse, constriction of interests, dissatisfaction on the job, and pervasive fatigue.”

Bad as all that sounds, when compulsive exercisers are forced to cut back on their exercise schedule, they can “experience severe anxiety, depression, anger, confusion, psychic fragmentation, and a feeling of bloatedness.” Best to seek professional help!

Photo by Darrow Montgomery