Relationships between compulsive exercise, quality of life, psychological distress and motivation to change in adults with anorexia nervosa

Young, Sarah; Touyz, Stephen; Meyer, Caroline; Arcelus, Jon; Rhodes, Paul; Madden, Sloane; Pike, Kathleen M.; Attia, Evelyn; Crosby, Ross D.; Hay, Phillipa

Background: For people with anorexia nervosa (AN), compulsive exercise is characterized by extreme concerns about the perceived negative consequences of stopping/reducing exercise, dysregulation of affect, and inflexible exercise routines. It is associated with increased eating disorder psychopathology and poor clinical outcome. However, its relationships with two important clinical issues, quality of life (QoL) and motivation to change, are currently unknown. This study aimed to assess the cross-sectional relationships between compulsive exercise, QoL, psychological distress (anxiety and depressive symptoms, and obsessive-compulsive traits) and motivation to change in patients with AN.

Method: A total of 78 adults with AN participated in this study, which was nested within a randomized controlled trial of psychological treatments for AN. At baseline (pre-treatment), participants completed questionnaires assessing compulsive exercise, eating disorder (ED) psychopathology, QoL, psychological distress and motivation to change.

Results: Baseline correlational analyses demonstrated a moderate positive relationship between compulsive exercise and ED psychopathology, and a weak positive relationship between compulsive exercise and psychological distress. There was a moderate negative relationship between compulsive exercise and eating disorder QoL.

Conclusions: These results indicate compulsive exercise is moderately associated with poorer QoL and weakly associated with higher distress. Targeting compulsive exercise in the treatment of anorexia nervosa may help reduce the burden of illness and improve patients’ engagement in treatment.

Trial registration


. Taking a LEAP forward in the treatment of anorexia nervosa: a randomized controlled trial. NHMRC grant: 634922.


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Also Published In

Journal of Eating Disorders

More About This Work

Published Here
February 23, 2018


Compulsive exercise, Anorexia nervosa, Quality of life, Obsessive-compulsive, Anxiety, Depression, Motivation to change