Nav: Home

Excessive sports in case of eating disorders: Psychological mechanisms decoded

February 05, 2020

Excessive and obsessive exercise is very harmful to health, this being particularly pronounced for persons suffering from eating disorders. Based on electronic diaries, a team of researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the University of Freiburg has now uncovered for the first time psychological mechanisms underlying pathological exercise. Their results allow the conclusion to be drawn that persons with eating disorders use exercise to regulate depressive mood and negative thoughts relating to their eating disorders. The study is published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (DOI: 10.1159/000504061).

It is undisputed that exercise promotes health. Excessive and obsessive exercise, however, may become an "addiction" in the extreme case and cause illness. There is sufficient evidence that this unhealthy exercise is particularly pronounced for persons suffering from eating disorders. For the first time, a team of researchers of KIT's Institute of Sports and Sports Science (IfSS) and the University of Freiburg has now uncovered psychological daily mechanisms underlying this pathological form of exercise. The method used for the study is referred to as ambulatory assessment. It records human experience and behavior in daily life and has been developed and used by experts of IfSS. "The main idea consists in the fact that we have to study the human species in its natural habitat in order to understand human behavior," says Professor Ulrich Ebner-Priemer, Head of the Mental mHealth Lab of KIT.

The study was based on specifically developed, activity-triggered electronic diaries on smartphones. "With these electronic diaries, we studied the dynamic interaction of physical exercise and psychological variables in everyday life," explains Markus Reichert, who works in the group of Professor Ebner-Priemer at KIT and is the first author of the study together with Dr. Sabine Schlegel of the University of Freiburg. "Thanks to this technology, it was possible to specifically request subjective self-reports in case of conspicuous exercise episodes and to generate a high statistical variance of data."

Using this method, physical activity of 29 patients with eating disorders and 35 healthy controls was recorded objectively and constantly by an accelerometer, e.g. movement sensor, in daily life for a period of seven days. The accelerometer was connected to a smartphone via bluetooth, an installed app triggered requests for reports when measurements were below or above certain activity thresholds. In addition, the test persons were asked to report their subjective state of condition before and after exercise.

The researchers found that exercise of patients with eating disorders was preceded by declining mood. This effect was not found for healthy controls, who rather felt full of energy prior to exercise. After exercise, patients with eating disorders had a better mood than the healthy controls and their average mood, they felt more relaxed, and less pressure of having to be slim. Altogether, they were more satisfied with their body. However, this effect persisted for a limited period of time ranging from one to three hours depending on the test person.

The results reported by the authors in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics allow the conclusion to be drawn that patients with eating disorders use exercise to regulate depressive moods and negative thoughts relating to their eating disorders. "To cope with difficult emotional states and negative body experience, they get exercise, probably also due to lacking alternative strategies at such times," Markus Reichert explains. "It is quite obvious that the positive effects of exercise enhance unhealthy exercise. Feeling relieved after sports leads to renewed exercise when the effect declines. This may result in a vicious circle, in which more and more exercise is needed to feel good," say Markus Reichert and Professor Almut Zeeck, coordinator of the study at the university hospital of Freiburg.

According to Zeeck, these findings have major implications for therapy and further research. In therapy, sports might be used specifically and in precise doses to positively influence the mood and body experience of people suffering from eating disorders. It will be of crucial importance, however, to convey alternative action strategies to the patients in order to prevent unhealthy, excessive exercise. Here, latest technologies, such as day-to-day intervention on smartphones, might help. "This opens up new perspectives for therapeutic interventions that reach patients in their everyday life and may represent an important supplement to ambulatory psychotherapy," Zeeck says.
-end-
Original Publication:

Markus Reichert, Sabine Schlegel, Friederike Jagau, Irina Timm, Lena Wieland, Ulrich Ebner-Priemer, Armin Hartmann, and Almut Zeeck: Mood and Dysfunctional Cognitions Constitute Within-Subject Antecedents and Consequences of Exercise in Eating Disorders. Psychootherapy and Psychosomatics. DOI: 10.1159/000504061.

For the abstract, click https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/504061

Press contact:

Dr. Sabine Fodi
Press Officer
Phone: +49 721 608-21154
Email: sabine.fodi@kit.edu

Being "The Research University in the Helmholtz Association", KIT creates and imparts knowledge for the society and the environment. It is the objective to make significant contributions to the global challenges in the fields of energy, mobility, and information. For this, about 9,300 employees cooperate in a broad range of disciplines in natural sciences, engineering sciences, economics, and the humanities and social sciences. KIT prepares its 24,400 students for responsible tasks in society, industry, and science by offering research-based study programs. Innovation efforts at KIT build a bridge between important scientific findings and their application for the benefit of society, economic prosperity, and the preservation of our natural basis of life. KIT is one of the German universities of excellence.

This press release is available on the internet at http://www.kit.edu.

Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)

Related Eating Disorders Articles:

College students access eating disorders therapy via phone app
Studying college women with eating disorders, a team led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St.
Research reveals toll of pandemic on those with eating disorders
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound, negative impact on nine out of ten people with experience of eating disorders, a new study from Northumbria University, Newcastle, reveals.
Does posting edited self photos on social media increase risk of eating disorders?
New research published in International Journal Eating Disorders revealed a consistent and direct link between posting edited photos on Instagram and risk factors for eating disorders.
Face up to eating disorders, and seek help
A new study has found young people are leaving it 'too late' to seek help for eating disorders, citing fear of losing control over their eating or weight, denial, and failure to perceive the severity of the illness as reasons not to get professional advice.
Excessive sports in case of eating disorders: Psychological mechanisms decoded
Excessive and obsessive exercise is very harmful to health, particularly for persons suffering from eating disorders.
Helping patients with binge eating disorders: There's an app for that
Study suggests that adaptation of smartphone technology is a scalable option that significantly improves clinical outcomes.
Eating disorders linked to exercise addiction
New research shows that exercise addiction is nearly four times more common amongst people with an eating disorder.
Focus on teenage anxiety may aid early identification of those at risk of eating disorders
Teenage girls who experience clinical levels of anxiety could be at greater risk of eating disorders, according to associations identified in a study completed by researchers at the University of Bristol with UCL.
Pregnant women with eating disorders and their children run higher risk of complications
Pregnant women with eating disorders should undergo extended pregnancy screenings considering their increased risk of complications.
Dementia and eating disorders: it is a problem of (semantic) memory
Eating disorders shown by patients with dementia are characterised by a vast range of behaviours that span from preference for sugary foods, binges, increase in appetite, to changes in table manners or in food preferences.
More Eating Disorders News and Eating Disorders Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.